Matt Cooper, a graduate of Marysville Pilchuck High School, pitches for the Birmingham Barons of the Double-A Southern League. (Birmingham Barons photo)

Matt Cooper, a graduate of Marysville Pilchuck High School, pitches for the Birmingham Barons of the Double-A Southern League. (Birmingham Barons photo)

Marysville Pilchuck alum poised for his MLB chance

If one were to look at Matt Cooper’s scouting report, one would be hard-pressed to find anything that makes him stand out against any other Double-A pitcher. At 6-foot and 190 pounds, he has far from the perceived ideal frame for a hurler. His fastball velocity, which sits in the 88-92 mph range, hardly jumps off the page. He doesn’t even have the novelty of being left-handed.

But then take a gander at his numbers. One number pops off the page and demands notice: his strikeout rate.

The Marysville Pilchuck High School product may not look the part, but he is one of the best strikeout pitchers in the minor leagues, and as a result, a shot at the majors is now within his grasp.

“If you look at my baseball card and scouting report you wouldn’t think that would be someone who strikes out a lot of guys,” Cooper said when reached by cell phone. “There’s nothing glamorous about my height and weight. But none of that matters because it’s all about your ability to throw the ball where you want to throw it. That’s pitching.”

Cooper, who graduated from Marysville Pilchuck in 2010, is in his fourth season of professional baseball after being selected in the 16th round of the 2014 draft out of the University of Hawaii by the Chicago White Sox. This season he’s playing for the Birmingham Barons of the Double-A Southern League, and through seven starts he has solid-if-unspectacular standard statistics with a 1-2 record and 3.82 ERA.

But his strikeouts? In 35 1/3 innings he’s fanned 50 batters. That’s 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Among pitchers with enough qualifying innings, Cooper’s strikeout rate ranked sixth among all of Minor League Baseball through Monday.

And that’s par for the course for Cooper’s professional career. With 315 strikeouts in 240 1/3 innings he has a career minor-league strikeout rate of 11.8 per nine innings. It doesn’t matter whether he’s starting (20 career starts) or relieving (78 career relief appearances), when Cooper is on the mound the batters are swinging and missing.

Those strikeout numbers are the type generally reserved for hulking power pitchers, fireballers who hit triple digits on the radar gun like Noah Syndergaard, or guys with explosive breaking pitches like Clayton Kershaw. That’s not Cooper, which begs the following question:

How does he do it?

“It’s all about being able to throw four pitches for strikes,” Cooper explained. “I’m always moving the ball up and down, in and out, changing speeds. I’m able to drop a 1-1 curve or a first-pitch curve for a strike. All of that is important for getting people out. I try to keep it simple, get ahead of guys, and when I do that it makes it a lot easier.”

Being able to throw four pitches for strikes wasn’t always the case for Cooper. Indeed, it took a while before Cooper even threw four pitches, period.

During his high school days, Cooper didn’t really have a breaking ball. He was a fastball-changeup pitcher who relied on his command, and he didn’t throw a curveball until he was 16-years-old. But when Cooper went to Bellevue College he learned how to throw his curve for a strike. Then after he transferred to Hawaii he learned how to throw a slider. The evidence of his development came during his two years at Hawaii, as he struck out a modest 69 batters in 86 innings as a junior, but saw his rate jump to an impressive 106 strikeouts in 106 2/3 innings as a senior.

Then in his first season as a pro in 2014 he took his numbers from impressive to eye-popping, fanning 47 in 34 innings for Great Falls of the rookie Pioneer League. His strikeout rates have remained elevated ever since.

“It depends on the day and what’s working for me that day, but my curveball has always been my best put-away pitch,” Cooper said. “If I set it up properly and throw it down in the zone properly, it’s probably my go-to pitch to put someone away.”

Based on his size, velocity and age — at 25 he’s a tad old for Double-A — Cooper doesn’t profile as a major-league prospect. However, his numbers are impossible to ignore. Cooper is now getting some attention as a prospect, as in the preseason he was ranked 19th among White Sox prospects by, and 28th by And by succeeding at the Double-A level he could be on the brink of getting his shot at the show.

