GAINESVILLE, FL- The University of Florida is blessed with two intriguing outfielders for the 2009 draft in centerfielder Matt Den Dekker (PGX #71 prospect for Draft) and rightfielder Riley Cooper (PGX #175) I got a look at both on Sunday at home against Louisville. They each have the potential to go within the first three rounds in the June draft.
Both run well and show range in the outfield. Though Den Dekker is the centerfielder here, Cooper is very likely to man the middle when he enters pro ball. But aside from that common thread, they don’t look anything alike in a uniform or on the baseball field.
Den Dekker, a lefthanded hitter and thrower, is also a relief pitcher for the Gators. He has a short stroke with a level, line-drive swing that has become progressively stronger since his freshman year. I’d grade his bat-speed as average and his raw power as future average. Den Dekker didn’t have a good afternoon today, however, going 0-4 and rolling over balls in two at-bats. He also struck out once chasing a high fastball. Every at-bat was against a righthanded pitcher. So the discipline and pitch recognition still have a ways to go, but he has the equipment to become a solid-average big league hitter in the end.
He grades out as a 60 runner (usually 4.1 from home-to-first) and has good agility in the outfield. Den Dekker’s radar works well and he has a near-average arm that is plenty playable. I don’t see him as a league-leading basestealer in the pros, but he could swipe 15-20 a year in the right system. Den Dekker went 20-20 in steals last year as a sophomore. At 6-1, 205, he’s nearly mature with a well-proportioned, medium frame. There’s no noticeable thickness in his lower half to where I think he’ll slow down.
Den Dekker lacks an all-star upside and that’s what I think would keep him out of the first or second round. He’s a solid fourth outfielder projection (for a strong MLB club) and coming out of a program like UF after three years, he’s a relatively safe pick who is not too far away. He hit .333-8-49 in 213 at-bats last year.
Den Dekker’s teammate Riley Cooper is a treasure trove of raw ability. The sculpted 6-3, 215 righthanded hitting and throwing outfielder is a 70 runner with gazelle-like strides in the outfield and on the bases. He has plus-plus outfield range right now because of good instincts as well as agility. With a solid-average 55 arm, Cooper projects as a very good major league centerfielder who can play the corners as well. He made a spectacular catch jumping over the right field fence earlier in the weekend before I arrived.
The biggest issue is with his bat, and much of it has to do with a lack of repetitions in comparison to his SEC counterparts who only play one sport. Riley Cooper is also a wide receiver on Florida’s national championship football team and a vital part of its offense. Football kept him from playing baseball at all as a freshman, which is why he’s a redshirt sophomore on the diamond right now.
Cooper generates near-average bat-speed and 60 line-drive (and raw) power. He stands slightly open and holds his hands very low, which will leave him vulnerable to anything hard that’s up and in. Cooper hit a line-drive to left in his first at-bat off a low and inside slider. Oddly, it was on a 3-0 delivery from Louisville pitcher Matt Lea. Running from the get-go, Cooper legged out a double which was impressive to watch. He ended up scoring from second on a bloop single to right, the run clearly a product of both his speed and aggressiveness.
His next three at-bats were strikeouts that exposed his lack of approach. Cooper took two quick strikes in his second plate appearance, seemingly unable to recognize good pitches to hit. He ended up striking out on a high slider. Cooper was carved up in his third and fourth at-bats again as well after taking pitches over the plate for strike one.
When I saw Cooper play early last year, his bat was much worse. He was an easy out and his swing was much rougher than it looked today. Reportedly, he got hot playing every day at the end of the 2008 season which further supported the idea that he just needs repetitions to bring out his upside. Overall, he hit .207-2-20 in 58 at-bats with five stolen bases in 2008.
There is definitely upside and if he’s willing to quit football, someone will give him early-round money this summer. Cooper is the type of player you have to watch to the end of the spring because he could really blow up. The Philadelphia Phillies took a 15th-round flyer on him out of high school in 2006.
Check back shortly as I blog on opponent Louisville’s two infield prospects: third baseman Chris Dominguez (PGX #22)and first baseman Drew Clark (PGX #363).