Cooper finds new routine in offseason

February 24th, 2021

JUPITER, Fla. -- Around this time of year, players often can be found quoted as saying they're in the best shape of their lives. When it comes to the Marlins' Garrett Cooper, it's not an overstatement after following a new offseason routine.

Cooper, who returned to California following Miami's run in the postseason, visited with the Los Angeles Lakers' podiatrist upon the recommendation of buddies in the NBA and MLB. For five to six days a week, the 6-foot-5 235-pounder focused less on weights and more on cardio-based workouts like high intensity and functional movements as well as yoga. The goal was to become more agile, flexible and mobile.

"I think it paid off so far," Cooper said Wednesday on Zoom. "Hopefully, as we progress through Spring Training, we'll see how my legs and everything respond. It's the best I've felt since my early 20s leg wise, so I think the changes that I did this offseason hopefully continue to show as I move between first base and outfield."

The combination of no universal designated hitter, Adam Duvall in right field and Jesús Aguilar at first base means the Marlins will need to get creative in finding Cooper at-bats. To keep the roster healthy over the course of a 162-game season, Cooper may spell veterans Corey Dickerson and Duvall at the corner-outfield spots. Perhaps there's the possibility of platooning with left-handed-hitting Dickerson should he struggle against southpaws.

After all, Cooper became a formidable threat in the middle of the order alongside Aguilar and Brian Anderson in 2020, when he slashed .283/.353/.500 with an .853 OPS in 34 games. He and Aguilar split reps at first base and DH. According to Statcast, Cooper was elite when it came to xBA, xSLG and xwOBA last season. His average exit velocity (90.1 mph) and sweet spot rate (39.3 percent) jumped.

"I think this is a great way and it gives [manager Don Mattingly] a lot of options and different scenarios to keep our guys fresh," Marlins general manager Kim Ng said last week. "I think that's one thing that we've got going for us. We're going to have a pretty nice lineup as well when we head into those American League cities."

The issue for Cooper has been staying on the field, as he has landed on the injured list every season since being acquired by the Marlins from the Yankees in November 2017. Only one of those stints -- a left calf strain in '19 -- involved his lower body. But this is where Cooper's training, which he adjusted to take into account his body changing from an early-20s ballplayer to that of a 30-year-old.

Going from first base to the outfield can be taxing since different muscles are being used. While first consists of a lot of squatting, the outfield requires long strides and short bursts. Cooper spent the first two days of full-squad workouts with the outfielders to get his legs underneath him, but he plans on alternating back and forth this spring like he did over the offseason. Cooper would take grounders for 15-20 minutes one day, then do sprint work the next.

"We're going to work both," Mattingly said on Zoom. "Keep the versatility with him. We'll probably start off slow making sure that he's got his arm in a good spot where he's got it stretched out. Probably stay mostly infield early, maybe doing some outfield work with that."

Another added benefit of Cooper's offseason training could be improvement in his sprint speed, which has decreased each season -- but especially from 2019 (27.2 feet/second) to '20 (25.9 feet/second). That would help with tracking down balls in the bigger outfield dimensions of Marlins Park.

Cooper, who last appeared in the outfield in 2019, made 31 starts (16 complete games) in right that season. He played six games (three starts, two CG) in left in '18. While Cooper considers himself a first baseman, right field comes more naturally to him than left.

"I don't think it's going to be that big of an adjustment for me," Cooper said. "The more I take batting practice, you know, live reads out there and getting in games again, I think there'll be a few days where it will be a little bit more of an adjustment period. But I know as I do batting practice and read fly balls off the bat every day, it gets more natural, just like anything in baseball. More swings you take, everything. Hopefully it's like riding a bike again."