Prospect A-Z Day 26: Zack Cox

January 6, 2012
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Prospect A-Z continued its farewell week with Padres outfielder Yoan Alcantara. His career is in flux right now because of an identity fraud scandal that was exposed this offseason. A scout and trainer bribed a contracted investigator working for Major League Baseball to check Alcantara's background, and this allowed him to pass and receive his signing bonus. At his age with his performance in the AZL, he looked like a really good prospect, but his stock will take a hit now. Our final entry in this seemingly never ending series will cover Zack Cox, the Cardinals third baseman. Zack Cox, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals (2011: A+ Palm Beach, AA Springfield) In my opinion from reading the draft analysis and buzz from 2010, there were three typically highly regarded players that some people really liked and some didn't, moreso than others. There's a wide range of opinions on nearly every prospect, especially with those who are determined to always provide a contrarian opinion. I'm talking about Cox, Giants center fielder Gary Brown and Pirates pitcher Stetson Allie. They were all high picks; Allie was the last taken at 52nd overall, and he probably would've been taken sooner if his bonus demands weren't as high. Gary Brown was a very good college player at one of the top programs in the country, Cal State Fullerton. An injury in his junior season limited him, but it didn't really affect his draft stock because it wasn't expected to affect him long term. The Giants took him, and if he develops into the player he expected to, he'll be a great fit at AT&T Park. He'll catch anything in their spacious center field, and his bat will look great at the top of the lineup. He makes consistent contact and would be one of the fastest players in the league. What's not to like? In college, he didn't take a lot of walks. On base percentage is a big stat now, and I believe in its importance. However, players can still succeed without walking a lot. At Fullerton, he had 41 walks in 774 plate appearances, a little over 5% of his PA. His OBP's were high, but that was a product of his great batting average. Why should he take pitches he can hit just to walk when he can put them in play? There's a line between being overaggressive and taking smart at bats where a player prefers to put the ball in play, and he hasn't crossed to the bad side yet. His walk rate improved with San Jose this year, and he strikes out below the league average rate. The Pirates were fortunate to see Stetson Allie still on the board at 52. Their organization has obviously been down in the dumps for a little bit, so they need to focus on adding talent to the organization and eventually, good things should happen. Allie certainly wasn't only the 52nd most talented player in the draft class. He has a big, durable workhorse frame at 6'4, 225 and an aggressive, attacking mentality on the mound. His fastball can sit in the high 90's, and his slider can touch 88-89 MPH. If he improves his changeup, he could be a really good starter. If not, that sounds like closer stuff. However, his bonus demands and command troubles concerned teams. Players that can't throw strikes often don't advance very far, but Allie is only 20 years old. Coaches and development staff can work to improve mechanics and approach to work out those issues. It's absolutely a risk to invest in a pitcher like Allie because he's raw and not even close to reaching his potential. Isn't it worth taking though? A bad team needs to add talent, even if their floors aren't very high. The Pirates won't make the playoffs by acquiring 5th starters and second division starters. At the other end of the spectrum, do teams like the Yankees have anything to lose themselves? They're a really good team and probably don't need any middling players, even if they may reach the majors faster than Allie. Now back to Cox. Baseball America said he was the best pure hitter in all of last year's draft. He set an Arkansas record with a .429 batting average and has a great swing. He can hit to all fields and make a lot of contact. In his first pro season, he started at high-A in the Florida State League and batted .335 and a .819 OPS before a midseason promotion to AA. His average dipped below .300 there, but he was still solid, batting .380 in July and .333 in August. Between both levels, he finished with a .797 OPS. That's pretty solid for a player in his first full year as a professional, but there are certainly legitimate concerns. It's possible to look at it one of two ways. He's a bit of a tweener in all regards. Looking at him as a third baseman, his current position, he may lack the appropriate power to profile there. His swing is a bit flat, but those that are optimistic about Cox believe he will begin generating enough loft in his swing to hit home runs. His isolated power (SLG-BA) was higher in AA than high-A, but that's to be expected from moving from the Florida State League to the Texas League. If he moves to a position where his bat profiles a little better, say second base, he would probably be an above average hitter, but he probably doesn't have the athleticism to handle playing up the middle. A quick and dirty comparison could be made to former Cardinals prospect Brett Wallace. He was a college hitter drafted in the first round whose bat didn't profile at the position he belongs at defensively, first base. However, Cox has plenty of time to prove he'll be different. He's his own player and shouldn't be pigeonholed into a convenient comparison just for the sake of doing so. There are reasons to be optimistic about his future, and it's also fair to say it's reasonable to have doubts about him. That's obviously it for Prospect A-Z. I hope everyone enjoyed my little trip around the minors highlighting some names to know. There were many more that I didn't talk about, and it could make for a second series, but maybe it would be best left for another offseason. Thanks for reading.

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