JJ Cooper and John Manuel Join ‘From Phenom To The Farm:’ Episode 76

It’s impossible to tell the story of Baseball America without talking about John Manuel or JJ Cooper, and the same way, it’s almost impossible to tell the story of one individual without the other. Cooper, the current Editor in Chief, and Manuel, former Editor in Chief and current scout for the Minnesota Twins, came up through the ranks as journalists covering prospects around the same time, in the same area. 


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Cooper and Manuel have spent over twenty years as friends and colleagues constantly engaged in what is at the heart of BA–prospect debate, with their earliest starting back at the 1995 South Atlantic League All-Star Game, featuring an 18-year-old Andruw Jones and 20-year-old Vladimir Guerrero. 

“Who had the better career? The guy with the better bat,” said Manuel, referring to the Hall of Famer Guerrero. “If you want to grow up to be a scout, and you want to evaluate prospect, bet on the bat ceiling.”

Both Manuel and Cooper made their initial forays into covering prospects from their work on the minor league beat for local newspapers, finding their passions in what was then still a niche in the world of baseball during the late-1990s. By the early 2000s they’d each made their way to Baseball America, but learned that life at BA doesn’t begin with voting power in the Top 100. 

“I came to Baseball America in ’02,” said Cooper. “I was allowed to touch Independent League baseball, edit the International League section (…) I came in September, and then next year they said “We’ll give him Low-A.’”

As Manuel and Cooper began to ascend during their 2000s run at Baseball America, the art of prospect debate continued to be a focal point in their lives, as BA remained at the forefront of the prospect coverage industry. Still spearheaded by BA founder Allan Simpson, Manuel and Cooper integrated themselves into a team that consistently held itself to a high standard of journalistic integrity and information sourcing when it came to gathering as much intel as possible on players at all levels of the minor league and amateur ball. 

“We were standing on the shoulders of giants at BA,” said Manuel. “And number one on that list was Allan Simpson.”

The lifeblood of BA prospect debate centers around the Top 100 Prospects and Top 500 Draft Prospects. Manuel and Cooper recall many years where the top spot was hotly contested–such as the 2012 Top 100, featuring constant back and forth over whether Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, or Matt Moore should take the top spot–but debate doesn’t stop at the top. 

“Some of the biggest arguments at BA are over who’s #147 on the Draft Top 500—sometimes #1 is easier,” said Manuel.

That dedication to detail, persistent ranking, re-ranking, arguing, contesting, etc. is what makes the Top 100 such an art to this day. 

“It is a very collaborative effort,” said Cooper. “The Top 100 that is there, is not what I think the Top 100 should lineup. The Top 100 is not what Kyle Glaser, or Geoff Pontes, or Josh Norris, or Ben Badler, or Matt Eddy—any of us, it’s not our Top 100 (…) We have to talk through, and basically justify our rankings.”

Despite no longer being colleagues, Cooper and Manuel remain at their core just two guys who love talking out the merits of a prospect together. Their personal hits, misses, and disagreements over the past two decades personify what has made Baseball America the invaluable resource its been for fans who desperately need to know who their favorite ballclub’s 24th ranked prospect is. 

On the latest episode of ‘From Phenom to the Farm,’ Minnesota Twins scout John Manuel and Baseball America Editor in Chief JJ Cooper join for a stroll down BA memory lane. They talk about the 2005 draft, being very wrong on Justin Verlander, and their favorite draft pop-up guys. 

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