What will this season hold for oft-injured Miami Marlins first baseman Garrett Cooper when baseball finally resumes?
It was a statement that left some of us scratching our heads.
"“There were numerous injuries, so I think he’s a tough guy to say we can put him in there every day,” Mattingly said. “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.”"
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I don’t usually read the tea leaves and try to connect dots three months later, but after Mattingly said players who were on this roster from last season are not guaranteed a roster spot in 2020 right before MLB pulled the plug on Spring Training baseball, there is reason to believe nobody’s job is safe.
Not even Cooper’s.
Cooper is one of those players you root for. Hardworking, liked by everyone in the clubhouse. A big kid at 6’6″ and 230 pounds with a serious swing that can crush a baseball. He has the makings of a slugger who can reach the fences every time he is at the plate.
As we know, that hasn’t happened yet. The former Yankees farmhand is still finding his place in the Marlins lineup. Here are three predictions for his 2020 season.
Winning the First Base Job
While I love Mattingly as the manager of the Marlins, I hope the words he said about Cooper not being an everyday player come back to prove him wrong. Cooper won the right-field job in 2019 and 2018 out of camp with hard work and effort.
When the Marlins claimed Jesus Aguilar off waivers from Tampa Bay, it came with the belief he could rebuild from a 2019 season where he only hit 12 home runs in 134 games. In the previous season, he belted 35 in 149 games in Milwaukee.
Ideally, if the Marlins could get that kind of production out of Aguilar and somewhere around that from Cooper, it would be a boon. Cooper was having a decent Spring Training once again, which could still lead to him winning the first base job. There is also a slim chance he starts in right field, taking the job away from Matt Joyce.
130 Games of Health
Let’s get this out of the way quickly. What if Cooper is able to remain healthy? It’s the biggest question facing the slugger this season. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark and can hit for average. But the biggest thing holding him back is staying on the field to play.
Last season, there were 15 home runs and flashes of real power at the plate – something the Miami Marlins could take advantage of. Since this appears to be a shortened season, having sluggers in the middle of the lineup may be more important – players who can end the game with one swing of the bat.
Cooper will remain healthy and log 130 games, which will be the most of his career. It also means he will have more opportunities at the plate and to put the ball in play. He might become the team’s most improved player just by being on the field.
35 Home Runs
It’s a bit of a stretch, but I am not backing down from my thoughts from the end of last season. The Marlins could have two 30-home run hitters in the middle of their lineup in Cooper and third baseman Brian Anderson. It could be more than two if Jonathan Villar and Jorge Alfaro or Aguilar find their swing.
Miami’s biggest knock last season was scoring runs and hitting home runs – two things they could not do well. Cooper’s ability to remain in the lineup as a consistent threat at the plate makes pitchers wary of him and helps others who will hit around him.
I also think if Cooper can find one position to play, it will help him at the plate. Worrying about playing multiple positions may not be good for him.