“I absolutely think about it,” Cooper said about the possibility of getting the call. “At this level you’re really just a phone call away, there’s a lot of guys who go from Double-A to the big leagues.

“Looking back at my career, I was a good pitcher in high school, but hardly got any attention from colleges, Everett and Bellevue were the only two. I just kept working on my game and kept doing my thing. You just never know what can happen in this game, so you never know how far you are from the big leagues.”

If Cooper continues striking batters out at his current rate, his chance will likely come sooner rather than later.

Talk to us

More in Sports

Lake Stevens’ Cole Becker celebrates a touchdown with teammates after putting his team up against Kennedy Catholic in the WIAA 4A State Football Championship game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, at Mount Tahoma Stadium in Tacoma, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
2022-23 Herald Athletic Cup: Lake Stevens captures 1st place

The Vikings win the competition, which rewards local high schools for their overall athletic success, for the second straight year.

Jackson's Ben Lee poses with his first-place medal after winning the 4A boys singles state tennis tournament on May 27, 2023, in Kennewick. (WIAA photo)
Winning state tennis title ‘special feeling’ for Jackson’s Lee

The sophomore sensation took home the 4A boys singles crown at the state tennis tournament over Memorial Day weekend.

Jimmy Joyce
Joyce’s return gives AquaSox’s rotation big boost

The 24-year-old, who led the Northwest League in strikeouts last season, hadn’t pitched all season due to a forearm strain.

Spring 2023 All-Wesco teams

Note: All-Wesco teams are chosen by the league’s coaches. For any misspellings… Continue reading

Everett Community College has hired longtime assistant coach Daniel Thompson (middle) as its new head men's basketball coach. (EvCC Athletics photo)
EvCC names Thompson new men’s basketball head coach

Thompson, 35, has been an assistant with the Trojans for 9 seasons and takes over for Mike Trautman, who stepped down in April.

Hammer throw.
Local trio shines in high school hammer throw finals

Adrianna Coleman and Kimberly Beard place 1-2 in the women’s portion, and Calvin Gutierrez takes 2nd in the men’s championship.

Washington celebrates a home run by Rylee Holtorf (3) at home plate during the second inning of an NCAA softball Women's College World Series game against Utah Friday, June 2, 2023, in Oklahoma City. (AP Photo/Nate Billings)
UW opens Women’s College World Series with key win over Utah

After being rained out on Thursday, Washington beats Utah 4-1 to advance into the winner’s bracket.

Hops rally in 9th inning to sink AquaSox

Reid VanScoter turns in an impressive outing, but Everett’s bullpen falters late in a 4-3 defeat.

Rangers shortstop Corey Seager (left) reaches down to tag out the Mariners’ Teoscar Hernande, who was trying to stretch a single into a double during the third inning of a game Friday in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Mariners’ bats silent in shutout by Rangers

Seattle’s offense musters just three hits in the 2-0 defeat.

AquaSox can’t make huge rally hold, lose to Hops

Everett takes the lead with six runs in the eighth, but allows two runs back in the ninth and falls 13-12 to Hillsboro.

The Everett Elite Flag Football 14-under team practices Sunday morning at Harbour Pointe Middle School in Mukilteo, Washington on January 16, 2022. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Community roundup: 3 Jackson grads to D-I baseball tournament

Plus, Jayden White is headed back to the NCAA track and field nationals, the Silvertips sign their first-round picks and more.

The Mariners’ Cal Raleigh smiles as a teammate throws bubblegum at him during an interview after Raleigh hit a single to drive in the winning run against the Yankees during the 10th inning of a game Wednesday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Raleigh’s RBI single in 10th gives M’s 1-0 win over Yankees

George Kirby pitches one of the best games of his young career with eight shutout innings in Seattle’s 1-0 win.