TCN 2012 Cardinals Prospect #5: Zack Cox

How aggressively will the 2010 first-rounder with a major league contract be pushed? How fast will his bat propel him?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile
(including links to full 2011 and career stats)

2011 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
2 3B 5/9/1989 6-0 215 L R 2010 1

School: University of Arkansas

Selected 2011 stats

PB 0.335 164 22 55 8 0 3 20 11 29 2 0.380 0.439 0.819
SPR 0.293 352 54 103 19 0 10 48 29 69 0 0.355 0.432 0.787
Total 0.306 516 76 158 27 0 13 68 40 98 2 0.363 0.434 0.797

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

CariocaCardinal (5): I can't remember any recent top prospect (Cardinals or otherwise) that has been held to as (unreasonably) high of standard as Zack Cox. Despite being considered the best hitter available in the 2010 draft and considered a possible top 10 draft choice, Cox has dropped completely off the national prospect radar and fallen to the #5 prospect in his own system. This has happened despite Cox hitting at nearly a .800 OPS clip while being the fastest-rising hitter in (in terms of games played) from that draft.

Even though Cox did not set the world on fire during his first year, he was far from bad with a near .800 OPS. And a look behind the overall statistics shows even a more optimistic view. After his first month of play at Palm Beach, he had a 1.062 OPS in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. After then advancing to Double-A Springfield, he posted 1.002 and .889 OPS's in his next two months.

Cox's defense was also questioned following his drafting but he received accolades for his work ethic and improvement in that area from his coaches in a manner that appeared well beyond the perfunctory supporting of their player.

Cox could possibly start in Double-A due to the presence of Matt Carpenter at Triple-A, but his inclusion on the 40-man roster (per his contract) most likely requires that he move up if at all possible. In any case, he should spend most of the year at Memphis and if he performs even adequately there, I would expect Cox to get a September call up.

Message board community (6): Cox was the community's sixth prospect, a drop from second last year. The first vote he received this year was as the number two prospect.

2011 was Cox' first full minor league season. He skipped the Midwest League and at first struggled in the Florida State League, posting an OPS of .632 in April. But he picked up to finish his time in the FSL with a .819 OPS. His combined (across the FSL and Texas League) OPS for May was 1.028. (His 20 Springfield AB's that month yielded an OPS of .912, so his FSL OPS was higher than 1.028.)

His pattern in the Texas League was similar to his adjustment to the FSL, with an OPS of .583 before the all-star break, but .888 afterward, for an overall Double-A OPS of .787. Overall, he did much better versus righties (OPS of .865) than lefties (.619). He benefited from Hammons Field, with an OPS of .827 there to .742 on the road.

One of the questions about Cox is his power. Scouting reports suggested his swing didn't generate home runs very often, and indeed, he only managed 13 across leagues last year. That said, he popped one a little better than every eight games after the all-star break. And power sometimes develops later than average.

Another question is his defense. I do not have much information here, but there were some suggestions that he was not a plus at the hot corner.

So overall, the optimistic view of Cox is that his first month or so at each league can be discounted as adjustment and that he then (consistent with scouting reports and draft position) hit very well. This ability to adjust augurs well for his ability to hit in the majors.

The pessimistic view wonders if he will hit with enough power to justify a corner infield position, and if he'll field well enough to make up for that lack of power. It will be interesting to see how he's utilized this year. I'm of the view that his power will develop, and I actually consider him a contender to play first base when Berkman's time with the Cards is over, liking him more than Adams for that spot, despite Adams' raw power. So I hope he gets some of the time at first. - Gagliano

Brian Walton (6): I agree with Gags. Cox may be embroiled in a race to reach St. Louis – not with Memphis third baseman Matt Carpenter, but with his Springfield teammate Matt Adams. Adams is a first baseman, you say, so how does he apply?

Well, while Cox has made some improvements defensively at third, it may or may not be his long term home. Scouts have noted his problems getting to balls hit to his glove side and fielding issues with balls on his backhand side. On the positive, after 10 errors in his first 27 Texas League contests, it took 66 more games for him to make his next 10 miscues.

Cox will undoubtedly burn his second option year in 2012, reminding us that he needs to continue move up through the ranks quickly. With David Freese a solid third baseman and still cheap while first baseman Lance Berkman is not under contract beyond 2012, first base could represent a 2013 opportunity in St. Louis. If the competition is close, Cox could gain the edge given the big signing bonus and that Major League contract presented him upon his August 2010 signing.

Of course, he will need to keep hitting with Memphis in 2012 to have a realistic shot at any job in St. Louis in 2013.

Our 2012 top 40 countdown continues: To see the list of top Cardinals prospects announced to date and remaining article schedule, click here. You can also read each of the voters' philosophies in making their selections.

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