If the experts are down on the Cardinals farm system for the loss of talent it suffered in the Matt Holliday and Mark DeRosa trades, they should be pretty happy with St. Louis' selections Monday in the first round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft.
The Birds in the first round selected University of Arkansas third baseman Zack Cox, who in many ways is a similar player and talent to Brett Wallace, the centerpiece of the 2009 trade chips. He's a lefty swinging third baseman who hits for high average -- although somewhat less power than Wallace. But the Cardinals believe the power will come -- and that Cox will be a much better defensive player than Wallace.
Cardinals first round draft pick Zack Cox collects a double Monday for the University of Arkansas. AP photo.
Click here to read the University of Arkansas bio on Cox.
"He's got a tremendous swing," Cardinals Vice President of Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow told mlb.com. "He's a baseball guy. He's been a baseball rat his entire life. He puts everything he has into the game, and it shows."
"This kid is going to probably be a fast mover through the Minor Leagues, because his bat is pretty close to being Major League-ready," Luhnow continued. "We've seen him hit with wood. We've seen him hit with aluminum. We've seen him hit good pitching. He can hit a breaking ball. He can hit a fastball. There's not a lot this guy can't do with the bat."
Cox was projected in some mock drafts as a top 10 talent. But he fell to the Cardinals at the 25th overall pick for a variety of reasons. First, he's only a sophomore, so signability could be a problem. Second, he's been battling an on-going rib cage problem this season that he just can't seem to shake. Some projections speculated that Cox would go to the Mets who had the seventh pick but they took right handed pitcher Matt Harvey of the University of North Carolina, he Astros who instead used the eighth pick to select Delino DeShields Jr. or the Athletics who at no. 10 selected University of Texas centerfielder Michael Choice.
The Razorbacks are in the midst of NCAA super regional tournament play and have hopes of making the College World Series. So Cox hasn't had much time to think about his pro future.
"As far as signability goes, I'm really just focused on winning the national championship, and we can discuss all that later," Cox told mlb.com. "I feel honored to be drafted by the Cardinals. It's awesome. But right now I just want to focus on the national championship and we can discuss signability later."
Lunow said he's confident Cox will soon wear a Cardinals uniform.
"Our sense is that Zack wants to sign," Luhnow told mlb.com. "He wants to play baseball, and I think he sees his career moving fairly quickly in getting here, which is what we see for him as well. And I think he wants to sign and we want to sign him."
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The knocks on Cox are his power at the plate and his defense.
While Luhnow thinks the power will come, some scouts think he will be more of a 15-20 homer guy instead of a 25-30 homer guy, which wouldn't be bad if he can hit some doubles and keep his average over .300. His offensive skill set seems to fit better at second base -- where he would be something of a Mark Grudzielanek type hitter who could potentially bat second -- and the Razorbacks have tried him there. He's better at third where less range is required. His glove is decent and is expected to get better with time.
I wonder if the Cardinals are interested in moving Cox to second. Luhnow's remarks seem to indicate he's likely to stay at third base. But the Birds have had a revolving door at second for several years and would benefit from a young (read "low cost") player holding down the fort for the next several seasons. If David Freese continues to play like he has so far this season at the hot corner, second base could make a lot of sense.
Cox also works out of the Arkansas bullpen. No word on if the Cardinals selected him because of manager Tony La Russa's foundness for infielders who can pitch.