Being the thinking man’s pitching coach that the Aeros’ Greg Hibbard is, when he asks a young player a question, they’re always best served to take a minute and think before giving an answer.
So when the pitching guru recently asked the Aeros’ young swingman, Jordan Cooper, ‘‘What kind of pitcher are you?’’ it wasn’t as simple of a question as one might initially think.
Hibbard was well aware that Cooper, 24, had both started and relieved for the Aeros since his promotion from high Class-A Kinston on April 29 and has had success in each role.
What Hibbard was really asking was what role did Cooper think he’d fill farther up the ladder, including the one he’d serve if he were to reach the major leagues?
“He hit the nail on the head with his answer,” Hibbard said proudly. “He’s said he’s the type of pitcher who is probably a long guy out of the pen, maybe a spot starter at times. And that’s right because he bounces back really well, locates his fastball really good and can show you a four-pitch mix.”
Not many young pitchers will readily admit they might not cut it as starter in the big leagues. Especially those like the 6-foot-3, 203-pound Cooper, who have had a lot of success in college before he became the Indians’ ninth-round pick in the 2010 draft.
At Wichita State in 2010, Cooper was the Missouri Valley Conference Pitcher of the Year after posting a 10-3 record and a 2.01 ERA as a junior.
Hibbard’s question wasn’t meant to hint at what Cooper wasn’t. It was meant to help him focus on the strength of who he is so that he can maximize that.
“He has to continue to learn how he needs to attack hitters,” Hibbard said. “And to do so, it helps to know what kind of pitcher he is.”
Cooper gets it. It can be a bit confusing while being asked to split time between the starting rotation and bullpen during his debut at the Double-A level. Cooper is 1-0 with a 2.89 ERA in six relief appearances and 2-3 with a 3.38 ERA in five starts in Akron.
The last three times he’s taken the mound, Cooper has started and has really settled into a groove. He has gone 2-1 with a 0.49 ERA. In 18⅓ innings, he has limited the opposition to just one earned run on seven hits. Although he walked nine batters over that same span, he struck out 15.
Despite his recent success, Hibbard knows that starting likely won’t be Cooper’s role at Triple-A and perhaps not even the rest of this season in Akron. Thus, whether starting a game fresh or coming in five or six innings later, Cooper is best served to have the same approach to getting batters out, regardless of his role.
“Sometimes I can be a little too careful with a batter, maybe give him a little more credit than I should,” he said. “There was a batter in my last outing where I didn’t attack him and instead walked him. In the lower levels, it seems like the first couple innings, when a guy’s throwing a fastball, they’re antsy to jump all over it. So, you’re really careful. But it’s a lot different to pitch up here then in the lower levels.”
So while Cooper adjusts to a new learning curve, he’s lucky to have Hibbard at his side, making him think hard.
“It’s different because we’ve been told for so long to just focus on the here and now, just keep it simple,” Cooper said. “We’re told to focus on each outing and getting guys out. So it’s an adjustment in the way you think, but one I know is for the best. One that will make me better in the long run.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.