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College  | Story  | 8/23/2011

Star of the summer

Kendall Rogers     
Photo: Sport Pix

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MORE COVERAGE: 2011 Summer Collegiate All-Americans

The Major League Baseball amateur draft is always filled with surprises, both positive and negative. But few surprises were more puzzling than the exclusion of Utah outfielder Shaun Cooper from any organization’s draft list.

That’s right. Utah slugger Shaun Cooper, who made a living hitting behind first-round pick C.J. Cron throughout the 2011 season for the Utes, nowhere to be found through 50 rounds and over a thousand picks.

Utah coach Bill Kinneberg was shocked. Don’t get me wrong, he was pleased with the fact he knew Cooper would return to the program for another season. But it also was a bittersweet feeling, as Kinneberg knew Cooper certainly was draft worthy.

Despite getting snubbed in the MLB draft, Cooper shrugged his shoulders and quickly began worrying about his summer at the Northwoods League. Good thing he did that, because Cooper, the now Utes senior, is Perfect Game’s National Summer Player of the Year after putting together a masterful summer season with the Mankato MoonDogs.

“I think the power numbers he put together with the wood bat really surprised me,” Kinneberg said about Cooper. “I think that surprised everyone, really. But we have always known he could hit. But with that much power? Very surprising.”

It’s safe to say Cooper, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound, outfielder, is having a year to remember.

He spent his freshman season at Arizona three years ago and hit .300 in the process. He then transferred to Pima Community College, where he hit .330. Last season, Cooper transferred to Utah and immediately found himself – with a wrist injury and all – batting behind a stud prospect in C.J. Cron.

That situation and role didn’t deter Cooper. He put together a solid campaign for the Utes, hitting .332 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. He also hit 14 doubles and seven triples, and had a very solid .589 slugging percentage.

“He was in a really, really important position for us last season behind C.J. and he did a very nice job,” Kinneberg said. “He always was coming up to bat in crucial situations and I really think that was something he learned from. It was a tough situation to be in to say the least.”

After a learning experience with the Utes this past spring, Cooper embarked on his summer at the Northwoods League. Deep down, he expected to get drafted. But that call never came, making him even more determined to have a successful summer.

“I didn’t really want to get my hopes up, but it was a little bit disappointing,” Cooper said. “I put that situation behind me and vowed to work harder.”

Cooper began a rigorous summer training program, where he went two days on and one day off with upper and lower body workouts, pushing himself to the limit.

The hard work paid major dividends on the field for the MoonDogs.

Cooper, even with a wooden bat, compiled power numbers reminiscent of the old composite bats in college baseball. He batted an impressive .335 with 20 home runs and 61 RBIs. He also smacked 14 doubles, four triples, scored 55 runs and collected 81 hits. Amazingly, Cooper’s 20 home runs were eight more than the league’s second-leading home run hitter, North Alabama’s Joshua Cyr.

“I think I felt more comfortable with the wood bat this summer. My swing has always been a bit more wood-bat oriented,” Cooper said. “I just kind of put all my experiences together and had an idea of how to approach things with a wood bat.”

Cooper’s strongest statement this summer might’ve come at the Northwoods League annual home run derby, where he edged former high school rival Kyle Peterson 12-10 in the final round of the event. Amazingly, Cooper finished the three rounds of the home run derby with 33 home runs, putting his raw power on display.

“I really think Shaun has always swung the wood bat better than the aluminum bat. Generally, it’s all about the torque in his swing,” said Mankato manager and Central Arizona JC assistant Mike Orchard. “He’s not a really tall guy, but if you see him in a cut-off shirt, everyone knows he’s a very strong individual. You put that strength with the torque in his swing and it generates a lot of power. He’s not very tall, he’s just really, really big.”

After such a successful summer, it’s hard to imagine Cooper has much more to accomplish. But since he didn’t get drafted, his hard work will continue, striving to guide the Utes to success in their first year in the Pac-12, while also hoping to achieve his personal goal of playing professional baseball.

“I’m really anxious to see what he looks like when fall workouts begin,” Kinneberg said. “I’m happy that it [getting drafted and signing] didn’t happen, but I really hope he opened some eyes this past summer and some scouts and teams will take a long, hard look at him this fall and throughout the 2012 season.”

Meanwhile, at least Cooper doesn’t have to make believers out of Kinneberg, nor Orchard. They know well what he’s capable of accomplishing.

“All the scouts were there watching him hit ridiculous home runs in the home run derby. Those same guys were at the Cape Cod League, too, and never saw a display like that,” Orchard said. “People look at Shaun and wonder where he’ll play at the next level, but they don’t understand he plays big. I think he has a 45 arm from left field, but it rates as a 50 for me because he understands how to play the position. He’s a not a prototypical 6-foot-3 for the position, but he kind of reminds me of a Dan Uggla type. He doesn’t have a plus arm or speed, but he knows his position like no other.”

What perhaps was one MLB organization’s loss was Mankato’s gain this summer, and Utah’s for the 2012 college baseball season.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at kendall@perfectgame.org