THIS IS THE PROSPECT PREAMBLE.
Each post will feature these words, so feel free to skip accordingly. I offer the same always-standing apologies for the lackluster quality of my writing, as well as the stream of consciousness nature that I write with. I sincerely wish that I was better at writing than I am but, alas, here we are. Also, I'm very good at this as compared to most, but I am still VERY bad at it. Just think about that for a second, for context purposes.
I want to start off by reminding everyone that these posts are aided and enhanced by the works of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs, Baseball America, and Prospects Live. Each embedded link will take you to their subscription pages and you should absolutely do that. Shout out to Geoff Pontes and Matt Thompson from Baseball America and Prospects Live, respectfully, because they're awesome. FanGraphs stats are OBVIOUSLY clutch and awesome, and that's why they are used in nearly every "Dirty" post. LOVE that FanGraphs.
Accordingly, @Cardinalsgifs provides his artistic touch to the pictures in each article, and I wouldn't do this at all if he wasn't a part of it. Special shoutout to @KareemSSN who is a must follow for Cardinals prospects stuff. His partner in crime is @Cardinalsreek and they have their own prospect list coming out soon!! Shoutout to Blake Newberry (@BT_Newberry) and Mr. Brian Walton (@B_Walton) for their work on their list over at The Cardinal Nation, too.
I also want to remind everyone that my list is different in that I don't include players with rookie eligibility that have made a Major League debut. So, you'll have to look elsewhere for Matthew Liberatore, Ivan Herrera, Alec Burleson, Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez, Brendan Donovan, Jake Walsh, Andre Pallante, and ZacK Thompson. Some of these guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway. I'm just trying to get ahead of this because I will 100% be asked about each. I did almost add 32-year-old Rule 5 draft selection Wilking Rodriguez to the list, but decided against it because he's 32-years-old, entering his age 33 season, and the coverage of him will surely be overly saturated by the time that Spring Training gets going. Also, I didn't add recently acquired Jose Fermín because I just don't care at all. I'm sure he'll make a Major League debut at some point in 2023 which will be cool but I just can't find it in me to care about it at all.
The last thing that I'd like to do is remind everyone that this is just a snap shot of THIS moment. I'm not 100% sure what every player on the list has worked on or has been doing this offseason. So, when I'm a little more conservative with a player like, say, Michael McGreevy, it's without the knowledge of what he's worked on this offseason, along with the gains that he's made in the areas that I'm concerned about. You never know when/if things are going to click for a player, and there's more reason now than ever before - with the advancements in modern baseball technologies - for a prospect to catapult themselves from out of nowhere. Vice versa, it's easier than ever for a prospect to fall off into obscurity.
Finally, I'd like to provide links to other sites that rank Cardinals' prospects. The Cardinal Nation, Prospects Live, and Baseball America all have their 2023 lists published, and MLB and FanGraphs will link to their most recent rankings from 2022:
KAREEM AND CARDINALS REEKS TOP 12
THIS HAS GONE ON TOO LONG. LET'S. GO.
LHP Cooper Hjerpe
Age 22 season (March Birthday)
Drafted in the 1st Round of the 2022 Draft
Listed at 6'3, 200
BEFORE WE GET INTO THE WRITE-UP, I WANT TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT PROSPECTS 5-2 COULD REALLY BE IN ANY ORDER. THERE'S AN ARGUMENT TO BE MADE THAT ALL FOUR OF THESE PLAYERS COULD AND SHOULD BE PROSPECT 2a, 2b, 2c, AND 2d. ALL FOUR ARE TOP 100 PROSPECTS IN BASEBALL REGARDLESS OF IF THEY ARE ACTUALLY RANKED ON NATIONAL TOP 100 LISTS.
Before we get too deep, shout out to MASON MCRAE who does an incredible job using data to scout and rank draft prospects. His videos will be scattered throughout this post. He does great work and you should follow him for the data-driven perspective. JOE DOYLE is also incredible at what he does.
I am being way more aggressive with Cooper Hjerpe than I've ever been with a Cardinals' draft selection the year after they were drafted. I'm also being wayyyyyyyyyyy more aggressive than I've ever been for a player that hasn't even pitched an inning in affiliated ball.
That's because Cooper Hjerpe deserves to be treated differently. He's as close to Major League ready as I've witnessed the Cardinals draft, and he was almost undoubtedly the best collegiate arm drafted in the first round of the 2022 draft, as I'm sure history will tell us with hindsight in a decade (if not sooner). It still makes me laugh to think that the Rangers selected Kumar Rocker 3rd overall (because of draft bonus reasons but STILL) and the Cubs took a late-surging Cade Horton 7th overall (also draft bonus related). That's the selection that I CANNOT WAIT to see how it plays out, especially in relation to Cooper Hjerpe's looming success at the next level.
Cooper Hjerpe is so good and so talented and so unique that I have forgotten countless times that he's even a prospect in the organization. Truly, this is something that has happened on PaD a couple of times since the Cardinals drafted him. Mentally, I do this thing where I've just already penciled him into the 26-man roster at some point during the 2023 season. Me, the quickest person on Earth to tell people to pump the breaks on a prospect, and to remind people that it takes a lot of time to develop even the best prospects. That's how remarkable and unique Hjerpe is.
