Randleman alum Cooper heads to Liberty after leaving N.C. State

Trey Cooper has excelled with his college summer team and has selected a new college. (Bob Sutton/Randolph Record)

Transfer has been stellar for summer team in Burlington

BURLINGTON – Trey Cooper found a good summer gig and a new college home.

The left-handed pitcher from Randleman is transferring to Liberty after two seasons in the North Carolina State program.

“At the end of the day, I said I wanted to go somewhere I could play a lot,” Cooper said. “They wanted me to be a starter (at Liberty). Everything felt right.”

Cooper has been a standout in the Appalachian League with the Burlington Sock Puppets, who are in their second season as a college summer league team geared toward prospects and overseen by Major League Baseball with input from USA Baseball.

After only two appearances covering two-thirds of an inning for N.C. State this year, Cooper entered the transfer portal.

“That was a question I think everyone on the team was trying to figure out,” he said of the limited chances with the Wolfpack.

Still, he said he considered staying with N.C. State until deciding in early July to accept Liberty’s offer.

Much of this stemmed from his success with the Sock Puppets.

“To be able to come in and do my thing,” he said. “I took a couple of steps to kind of figure out I wanted to be a starter. That helped me out a lot. I wanted to come out here and get to work.”

Cooper, whose fastball clocks up to 95 mph, was the Appalachian League’s Pitcher of the Month for June without allowing a run in 20 innings.

He tossed five no-hit innings June 23 vs. Johnson City. A week later, he threw the first five innings of Burlington’s combined no-hitter against Pulaski. He’s the only pitcher in the league with multiple double-figure strikeout outings.

“I love catching him,” said Sock Puppets catcher Ryan McCrystal, who plays for East Carolina. “His stuff is so good.”

Cooper holds a 2-1 record with a 3.96 earned run average. In 25 innings, he has allowed 12 hits, 23 walks and racked up a league-leading 45 strikeouts.

“When someone beats him, it’s so rare,” McCrystal said. “And then he beats (that batter) the next time.”

Cooper has drawn praise regarding his pitch command and demeanor.

“One of the things I like about Trey is when an umpire makes a bad call, he’s able to handle it,” second-year Sock Puppets pitching coach Anthony Essien said. “He doesn’t have bad body language.”

In the Appalachian League, the catcher calls pitches for at least the first six innings. Essien said that requires good coordination between the pitcher and catcher. Giving instruction to Cooper has been a smooth process.

“Probably the biggest thing is he’s moving more efficiently,” Essien said of the left-hander’s mechanics. “He showed up a little out of sync.”

After a stint as a reliever, it was time to use him as a starter.

“He wanted to be a starter and he has run with it,” Essien said.

Cooper’s senior high school season with Randleman was shut down because of the pandemic. Later that summer, he suffered a ligament injury that called for Tommy John surgery. He sat out as a redshirt in 2021 at N.C. State and then played briefly last summer for the High Point-Thomasville HiToms in the Coastal Plain League. He attended the 2021 state finals when Randleman won the Class 2-A crown at Burlington Athletic Stadium, which is his home field this summer. He missed this year’s title run by the Tigers because the Sock Puppets were on a road trip.

There’s almost two weeks left in East Division-leading Burlington’s season. Cooper, 20, reports to Liberty in Lynchburg, Va., in mid-August.

Update: Cooper has been selected for the Appalachian League All-Star Game, which will be played at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 26, in Burlington.

By Bob Sutton