Garrett Cooper is Staking His Claim to First Base for Miami Marlins

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Garrett Cooper #26 of the Miami Marlins looks on against the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Park on September 12, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Garrett Cooper #26 of the Miami Marlins looks on against the Milwaukee Brewers at Marlins Park on September 12, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

About a month ago, Don Mattingly was quoted as saying he didn’t think Garrett Cooper was a “starter.”

In a Miami Marlins story published at the Sun Sentinel and written by Wells Dusenbury, Mattingly was quoted as saying:

"There were numerous injuries, so I think he’s a tough guy to say we can put him in there every day. I think we can look at him now, at this point, as a guy who’s not an everyday, everyday, everyday-type guy. I think it’s more of filling in spots and getting his at-bats if somebody’s hurt.I think the biggest problem is not knowing if we can count on him to stay on the field. So, we’ve had to kind of move in a direction that we’ve planned that he’s not on the field every day."

Cooper would like to show Mattingly the error of his ways, and he’s got four weeks to do it.

Garrett Cooper is a six-foot-six, 230 lb. right-handed first baseman from Torrance, CA. Born on Christmas Day, 1990, the now-29-year-old slugger is entering his third season with the Miami Marlins after joining the system via trade with the New York Yankees.

That trade, by the way, may be one of the better below-the-radar deals the Marlins have ever partaken in. For minor league pitcher Michael King, Miami acquired Cooper and strikeout artist Caleb Smith.

Miami Marlins
JUPITER, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 19: Garrett Cooper #26 of the Miami Marlins. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

And yes, Cooper has suffered more than his share of injuries through his very abbreviated major league career. He made the Marlins Opening Day roster in 2018 and in just the second game of the season took a pitch off his right wrist. Although it wasn’t broken, Cooper did require three months off before getting back to the majors. After two weeks he reinjured the wrist and went back on the injured list. In total he appeared in just 14 games and went seven-for-33 at the plate.

Cooper made the Opening Day roster for the second straight season in Miami to begin 2019, and again wound up on the injured list before completion of a week with a mild calf strain. He missed another month, then immediately after returning was hit on his other hand by another bad pitch. Just one thing after another, and maybe Mattingly started to not trust Cooper entirely. Maybe his comments were meant to challenge Cooper. It may have worked.

Then Cooper finally got into some sort or rhythm. Truly, it sounds to me like a lot of these injuries were of the freak variety, and not necessarily repeatable. In 107 games, Cooper hit .281/.344/.446 wtih a team-fourth 15 homers and 50 RBI. Along with Brian Anderson‘s mark of 114, Cooper’s 110 OPS+ were the only two players to rank as “above average” hitters of the Miami Marlins.

Cooper is set to split his time between first base and in right and left field as needed. Miami’s other probable starter at first is also a right-hander, in power-threat Jesus Aguilar, so platooning them doesn’t seem to be a likely outcome. Lewin Diaz is a southpaw, and could match up nicely in that situation with either.

Miami Marlins
DENVER, CO – AUGUST 18: Garrett Cooper #26 of the Miami Marlins. (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /

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Baseball reference is projecting Cooper to be a .268/.334/.434 hitter this year, with 14 home runs and 49 RBI in 414 plate appearances. Fangraphs has five other projection systems, and Cooper is expected to hit in the .260s with around a dozen homers by each of them. Cooper is a bit of a spray hitter, so much that he was only shifted on a total of eight times last season, according to Statcast. This willingness and ability to use the whole field makes me believe he’ll outpace those meager projections. I’ve got half a mind to put a few dollars on Cooper hitting over .270.

Whatever the case, Cooper is a near-lock to open the season on Miami’s Opening Day roster, if not a part of the actual lineup that day. I wouldn’t bet against him though. The Marlins hold team control of Cooper through the 2023 season.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments, and check here tomorrow for our preview on Isan Diaz.

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