August 5, 2021

Forensic Career Bypassed as Indy Grad Jason Cooper Takes on New Opportunity With Pirates

December 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Stanford University professors may not want to hear it, but one of their anthropological science graduates has given up an admitted “passion” for forensics to start on Phase 2 of a professional baseball career, this time as a front office rookie with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Jason Cooper could see the handwriting on the wall within a few weeks of his 31st birthday that he was not going to have a significant major league playing career, and, instead, followed up on a longtime relationship with Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington to accept a position as Assistant to the Director of Player Development and “get more exposed to all facets” of working in a front office.  “You don’t see a ton of players go this route”, Cooper admitted from his native Washington state, but this seems to be an advanced opportunity because he will work out of the Bucs’ spring training site of Bradenton, FL at least from early January until well into fall to scout Pittsburgh’s Florida State League and Gulf Coast League teams, to work on data analysis and to assist in the Florida Instructional League.

The first announcement of Cooper joining the Pittsburgh organization indicated he was one of four players signed out of Independent leagues to become player-coaches.  That is the case for Vince Harrison, Keoni De Renne and Michael Ryan, but not for Cooper, who has spent the last two and a half seasons after being released out of the New York Mets system as an everyday outfielder for the St. Paul (MN) Saints in the American Association and a few weeks late in 2009 with Lancaster, PA of the Atlantic League.

But the left-handed-hitting Cooper, who only got a few spring training at-bats in a major league uniform, had met Huntington when he was Assistant General Manager for Cleveland, and the Richland, WA native was in the middle of his seven-year stint in the Indians’ farm system after they made him a third round draft choice after his junior season at Stanford (2002).

 ”He (Huntington) was always very approachable,” Cooper says, and “we maintained contact.”  That led Huntington to “bring me to Florida” this fall where Cooper was not thinking about any of his 134 minor league home runs but rather “several interviews”, and eventually the offer to work under Kyle Stark and Larry Broadway to learn the Pirates’ way of doing business.

As it turned out, the seasons with St. Paul and the stint in the Atlantic League where he liked the quality of the diamonds as well as playing against many former teammates and opponents were quite satisfying.  He liked the “emphasis to win” instead of merely develop talent, because “you were raised to try to win.  I thought if it (St. Paul) was the last place I played it would be a good place to have it end.”

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Indy Tournament Moving Ahead With MLB Teams in Support

Major league teams have given “nothing but great feedback” for the Independent League Prospect Tournament set for February 24-March 4 in St. Petersburg, FL, event creator Nick Belmonte told us Thursday, saying that he had spoken to about seven organizations so far.

And, he has agreements from 34 players so far, emphasizing that is “34 out of maybe 35 invitations”,  indicating the showcase for the younger up-and-comers in the Indy leagues is being met with enthusiasm.  Each of four teams will play 10 games, wrapping up with a March 4 championship at longtime spring training stadium Al Lang Field and the selection of an all-tourney team and a Most Valuable Player award named for the late St. Petersburg resident and independent manager Bob Flori.

Belmonte lists four of the top five and seven of the top 10 selections on Baseball America magazine’s all-Independent prospects list plus two honorees from past teams among those who will report for training on February 20.

Wily Mo Pena in Line to Make Up to $5 Million in Japan

 Lefty Raul Valdes (New Jersey Jackals and Nashua, NH, Can-Am League) and catcher Jose Yepez (Pensacola, FL, American Association, and Gary, IN, now in the same league but part of the Northern League at the time) are the first two former Independent players we have seen so far to receive non-roster invitations to major league spring training camps, but the happiest Indy grad very likely is slugging first baseman-outfielder Wily Mo Pena.

Pena, who will play next season at 30, is reported by various media sites to be inking a seven-figure, two-year contract worth $5 million with incentives to play for the defending champion Fukuoka Hawks in JapanThat is a lot of bread for someone who has only 113 major league at-bats since 2008.  Pena got his career re-started when he hit .310 with eight bombs and 34 RBI in 39 games for Bridgeport, CT of the Atlantic League in 2010.

Valdes’s minor league free agent signing with Philadelphia was announced this week after a season spent primarily in Triple-A although he got into a combined 13 games as a reliever with St. Louis and the New York Yankees and presumably got a partial postseason share from both clubs.  He has a 2-2 record and a 3.71 ERA in the Dominican Republic this winter where he has walked only four hitters in 34 innings while striking out 31.  Yepez will be in camp with Atlanta.

(This is an excerpt from the column Bob Wirz writes year round on Independent Baseball.  Fans may subscribe for the remainder of 2011 and all of 2012 at, enjoy his blogs, and, or comment to  The author has 16 years of major league baseball public relations experience with Kansas City and as spokesman for two Commissioners and lives in Stratford, CT.)




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