The 2021 MLB Draft will begin on July 11, 2021. We take a look at Cooper Kinney, a bat-first infielder with good pop but an uncertain future defensively.
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Cooper Kinney, Infielder, Baylor (Tenn.)
Weight: 200 lbs.
2018: 12G, .333/.478/.500, 12 H, 11 RBI, 1 HR, 10 BB, 5 K
2019: 11G, .325/.372/.525, 13 H, 8 RBI, 2 HR, 3 BB, 4 K
2021: 31G, .480/.539/.990, 48 H, 50 RBI, 10 HR, 12 BB, 12 K
Hitting is Kinney’s best trait, though he has also demonstrated the potential to hit for power; his 10 homers through 31 games in 2021 were blatant evidence of such. Meanwhile, he’s merely average in the field, posting solid glovework and an average-at-best arm.
Kinney has really impressed as a hitter, logging hits in 48 percent of at-bats as a senior while reaching base in 53.9 percent of trips to the plate. He drew more walks than strikeouts as a high schooler, and while that likely won’t carry over into the pros, such patience at the plate provided value to his Baylor team. The infielder has really good bat speed from the left side of the plate and can evidently produce pop, too. He’s already large in size, but it’s possible that Kinney could produce even more power if he grows bigger and stronger.
Kinney is solid in the field, too. While not flashy, he has been serviceable in the field and should be able to stick at second or third base. (The alternative here would be moving him to left field or first base.)
Running is Kinney’s biggest weakness as he is a below-average runner. This drastically limits his range and restricts which positions he can play in the field. This, in turn, impacts his potential value in the draft.
As for defense, Kinney’s arm strength can be described as average, and even that may be generous. He played a lot of third base and catcher in high school, so he clearly can throw. Still, he doesn’t have the flashy arm strength and long-range accuracy that will stand out on highlight reels. As a result of this, he could be destined for second base.
Finally, there are reasonable concerns about his hitting approach. While he has certainly produced and is a safe bet to continue this production in the pros, there is also a swing-and-miss factor in his game. He can be super aggressive at the plate, leading to poor contact or even whiffs. He also had a 1.00 K/BB rate in 2021, which would be great for an MLB player but checks in higher than many would hope for from a top prep prospect. In the end, Kinney needs to be less aggressive at the plate, working on his pitch recognition and doing a better job identifying which pitches are in his zone.
Pro Comparison: Jed Lowrie
I struggled to find a perfect comparison for Kinney, and while I am on board with MLB Pipeline’s suggestion of Daniel Murphy, the goal here was to find an active player. As such, let’s settle on Lowrie. If you can ignore the size difference of three inches and 15 pounds, the two have similar profiles.
Currently playing second base for the Oakland Athletics, Lowrie has a background at second, shortstop, and third base. He’s been up-and-down defensively, and he’s posted negative dWAR in 38.5 percent of his MLB seasons. He has finished with less than 1.0 dWAR in nearly 62 percent of seasons. Despite his less-than-ideal defensive track record, Lowrie has been a valuable asset for teams because of his versatility and ability to be plugged in throughout the diamond. Kinney may never play shortstop, but he likely still has some more days in him at third base (even if he is destined for second base long-term). Lowrie is also a solid offensive contributor, posting a career .261/.334/.412 slash line with a 9.8 percent walk rate 16.9 percent strikeout clip. He averages a home run every 10.7 games, though that number has climbed to one homer every 9.8 games in 2021.
Draft Projection: Late Second-Round Pick
The consensus seems to suggest that Kinney will be a third-round pick, but I could see him sneaking into the second. Teams will value his bat highly, and he also has the ability to hit for power. Defensively, at the very minimum, he’ll be a solid second baseman, though he has upside as someone who could stick at third base with the right development.