JUPITER, Fla.—Few people could have predicted that Garrett Cooper would be back in the position he is in as spring winds down. His own manager didn't even see it coming.
“He’s actually looking better than I thought he would...I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” Don Mattingly said.
Cooper was the Marlins starting right fielder on Opening Day 2018. Slated for a significant role on the club, he made it through only four games before suffering a wrist injury on a HBP against the Cubs. He would return on July 6, but re-aggravated it while diving for a ball 10 games later. All told, he slashed .212/.316/.242 in 38 major league plate appearances.
Entering spring, Cooper wasn't gifted his job back right away. With new additions to a crowded outfield, he was competing with Curtis Granderson, Lewis Brinson, Rosell Herrera, Austin Dean, and—most directly—Peter O’Brien.
With Dean and O’Brien recently being optioned out to Triple-A New Orleans, and even though Mattingly won't release the full roster until Thursday, we can read between the lines: Cooper is back in The Show.
Garrett Cooper has made the Marlins opening day roster. Cooper hit .395 this spring and earned his way on. Although the club won’t confirm or make official yet, he is expected to start in RF on Thursday.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) March 24, 2019
The 28-year-old said he has never had an injury of this length or severity in his career, whether it be high school, college, or the pros. He said that sitting on the bench instead of competing was the hardest part of this process. Simply being able to compete in Spring training was a huge milestone in his road back:
“You put on the uniform, you compete everyday...and hopefully I showed [the coaching staff] that I’m back and ready to go. I’ve fought through a long road to get back here. It’s definitely gratifying to move forward and be in the position I’m in.”
Cooper slashed .395/.438/.488 in 21 Grapefruit League games to earn his way into Miami’s plans.
Beyond just getting back to where he was last year, he aimed to improve upon what he accomplished in his short stint last year:
“I took a lot of time this offseason to study my swing from last year...focus more on taking more away from that launch angle thing that everybody got infatuated with. Started to hit some hard line drives and find more barrels.”
Cooper and O’Brien essentially alternated days in the starting lineup this spring. O’Brien hit .220/.353/.390 in 18 games. Although his stat line was subpar, the Hialeah native put together solid at-bats, and started to improve towards the end. Mattingly called the move “our toughest decision” of the spring. Ultimately, the coaching staff wanted to see more consistency in his at-bats.
Great ambassador for this organization https://t.co/A7uFoofLwP— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) March 23, 2019
Although O’Brien didn’t make the 25-man roster, Mattingly see the possibility for a call-up as the season moves along.
“It doesn’t mean he still doesn’t end up being a big part of our club,” said Mattingly. “Your club does not usually end up the way it starts.”
On Monday morning, the Marlins capped off Spring Training with a rain-shortened “Futures Game” scrimmage (more coverage of it from our own Ian Smith). The club elaborated on their surprising decision to release veteran right-hander Dan Straily, and unofficially identified the winners of several roster battles.
With three days to go, here is our final 2019 Opening Day roster projection:
- Pitchers—José Ureña, Trevor Richards, Sandy Alcántara, Pablo López, Caleb Smith, Wei-Yin Chen, Austin Brice, Nick Anderson, Tyler Kinley, Tayron Guerrero, Adam Conley, Drew Steckenrider and Sergio Romo (Riley Ferrell to be placed on the 15-day injured list)
- Position players—Jorge Alfaro, Chad Wallach, Martín Prado, Neil Walker, Starlin Castro, JT Riddle, Miguel Rojas, Brian Anderson, Curtis Granderson, Lewis Brinson, Garrett Cooper and Rosell Herrera
The regular season for the Marlins begins Thursday against the Colorado Rockies at 4:10 p.m. Fish Stripes will be credentialed and on site for that as well as nearly every home game in 2019.