College third baseman Zack Cox is a particularly controversial draft prospect, and there are two radically different perspectives on his future ability as a hitter.
The first view says that the drastic change he made from his freshman to his sophomore year (he retooled his swing, dramatically improving his plate discipline and reducing his strikeout rate) shows advanced ability as a hitter, and further adjustments could turn him into a star-quality third baseman.
The second view looks at his huge drop in power when he changed his swing and says, this is a guy whose swing was bad before (he struck out too much) and it's still bad now (he can't hit for power), just for different reasons. From this perspective, he's never shown the ability to hit for both average and power, and drafting a guy early for the sake of future change is risky and a bad idea.
I'll try to keep this as balanced as I can, but for the sake of honesty, I'll admit up front that my view is the second; I have too many concerns about Cox to feel comfortable with spending an early draft pick on his bat. To illustrate how polarizing Cox is, one of our readers, Subber10, holds the opposite view, and you may have seen some of our discussions on the subject.
Views on Cox's floor vary depending on who you ask, as does his stock as a prospect. Project Prospect and Baseball Beginnings expressed concern that his swing is too "armsy" and that he has significant holes in his swing even in its new, re-tailored mode. The worry is that he will struggle against the more advanced breaking balls he will see in professional baseball.
Others see a swing which is compact and an ability to drive the ball to all fields. Keep in mind that as an average defensive third baseman (his range is lacking but he has a good arm), he will need to hit the ball with power, and it's generally agreed upon by both parties that Cox has average at best power with his current swing.
It's odd for a prospect lauded as an advanced college hitter to have value more driven by his possible ceiling than by a high floor, but that might be the case with Cox. Scouts look at his body type and see a guy with the strength to really drive the ball, if he can get his swing where it needs to be to hit for both average and power. He's strong, he bats left-handed, and he looks like a big league hitter. The idea is that he has shown the ability to hit for average this year, power the year before, and also that a guy with his body type who can hit for average is likely to hit for power down the road.
On the other hand, the thing that bothers me, personally, with the ceiling argument is that his bat speed is not nearly as good as some of the other prospects in this draft class. In a guy I'm drafting for his future potential, I want to see the ball jumping off his bat. There's also the question of just how much more development you can expect from a college position player.
Will the Astros pick him? If so, where?
It wasn't long ago that the Astros were linked to Cox numerous times in mock drafts, though lately he has been moving up draft boards by a pick or two. The Astros do have an organizational need at third base, and Cox is projected to go right around the team's first pick (no. 8), so it makes sense that he would be mocked to us. I've also seen vague reports that the Astros have been scouting him. Right now, it appears there is a strong, though certainly not definitive, chance that the Astros would pick Cox if he were available at no. 8.
Where is he projected to go right now?
Keith Law has him at No. 7 to the Mets.
Andy Seiler has him at No. 7 to the Mets.
Deep Leagues has him at No. 6 to the Diamondbacks.
Jonathan Mayo has him at No. 10 to the Athletics.
Perfect Game USA has him at No. 8 to the Astros.
Baseball America has him at No. 7 to the Mets.
Frankie Piliere has him at No. 7 to the Mets.
Kevin Goldstein has him at No. 7 to the Mets.
John Sickels has him at No. 8 to the Astros.
Bibliography (Scouting Reports and video)
Below the jump.
- Upper-body-driven swing that may not translate well for power or contact in pro ball
- Limited defensive value as a likely third baseman who isn't great with the glove
- Will have to blossom into a remarkably better hitter in pro ball than college to have top 10 pick value
- Players with as many adjustments to make as he does rarely turn into solid big leaguers
Some projections have Cox going in the first round in 2010. While I agree he’s a solid draft pick, I don’t see him as a premium pick. Here’s why. If he’s going to stay at third base as a major leaguer and be a standout player, he’ll need power. There are no signs in this video that Cox is tailored for lifting the ball. He’s armsy and likes extension, but he doesn’t drive the ball. He makes contact, but not with what I would term hard contact.
If a guy likes to get extension but is armsy and does not lift the ball, then that is potentially a guy with a hole in his swing at the big league level. In that case, Cox will have to show adjustability and an understanding of how to work counts to his advantage. I think he’ll hit the good fastball, which is a good start, but he’ll need to prove he can drive the quality breaking balls. Cox does keep the bat head in the zone for a long time, which is a good sign.
Cox is a draft-eligible sophomore and one of the most advanced college bats in this year's draft. He's very strong, including strong hands and wrists, and is very short to the ball, hitting line drives to all fields, but with the ability to drive a ball on the inner half.
He was criticized after his freshman year for his strikeout total and cut down his swing to make more contact, with more walks than strikeouts this year. At third base, he has an above-average arm but heavy legs, although he makes up for the latter with good instincts and an aggressive style of play.
The fact that Cox could make such a significant adjustment at the plate in one year is impressive, and we've now seen him hit for power and for average and show the ability to get on base; when he puts all of that together in one season, he'll be an All-Star.