Jays nab college bat in first round
First baseman Cooper known for power, disciplined approach
NEW YORK -- The predictions quickly became irrelevant. David Cooper's name was not among the handful that had been connected to the Blue Jays in the days leading up to Thursday's First-Year Player Draft.
Even so, when Toronto's turn to pick came with the 17th overall selection, it was Cooper -- a first baseman out of the University of California-Berkeley -- who stood atop the club's wish list. It was a surprise choice that was a return to an organizational trend of sticking with an advanced collegiate player.
"That's why you never believe the projections," Blue Jays scouting director Jon Lalonde said. "We try to prepare as thoroughly as we can and have a number of scenarios available to us.
"In terms of why we went for a bat, quite honestly, we went with the best player on our board. When our turn came around, David Cooper, we felt, was the best player on our board. We were happy to get him."
As the first half of the Draft unfolded, it looked for a moment as if the Jays might have a shot at selecting Canadian catcher Brett Lawrie -- a native of British Columbia. Lawrie was aiming to become the highest-drafted Canadian position player since those north of the border first became eligible for selection in 1985.
Lawrie -- projected in many mock drafts to possibly fall into Toronto's lap -- was taken by the Milwaukee Brewers, who scooped him up at pick No. 16. That pick might have been influenced by Milwaukee assistant general manager Gord Ash, a Toronto native and a former GM for the Jays.
Of course, it's not a given that the Blue Jays would've leaned Lawrie's way had he been available.
While Lawrie boasts strong power potential for a prep star, Cooper is considered more advanced as a hitter. Cooper is also more akin to the type of players who have typically been selected since J.P. Ricciardi assumed the GM duties for Toronto in 2002.
"He's someone we've liked a lot for a long time," Lalonde said. "And we think he brings something that the system can use in an advanced bat."
With only one pick in the first round, the Blue Jays preferred to take less of a risk, and Cooper also fits that category. It's a drastic switch from last June, when Toronto owned seven selections within the first two rounds and was able to use those picks on varying types of players.
"Having a lot of picks is obviously a huge advantage," Lalonde said. "You get more chances to try and hit a home run, but ... whether we have one pick or seven, whatever the case might be, we still want to try to make sure to get the most you can out of that pick."
If the 21-year-old Cooper signs with the Jays, and Lalonde noted that "every indication that we have is that he's decided to become a professional player," he'll likely be headed to Class A Auburn as his first assignment. If he lives up to his billing, Cooper may not be there long.
Blue Jays' top five selections
|17.||1B||David Cooper||UC Berkeley|
|63.||CF||Kenneth Wilson||Sickles HS (Fla.)|
|95.||RHP||Andrew Liebel||Cal St Long Beach|
|129.||3B||Robert Sobolewski||U of Miami|
|159.||SS||Tyler Pastornicky||The Pendleton School (Fla.)|
|Complete Blue Jays Draft results >|
In 56 games with California this season, the left-handed-hitting Cooper hit .359 with 19 home runs and 55 RBIs. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound infielder -- one of the top first basemen in the Draft -- added 14 doubles and 55 runs to go along with a .449 on-base percentage and a .682 slugging percentage.
Cooper's work helped him become a semifinalist for the Dick Howser Trophy, USA Baseball's Golden Spikes Award and the Wallace Award. He was also a member of the 2006 College World Series All-Tournament team with Cal-State Fullerton before transferring to UC Berkeley.
Lalonde said that Cooper, who led all players with a .533 average in the '06 College World Series, is an extremely disciplined batter with power to all fields. Cooper is considered a decent defender at first base with average speed, but he should be able to overcome any criticisms with his bat.
"We use this term a lot, but I'd say he's a professional hitter," Lalonde said. "Mechanically, he's very sound. When you put his swing under the microscope, it holds up against anyone's. We think, offensively, he's a pretty complete player."
In each of the past two years, Toronto used its top pick on a high schooler, claiming outfielder Travis Snider in '06 and third baseman Kevin Ahrens in '07. Cooper is the first collegiate hitter taken by the Jays since 2003, but Toronto has made a college player its top choice in five of the seven Drafts under Ricciardi.
Prior to the first round on Thursday, the Jays also took part in the honorary Negro Leagues draft, selecting pitcher Harold Gould, a native of New Jersey who made his mark with the Philadelphia Stars in the 1940s and played in Canada from 1948-49.
Here's a look at Toronto's Day 1 Draft selections:
Round 1: David Cooper, 1B, UC Berkeley: Cooper's advanced skill in the batter's box attracted the Blue Jays, who value his patience at the plate and power potential to all fields. The left-handed-hitting first baseman helped Cal-State Fullerton to the College World Series in 2006 and has excelled at UC Berkley in the years since.
Round 2: Kenny Wilson, CF, Sickles (Fla.) HS: With their second-round selection, the Jays used the 63rd overall pick on Wilson, a University of Florida recruit. If signed, the 6-foot, 165-pound prep star would bring athleticism and speed to Toronto. In his senior season at Sickles High, Wilson stole 26 bases and scored 37 runs.
Round 3: Andrew Liebel, RHP, Long Beach State University: Liebel, 22, averaged nearly eight innings per start in his senior season, posting an 8-4 record with a 2.22 ERA, 97 strikeouts and 19 walks over 117 1/3 frames for Long Beach State. The 6-foot-1 right-hander's fastball clocks in between 87-91 mph, and he also features a slider and changeup.
Round 4: Robert Sobolewski, 3B, University of Miami: In his sophomore season with the Hurricanes, Sobolewski -- a native of Sarasota, Fla. -- has hit .326 with seven home runs and 58 RBIs through 57 games. The third baseman, who made the preseason watch list for the Wallace Award, got on base at a .393 clip, with a .483 slugging percentage and 41 runs scores.
Round 5: Tyler Pastornicky, SS, The Pendleton School (Fla.): The Blue Jays used the 159th pick of the Draft on Pastornicky, an athletic shortstop out of Bradenton, Fla. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Pastornicky -- one of the top prep prospects out of Florida -- boasts a strong arm in the field with solid speed that has helped him develop good range at his position.
Round 6: Markus Brisker, CF, Winter Haven (Fla.) HS: Toronto used two of its top six selections on high school center fielders from Florida. Like Wilson in the second round, Brisker is an athletic outfielder with good speed, though he's the larger of the two at 6-foot-4 and 192 pounds. Brisker's power is limited, but he has the ability to hit to all fields.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.