MOOSIC — There was only one way Garrett Cooper could describe his 2017 campaign.
“Definitely a whirlwind.”
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders first baseman started the season with Triple-A Colorado Springs, batted .366 and was invited to and played in the Triple-A All-Star game on July 12. Cooper was traded to the New York Yankees the next day and made his MLB debut the following day at Fenway Park.
But now, after being optioned over the weekend to allow the Yankees to use a six-man rotation, Cooper is with the RailRiders and getting his first taste of the International League. He went 0 for 4 Wednesday night and was out of the lineup on Thursday as Yankees first baseman Tyler Austin started his Major League rehab with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
“It’s just part of baseball,” Cooper said of all the changes. “Every guy goes through it. That’s what you signed up for, but it’s been a great time so far.”
When Cooper received the phone call from his Colorado Springs Sky Sox manager Rick Sweet letting him know he had been traded, the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A affiliate didn’t tell Cooper whether he was going to be assigned to the Yankees or the RailRiders.
He left that to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman.
“He knew the whole time I was going to the big leagues. He just wanted the Yankees to call me,” Cooper said. “Cashman called me about 20 minutes later, asked how I was feeling and I was like, ‘Well, I’m running on about an hour of sleep.’ He said, ‘Well, your travel’s going to get a little longer. You’re going to join us in Fenway tomorrow night.’
“Every emotion you can possibly go through about getting called up and making your dream come true.”
Receiving his first-big league promotion on July 14, Cooper had always envisioned himself getting that phone call from the front office that drafted him.
The Brewers selected the former Auburn first baseman in the sixth round in 2013, but with the sudden emergence of Eric Thames, who signed with Milwaukee in the offseason, and the need for a bullpen arm, Cooper was traded to the Yankees for left-handed reliever Tyler Webb.
However, with Greg Bird’s lingering injury issues and Chris Carter’s disappointing start to the season — resulting in two designations for assignment — the Yankees had an immediate need at first base.
“Coming into the biggest rivalry in baseball, being in Fenway, that was definitely something I was not expecting at all,” said Cooper, who went 0 for 4 in his debut, a 5-4 loss. “That opening night, I wish it would have gone a little better, but, I mean, the opportunity you get is all you can ask for.”
Cooper posted a .240 batting average in eight games with the Yankees, but with the recent trades for Sonny Gray and Jamie Garcia, New York suddenly had six quality starters. To keep both youngsters Jordan Montgomery and Luis Severino in the rotation, the Yankees decided to go with a six-man rotation for the time being.
After trading for Chicago White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier on July 19, Chase Headley moved to first base. This left Cooper as the odd man out, sending him down to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre for the time being.
“I wasn’t playing against lefties (up) there and there wasn’t another lefty for about 11 or 12 days. So there was no point of me sitting on the bench for 10 to 12 days not getting any at-bats and then going back to face (Chris) Sale and (Drew) Pomeranz again,” the 26-year-old said. “They said the plan was depending on getting my stuff done here to be back up there, but you just take it day by day and do what you can do.”
With Cooper’s playing time sparse before when he was sent down — playing just twice in the 10 days prior to his Aug. 1 demotion — the Auburn, Ala., native felt his rhythm and timing fall off a bit.
Playing routinely with the RailRiders now, Cooper is looking forward to getting back to when he was with the Sky Sox. He still ranks second in the Pacific Coast League in batting average (.366), RBI (82) slugging percentage (.695) and on-base percentage (.428), playing in 75 games.
“Playing a couple times in the last 10 or so days, you try to get your footing back,” Cooper said. “When you take a few days off in between and then you play and then you take a few days off again.
“The first few at-bats last night felt like kind of how I expected to feel. Just trying to get back to how I was and that rhythm I had all year. That’s just baseball.”