With Adam Wainwright on the disabled list, the St. Louis Cardinals turn to rookie Tim Cooney to fill a gap in the starting rotation. Here's a rundown on the newest Redbird.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Cooney was a starting pitcher for three years at Wake Forest and a reasonably successful one. After some scuffling as a freshman he took a large step forward as a sophomore in 2011 (3.08 ERA, 91/18 K/BB in 99 innings) and was well-positioned to go early in the 2012 draft. However, he had some unexpected command issues as a junior, bumping his ERA up to 3.81 in 99 innings with a 90/38 K/BB; note the increase in walks. He was still drafted in the third round but had been rumored as early as the late first until his erratic spring.
Cooney re-established his command in pro ball with a 43/8 K/BB in 56 innings in the New York-Penn League after signing. He continued to throw strikes with ease in 2013 (125/18 K/BB in 118 innings for Double-A Springfield, 3.80 ERA) then followed up with a solid inning-eating campaign for Memphis in the difficult Triple-A Pacific Coast League last year, going 14-7, 3.47 with a 119/47 K/BB in 158 innings. He's been sharp again this year (14/5 in 17 innings, 3.63 ERA) and doesn't have much left to prove in the minors.
Listed at 6-3, 195, Cooney was born December 19, 1990. He is a classic college-trained finesse lefty, topping at 92 MPH in his best moments and commonly working at 87-90. He is intelligently aggressive with the heat, locating it well and hitting the right marks, unafraid to throw inside when necessary: he does not nibble like some finesse lefties or look passive against experienced hitters. He has a very good slow curveball and is also known to use a harder cutter/slider.
Reports on his change-up are mixed: some reports say it is above average, while others say it is mediocre. Cooney himself told VivaElBirdos in January that his change-up is the pitch that needs the most improvement. In the same interview, Cooney said that he pays
". . .attention to sabermetric stats like FIP, and I do base a lot of my pitching philosophy on minimizing it, but I do also believe that the sabermetric pitching stats miss a lot of things that go into reducing runs scored. I pay a lot of attention to weak/hard contact, strikeouts, walks, and situational pitching."
That statement perfectly fits reports that Cooney has a deep knowledge of pitching. His makeup and mound presence are also highly-regarded and help his physical talents play up.
Cooney may not throw 97 MPH but he knows what he is doing out there and has a good chance to be an effective inning-eating starter. For his first start, watch to see if he properly locates his fastball, how effective his curve and cutter are against big league hitters, and how many change-ups he uses.