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Meet The New Guy: Cooper Criswell

Hey look! A free agent pitcher!

Who is he and where did he come from?

He’s Cooper Criswell, and while he sounds like one of those dudes with a comically fake name in a Japanese video game (Bobson Dugnutt says hello!), he’s apparently a real person with arms and legs and everything. The Red Sox just picked him up off the scrap heap for $1 million after he was DFA’d by the Tampa Bay Rays (hey, wait a minute. . . )

What position does he play?

He’s a pitcher, so those real-person arms and legs are going to come in handy.

Is he any good?

The answer to this question is exactly the same for every single scrap heap pitcher: no . . . but maybe yes?

Cooper was a 13th round draft pick out of the University of North Carolina way back in 2018 (so he’s no spring chicken and will turn 28 next July). Considering that the 2020 minor league season was cancelled, he actually advanced to the big leagues fairly quickly, pitching at high-A in 2019, starting 2021 at AA, and then making his Major League debut in a spot start for the Angels in late August that year. Nevertheless, he didn’t too well at AAA that season (57 hits in 47 innings) and when he went down with a shoulder strain at the start of 2022, the Angels cut him loose.

He looked a little better after the Rays picked him up off waivers (because every pitcher looks better after the Rays pick them up off waivers) and got more run with the big league club in 2023. But, while I’m sure he’s not complaining about collecting a Major League check, the Rays didn’t exactly make things easy for him, as he was moved back and forth between AAA and the big leagues a whopping 11 times last season. Moreover, while he was primarilly used as a starter at AAA Durham (as he had been his entire career), the Rays used him as a bulk reliever. The whiplash pattern of usage led to an ugly MLB line: 33 IP, 40 H, 27 K, 11 BB, 6 HR, 5.73 ERA. But he had his moments, such as a four inning, four strikeout appearance against the Dodgers that earned him his first big league win, and he finished the season with a respectable if uninspiring 3.93 ERA at AAA.

As with all scrap heap pitchers, there’s always something promising about their game that front offices hope to harness. In Cooper’s case, this is his control, first and foremost. He’s a big time strike-thrower whose 2.4 BB/9 would have led the International League last year had he qualified. He also gets big extension on his release, which could help his otherwise modest fastball play up, and his sweeper was very effective, even at the big league level, where hitters hit just .211 against it with one homer. If he could just figure out to miss bats more consistently, he could unlock a new developmental level.

Show me a cool highlight.

Look, there are more relevant highlights I could show you, like the game in which he struck out seven hitters over four innings last season. But I can’t pass up an opportunity to celebrate a match-up between the Trash Pandas and the Shuckers. How can you not be romantic about baseball?

What’s he doing in his picture up there?

Momentarily forgetting what sport he’s playing and trying to read the green at Tropicana Field. Hopefully he stops doing that with the Sox.

What’s his role on the 2024 Red Sox?

Criswell is being referred to as a reliever by most media sources because that’s what he was with the Rays. But I find it hard to believe that Craig Breslow just gave $1 million to a fringe big league reliever. Instead, I’m expecting Cooper to begin the season in Worcester as a starting pitcher. They’ll tinker with his pitch shapes, try to add a tick or two to his velocity, and hope he can leverage his control to turn himself into a decently reliable depth piece.

That probably doesn’t get you very excited, but as the Matt Dermody and Kyle Barraclough games showed us last year, it’s important to have options at AAA who can give you some semblance of big league pitching when you need it. The Red Sox didn’t have a single guy who fit that bill in Worcester last year. Now, between Criswell and Richard Fitts, they may have two.