For Garrett Cooper, Hitting Involves Constant Evolution

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

To the extent that the term actually makes sense, Garrett Cooper might best be described as a professional hitter. Consistently solid yet never a star, the 32-year-old first baseman/DH has slashed .272/.341/.444 with a 116 wRC+ since becoming a mainstay in the Miami Marlins lineup in 2019. Establishing himself took time.

Selected in the sixth round of the 2013 draft by the Milwaukee Brewers out of Auburn University, Cooper was subsequently swapped to the Yankees in July 2017 — he made his big league debut a day after being dealt — only to have New York flip him to the Fish that November. Six years later, the Los Angeles-area native is firmly ensconced in Miami as a middle-of-the-order cog on an up-and-coming team.

Cooper discussed his evolution as a hitter when the Marlins visited Fenway Park in late June.


David Laurila: Let’s start with your formative years in the game. How did you learn to hit?

Garrett Cooper: “I grew up in a family where I was the baby of seven kids and had four older brothers who played baseball. That certainly helped, and my dad also paid for hitting lessons, probably two or three times a week starting when I was 9-10 years old.

“I played on a travel team in Manhattan Beach, California, and things just kind of progressed from there. I went to an all-boys Catholic school where we had a lot of good baseball players. Steve Selsky, who played for the Red Sox and the Cincinnati Reds, was in school with me; he grew up 5-10 minutes from where I grew up. Once I got to high school, it turned into ‘How can I perfect a craft while also playing other sports?’

“I also played basketball and football growing up, which is different from today’s game. A lot of kids now concentrate on just one sport; they just play baseball year round. If I were to go back in time, I think I’d maybe concentrate more on baseball.”

Laurila: Some people feel the opposite is preferable, that kids are better served by playing multiple sports growing up.

Cooper: “I mean, maybe so. But looking back, I think baseball year round would have helped me development-wise. I was always a good hitter, but starting with freshman year of high school, my swing has probably developed five million different ways. I used to think leg kicks were the way to go. In high school, I played in a division with Giancarlo Stanton and a lot of guys were high picks. Our high school league, the Mission League, had a bunch of guys go to places like Oregon, UCLA, and USC.”

Laurila: You played against Giancarlo Stanton in high school.

Cooper: “Yes. He went to Notre Dame, in Sherman Oaks. I’m a year younger, and we played each other in basketball and football, too. He actually had a three-sport scholarship to USC. But seeing the level of talent in our high school league made me realize how much more work I had to do just to play college baseball. I realized that there were so many things I had to do to be a better baseball player.

“With development as a hitter, the more practice, the more reps, the more lessons, the more swing changes… in today’s game, there is so much more video. There are all these places you can go to break down a big league hitter’s swing. When you’re trying to emulate… my favorite player growing up was Troy Glaus, with the Angels. I tried to emulate his swing. It was a upright stance and a little bit of leg kick. I always felt like I was a smart baseball player. I was smart in general. I was a bookworm. I had a high GPA, a high SAT, a high ACT score. I think that analyzing my swing, maybe even overanalyzing it, from a young age helped contribute to my success.”

Laurila: When did you start analyzing your swing?

Cooper: “Maybe when I was around 14? But the progression for every hitter… I think that from age 12 to 30 you’ll change something every single day. You’ll change pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat. You might go from a leg kick to a toe tap to no stride. There were so many things I did that put me in a better position as I got older and the competition got better.

“I initially went to [El Camino Community College] because I didn’t want to sit on the bench at one of the D-I schools in California. Then I got to Auburn. Link Jarrett was the hitting guy when I first got there — he’s the head coach at [Florida State] now — and Gabe Gross, who played seven years in the big leagues, came in when Link left to be head coach at UNC Greensboro. I think Gabe and Link probably had the most significant impact on me developmentally as a hitter. There was just so much they broke down, and at a minuscule level. There were things I’d never really thought of in a way that an ex-major leaguer would. With Gabe, there was always a small tweak, whereas I maybe though something bigger was needed.”

Laurila: Can you give any examples?

Cooper: “Hand placement was one. Just starting a little bit higher or a little bit lower. I’d had a lower hand slot in high school, and when I got to college my hands got a little higher. Gabe would implement ways for my barrel path to get better. How my hips would move… take away the hip-sliding and getting a little bit out in front.

“There were so many good pitchers in the SEC. I was facing guys like Kevin Gausman and Aaron Nola, so listening to someone who played in the big leagues, him breaking down a swing, breaking down the path of where your barrel should start, where you want to be at contact, where your hips want to be when you make your move forward… things like that.

“I hit with a leg kick in college, then went to a no-stride — kind of how I hit now — and to a toe. Getting drafted by the Brewers, they kind of just let me be, because I’d had so much success in college. They didn’t really say much in terms of trying to change anything. A lot of organizations try to change a hitter when they get into pro ball, because they think it’s the best way to hit, or maybe it has worked for other guys. I kind of self-trained my way through the minor leagues and into the big leagues.

“I’m my biggest critic. I’ve gone through a lot of different hitting coaches that have helped — my coaches this year have helped — but you listen to so many different thoughts and processes, and they basically all come to the same conclusion. They just say it in different terms. There are a lot of ways to explain things to a young hitter, but how do you explain it to him the best?”

Laurila: Do you ever overthink at the plate?

Cooper: “Maybe I sometimes outsmart the pitcher with how I would get myself out — what I’d throw in this zone, or in this count — but sometimes I maybe outsmart myself. I’ve taken some pitches where I should have done damage, because I’ve overthought how they would attack me.”

Laurila: What has been your most notable change since coming to Miami?

Cooper: “It would probably be going from the leg lift back to the toe tap. Being 6-5, 240, I don’t need to have such a big move to hit for power. I made that change in about 2018-2019. That’s kind of been the biggest thing for me, going back to the toe.”

Laurila: Any final thoughts?

Cooper: “I’m always trying to stay inside the ball. I’m always trying to hit the big part of the field. I haven’t been a guy who dead pulls homers. Staying through the middle of the field is what leads to me having the most success.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Jacob Berry, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Charlie Blackmon, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Will Brennan, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Gavin Cross, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Paul Goldschmidt, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Nico Hoerner, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Connor Joe, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Lars Nootbaar, Logan O’Hoppe, Vinnie Pasquantino, Luke Raley, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Marcus Semien, Giancarlo Stanton, Spencer Steer, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Spencer Torkelson, Mark Trumbo, Justin Turner, Trea Turner, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Alex Verdugo, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Anthony Volpe, Joey Votto, Christian Walker, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Mike Yastrzemski, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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9 months ago

The definition of solid