Now, if Hjerpe will actually make his ML debut in 2023 is beyond me. I say things like what I just said, but then I remember just how difficult the sport is. I'm 100% sure that Hjerpe will make short work of his time at High-A if they even send him here. I also don't anticipate that he'll struggle how either McGreevy or Graceffo struggled at AA once he gets there, even if he doesn't dominant the level right away. I've been quick to lazily point to Nick Lodolo as the template for the type of success that Hjerpe could have in his first season of affiliated baseball. It took Lodolo longer to make his Major League debut after being drafted, and in large part because of the lost COVID 2020 season, but that is the kind of production that I imagine that we'll see once Hjerpe first sips from the cup of the Major Leagues.
I believe this because Hjerpe is wise beyond his years on the mound. The kid just knows how to pitch. Like with Graceffo, he can pitch backwards if needed. He can go slider heavy if he wants to. Or, he can go changeup heavy if needed. Which says nothing for how he's able to use his heater. That heater, by the way... Just take a second to put yourself in the batters box against it. Look at the videos in this post and think about how incredibly difficult it is to pick up that pitch. Think about how difficult it is to tell if it's going to be up or down or in or out of the zone because of that arm angle and that release point. Then, think about how the rest of how his shit works. Good. Fucking. Luck.
As I'm sure that you know by now and that you can tell by the tweets, the most unique thing about Hjerpe is his arm angle and how much extension he gets at release. The Chris Sale mechanical comp is there for a reason (ONLY FROM A UNIQUELY MECHANICAL PERSPECTIVE, YOU MONSTERS), but even then it's different.
NOW, BEFORE WE GET TOO FAR I NEED TO LINK TO @Tieran711's terrific article leading up to the draft that highlights what Cooper Hjerpe does with his arsenal and what it looks like. PLEASE CLICK THE LINK. (In case the link didn't go straight to the write-up like I tried, Hjerpe is prospect #13).
The gist with Hjerpe is that all of his stuff measures incredibly well in large part due to his arm angle but also in large part because both he is, and his stuff is, really fucking good. There's some concern about his velocity, but he has been clocked in the high 90's before. The second Tweet/video in this post shows the extra velocity that he can get to if needed. It was a rare occasion, and he's usually barely touching the mid-90's while living between 90-92, but we've also heard Cooper talk about not using the extra velocity because he never needed. And he's right, he didn't need it. Hjerpe suppressed slug, induced groundballs, and got plenty of swings and misses without even needing to get to another gear. By the time Hjerpe gets to AA he'll probably have to find a different gear, to be clear. Then again, Connor Thomas had similar "plus" command to Hjerpe as a collegiate lefty and dominated his relatively small taste of AA in 2021. Thomas did end up struggling during the 2022, but that was due in large part to his command betraying him as opposed to how his stuff worked. So, I guess, Hjerpe will be fine as long as he keeps commanding the ball the way that he commanded it for Oregon State during the 2022 collegiate season.
Another thing that Tieran points out in his fantastic evaluation is that while Hjerpe's slider is slow, it's also incredibly unique and devastating. This makes it another well-above average pitch that could probably be described as plus, but is certainly at least on the track of being a plus pitch. What I know is that lefties don't stand a chance against it and righties can't find a barrel against it. Tieran gets into the minutia of the spin and shape and movement of the pitch, and you should click the link above to find out more about it.
My favorite thing to watch is when Hjerpe drops a changeup against a righty that seems to defy movement physics and gets an awful and off-balance swinging strikeout with that pitch. There isn't a world in which the changeup isn't already a plus pitch, and I can't imagine a scenario in which many Minor Leaguers are able to do much with it. Like with Luke Weaver ahead of him, there's a really good chance that the fastball/change combo will be good enough on their own to get him to the Majors. When paired with the slider, I'd characterize his entire arsenal as well-above average with the chance to be plus or even plus-plus. I hedge right now because you just never know, ya know?? Let's see how it plays in the minors first.
The tough thing about Hjerpe moving forward is that he is who he is. As we've come to learn more and more about pitching mechanics, biometrics, and what works with what within a pitcher's arsenal, there is very little that Hjerpe is going to be able to change in his arsenal. Aside from the addition of a cutter that he's been working on, there's a good chance that the addition of a curve won't matter much. I've heard him talk about using both a curve and a sinker in the past, but his arm angle probably won't do much for either pitch. So, for Hjerpe, it's a simple as working on and in a cutter as/if needed, but continuing to work on the evolution of his three primary pitches. For fun, here's Hjerpe striking out Cardinals' 2022 12th round selection, infielder Michael Curialle without much effort on Curialle's part.
It's rare for the Cardinals to have a prospect as unique and intriguing from the college ranks as Cooper Hjerpe is. That's mostly because Cooper Hjerpe is a unique pitcher that baseball rarely sees. There is All-Star and top of the rotation potential here, and it might not even be that far away if Hjerpe can stay healthy. At the very least, Cooper is going to be a dynamic bullpen arm that will steal the souls of lefties and righties alike at a top tier. Hjerpe is such a smart and fearless kid with pitching I.Q for days, and the understanding of advanced tech and techniques to get the most out of his already hard-working self. Cooper Hjerpe is poised for a meteoric rise through the Cardinals' system, and it'll come on the back of at least three pitches that he uses in every part of the zone and in every count against both lefties and righties.
ALSO, LOOK AT THIS VIDEO ABOVE OF A PRE-COLLEGIATE COOPER HJERPE TALKING ABOUT SELECTING OREGON ST AS HIS COLLEGE. I DEFINITELY couldn't have finished this article without the @BeaverBaseball Twitter account and video.
Thanks For Reading!! Kyle Reis