By Rob Rains
Growing up in northern California, Cooper Hjerpe had only limited knowledge about the Cardinals, who made the lefthanded pitcher from Oregon State their first-round pick in this year’s draft on Sunday night.
Hjerpe does, however, know all about a pitcher who is from St. Louis, Max Scherzer.
During a zoom call with St. Louis reporters. Hjerpe said the two current major-league pitchers that he watches the most are Jacob DeGrom and Scherzer.
“When Scherzer goes out there he’s almost like a psychopath, and I love it,” Hjerpe said. ”I love watching him go out there competing.”
How Hjerpe competed this season was one of the factors in the Cardinals making him the 22nd overall pick in the draft. He led the NCAA with 161 strikeouts in 103 innings while issuing only 23 walks. He recorded 10 or more strikeouts in 10 of his 17 starts.
“He has the will and the grit that you look for when you are watching someone compete on that field,” said Randy Flores, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager and scouting director.
Hjerpe throws from a unique arm angle, which is one of the reasons he is able to generate a lot of swings and misses.
“To the eye test, it looks unique,” Flores said. “There is velocity. When you pair it with the metrics available, there is some agreement there that makes you have conviction when you get to that spot in the draft that there is an exciting player available.
“He performed to the eye test and he performed to the metrics.”
Hjerpe said his motion is natural and one that he has had ever since he started playing.
“I remember people saying in Little League ‘that guy’s got a funky arm action’,” he said. “For the most part because it was effective no one really wanted to change it because of how unique it was.
“I never really had a pitching coach try to change my arm action or arm slot or how I am throwing. It’s just been natural ever since I started playing and no one’s really messed with it.”
The Cardinals believe Hjerpe has a chance to move quickly through the farm system, similar to two of their college pitching selections from 2021, Michael McGreevy and Gordon Graceffo, both of whom were at Double A Springfield less than a year after they were drafted.
One of the keys to his success this season, Hjerpe said, was developing a slider that he could use instead of a curve ball as he posted an 11-2 record with a 2.53 ERA.
“All of his pitches come from a unique angle, they tunnel very well,” Flores said. “Clearly you see by velocity and strikeout rate and walk rate that this is someone who knows how to pitch and has the weapons for it to matter at the highest level,”
With their second pick on Sunday night, the 59th overall selection, the Cardinals chose another college lefthander, Brcyen Mautz from the University of San Diego.
Mautz had numbers similar to Hjerpe as he recorded 129 strikeouts in 90 innings, walking only 22 batters while compling a 10-2 record.
His final victory of the year came in the NCAA regionals, when he threw seven innings and allowed only one run in a 3-2 win over Vanderbilt.
The first overall pick in the draft, by the Orioles, was high school shortstop Jackson Holliday, the son of former Cardinal Matt Holliday.
The draft continues on Monday with rounds 3-10 and will conclude on Tuesday with rounds 11-20.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports