Like many local baseball players in the past two decades, Cooper Kinney grew up loving the Atlanta Braves and idolizing switch-hitting slugger Chipper Jones.
The Baylor School standout and Rhea County native recently put his sweet left-handed swing on full display in front of representatives from his favorite Major League Baseball franchise and many more pro and college teams during the Perfect Game National Showcase at the Hoover Met Complex near Birmingham, Alabama.
Perfect Game bills its showcase as the most prestigious in amateur baseball, noting that 404 of its participants have reached the big leagues since it began in 2001. The evaluation process for players includes workouts featuring typical scouting combine drills, batting practice and being grouped into teams for live games.
Kinney, who will be a senior this coming school year and plays for the eXposure 17U Prime select team, took an aggressive approach in Hoover and hit the ball hard in all four of his at-bats while facing pitchers who all could throw at least 92 mph. In video of one at-bat, after a short but powerful kick with his front (right) foot, he stays inside an offering and laces the ball to the gap in left-center field for a triple.
"Over the winter at Baylor, I really made improvements in the weight room, and I think that showed for me in the hitting standpoint at Perfect Game," said the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Kinney, who hit a ball with an exit velocity of 97 mph off the tee in Hoover. "When you are in showcases like this, you want to be aggressive and show your good swing off. I was facing top-tier pitching talent and guys who are going to Power Five schools, so you can't back down."
Kinney is on the same Power Five path, having committed to Southeastern Conference program South Carolina, along with fellow Red Raiders slugger Vytas Valincius (6-4, 255). Kinney batted a combined .381 (75-of-197) as an underclassman while helping Baylor win TSSAA Division II-AA state titles in 2018 and '19.
Valincius also took part in the showcase in Alabama, as did Baylor's Daniel Corona, who is ranked as one of the top 80 players in the high school graduating class of 2021 by USA Baseball.
"There were tons of pro scouts here," Kinney said. "It's crazy to go from watching the Braves on TV all the time to now being a prospect and getting looks from those guys. I just go out there and do the best that I can, and hopefully my performance catches some eyes."
Kinney hits third in the lineup for both the Red Raiders and his eXposure team, where he is among numerous Division I prospects. As a Baylor sophomore in 2019, five of his 14 extra-base hits were home runs and he walked 14 times while striking just nine as he posted an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.046 and drove in 31 runs, helping the Red Raiders repeat as state champs in dominant fashion.
Kinney's physical assets include quick hands, explosive core muscles and an outstanding ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball with a sweet swing. He is excited to keep working at adding weight and muscle.
"Cooper is one of the top high school hitters in the class of 2021, and he is only getting better," Baylor coach Greg Elie said. "He can flat-out hit. He's the guy you want to have up to the plate because he is going to make good things happen. He lets his bat do the talking."
When the coronavirus pandemic wiped out spring sports this year, it denied the Red Raiders the chance for a third state title in as many years and kept Kinney from going after his personal goal of batting .400 or better.
Kinney is back on the diamond now, though, and his focus on continued improvement includes his fielding ability at third base, where he expects to play going forward.
"I feel like I am much more mature now as a ballplayer," Kinney said. "I am focused on having a great rest of the summer with eXposure and hope to turn heads with my teammates. I am grateful to be playing the game I have loved since I was little and have all the opportunities it's presented."