“He’s definitely going to sign,” Boyle County coach David Camic said. “He’s got nothing to go back for now.”
Cooper’s draft stock rose dramatically over the past year, but he said he didn’t know when to expect his name to be called.
“It was a stressful experience. I thought there was a chance I could’ve got picked higher or lower, but in the long run I guess it worked out for me,” he said. “I’m definitely excited, and I feel very blessed to get this opportunity.”
Cooper got the news in Hays, Kan., where he is playing with the Hays Larks of the Jayhawk Baseball League for the third straight year. He was at his host family’s home, monitoring the draft online with the family’s two children.
“I got a call from the Tigers about the 12th round, just checking up on everything, and they finally called my name,” he said. “It was just me and those two little guys, and we celebrated a little bit.”
He said his only regret was that he couldn’t celebrate with his parents.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t have been with my family because I owe all this to my parents. If I could’ve been anywhere, I’d have experienced this with them,” he said. “I called my parents as soon as it happened and told them the news.”
Now come the negotiations. Cooper has retained Little Rock, Ark.-based sports agent Darek Braunecker, whose clients include major league pitchers A.J. Burnett and Cliff Lee, as an advisor. Cooper said he doesn’t have as much leverage this year as he did last year when he was in the much smaller pool of eligible sophomores.
“I should know within the next couple days what they’re going to offer me as far as a signing bonus goes,” he said. “We obviously can’t negotiate too much ... but he’s a great guy, and I trust him.”
Cooper said he met with an area scout for the Tigers last week, then talked with that scout again Sunday after his first game in Hays.
“It’s a great situation because I feel like it was a team that really wanted me,” he said. “They’ve invested a little value in me, so that’s going to help when it comes to moving through the organization. And it’s a great organization to be part of.”
Once he signs, Cooper will likely be assigned to the Tigers’ Gulf Coast League in Lakeland, Fla.
Until then, he’ll stay in Hays, where he pitched four shutout innings in the Larks’ season opener Sunday night and where his career arc took its first sharp turn upward in the summer of 2008.
“They really want me to stay as long as I can,” said Cooper, who is scheduled to start today. “Whenever the time comes, I’ll go.”
Two summers ago, after a rocky freshman season at Eastern Kentucky University, Cooper posted a 2.76 earned-run average with Hays and was named a top prospect from the Jayhawk league by Baseball America.
He transferred to Des Moines (Iowa) Area Community College, where he went 8-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 2009. He spent that summer in the Cape Cod League, where he was named a league all-star after going 2-1 with a 0.66 ERA for the Falmouth Commodores.
He then switched schools again, moving to Bradley to play for former EKU coach Elvis Dominguez this spring.
He lost about 20 pounds — and quite a bit of velocity off his fastball — after a preseason illness. He was knocked out of his first start when he was struck on the forearm by a line drive, and his second start was cut short when the lights went out after two innings.
“All year long I was playing catch-up to get back to where I should be and could be,” he said. “I realize if I’d had a better year I probably would’ve been picked a little higher.