By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Don Cooper experience is a unique one, to say the least. Since the middle of 2002, White Sox pitchers have all been “Coop’s boys.”
Starting with Mark Buerhle and morphing into the recent influx of young pitchers, Cooper has been the pitching guru for almost a full generation of White Sox pitchers. Chris Sale is in Boston on his way to a Cy Young Award, while Jose Quintana is doing his best to pitch the Chicago Cubs into contention for another World Series run. Both were molded by Cooper.
The list of successful pitchers coming through Chicago and Cooper school of training is a vast one and current enrollees include Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. Soon, Michael Kopech will follow.
That Cooper is the godfather of the cut fastball has been widely known in the major leagues since he resurrected Esteban Loaiza from the junk pile and turned him into a 21-game winner in 2003.
Cooper balks at the idea he is a one-pitch teacher. He looks no deeper than each pitcher and their particular strengths and weaknesses, and he prides himself in working with and helping all types of hurlers.
“Coop is a pretty hands-on the coach,” left-hander Carlos Rodon said. “He is a really good guy for young guys to pay attention to. He has been here a long time. I have definitely gotten a lot better by working with him. It is an overall good experience.”
Matt Thornton’s success story was one of the best Cooper rehab projects ever. Thornton threw 98 to 100 mph back when not everyone could do it. In Seattle, he had serious command issues nearly every time he pitched.
When Thornton arrived in Chicago in 2006, Cooper took a look at his delivery and moved him from the middle of the rubber to the right side of the mound. That move and the confidence that Cooper and manager Ozzie Guillen showed in the hyper Thornton changed the course of his career, and he was a fixture in the White Sox bullpen for the next seven-and-a-half seasons.
Now it’s go time again for Cooper and his new corps of young arms. Like so many times before, Cooper’s charge will be to get the most out of this new group.
“We as coaches get a front-row seat to watch these young guys try and realize their dreams,” Cooper said. “That is really a great perk of the job. I am of course excited about all the talent I hear we are accruing. Somewhere down the road, we will be back. Right now, for me, it is all about opportunities for these guys.”
Rodon believes this new group of pitchers is in for a great experience with the Cooper.
“He will repeat instructions to you until you remember it,” Rodon said. “Young guys like me tend to lose focus once and awhile. It is a good thing because he will repeat what he is trying to get across to you. It eventually will sink in there. These pitchers will know he has had a pretty good track record with guys before they got here.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.