The Indians seem to have developed an odd speciality: taking a gamble on players who appear to be washed up and making them shine. Scott Kazmir certainly made the biggest comeback, but Ubaldo Jimenez and Ryan Raburn had also been written off by a number of fans and baseball writers when last season began. On Monday the Indians took their latest gamble when they signed first baseman David Cooper.
Cooper is 26 and was originally signed by Cleveland on August 13th. He appeared in 13 games between the rookie Arizona League club and AAA Columbus. A former first round pick, he split the 2012 season between AAA Las Vegas and the Toronto Blue Jays. He hit .314 (82-261) with 27 2B, 10HR & 52 RBI in 62 games for Las Vegas before being promoted to Toronto in May, batting .300 (42-140) with 11 2B, 4HR & 11 RBI in 45 games with the Blue Jays. Then in late August 2012, he injured his back during a game against the Tigers. What was thought to be a back sprain was really a herniated thoracic disk that was compressing his spinal cord. This was a potentially career-ending injury. Worst-case scenario and it would be a mobility-ending injury. The Blue Jays released him in March 2013, and he had radical surgery in April.
Jerry Crasnick wrote a great piece on ESPN detailing Cooper’s surgery. This wasn’t just routine back operation. Cooper now has a titanium plate a titanium plate and two 8-millimeter titanium screws fusing the T-7 and T-8 vertebrae in his back. Plus he has some locking nuts holding the plate and screws together. He’s not quite the bionic man, but you can safely call him a medical miracle. I don’t know if they made him better, stronger faster, but maybe he can regain the swing he had for the 2011 AAA Las Vegas 51’s, where he hit .364 AVG/.439 OBP with a hefty .974 OPS. Cooper is a career .301 in the minors and in 72 games with the Blue Jays, batted .270 with 18 doubles, 6 home runs, and 23 RBI. He hit .314/.364/.373 in 55 plate appearances between the rookie Arizona Fall League and AAA last year. And wouldn’t you know it–he’s another left-handed bat.
I don’t know if Cooper is going to be our inspiring comeback story of 2014 or not, but wouldn’t it be cool if he were?