Zach Cox and Austin Wilson are both good players. They also represent two extremes of player development. Zach Cox was the best college bat in the 2010 draft – polished, powerful, advanced approach at the plate. Austin Wilson is a young high school player built like a someone a decade his elder. He’s raw and athletic but exceedingly talented. It’s not necessarily an either or decision for the Cardinals when it comes to these two players but, if they are mutually exclusive, which player is the better sign?Zach Cox makes an immense amount of sense for this organization right now. A refined hitter who could slot in at third or second, he projects for reasonable power, a good on base percentage and should hit for average. Cox is unlikely to be an elite defender but he should be average at either position he’s placed. Whether Cox is merely a good player versus an elite one, is likely tied to an opinion on his eventual power potential. I’m a bit more on the pessimistic side in this regard.
Cox should move fast through the system. If he signed this year, it’s not outside of the realm of possibility that he could be ready to start in 2012. Like Brett Wallace in 2008, there’s little chance that Zach Cox isn’t going to be a major league player. It’s more a question of how good he’ll be. For an organization with question marks at 2nd base and, given the missteps of David Freese, 3rd base, Zach Cox is a tremendous fit. You don’t draft for future needs but it’s awfully convenient when the best player available slots into your system so well. For those of you sabermetrically inclined, I’d think that Zach Cox is a 2 WAR player in the majors in 2012 and probably peaks around 4 WAR.
Austin Wilson is the other end of the spectrum. For a farm system bereft of high end talent, especially position players, Wilson would be a major step in restoring credibility to the minor league system. Wilson is a project though. He has incredible natural talent and athleticism but he needs repetition and time. Wilson projects as a star right fielder. He’s got a fantastic throwing arm, good speed for his size and should be fine defensively. Offensively, he has the tools to be a star. The frame projects for plus power (think ISO >.200; 30 HRs). Whether he’ll hit for average and be an on base machine is more in doubt.
The timeframe for Wilson is long term. He’d likely be in the low minors for next season. An optimistic time table would have him arriving in 2014. He’s also a much higher risk. His ceiling is higher than Cox but there’s no certainty that Wilson makes it to the majors. If he is signed, he’d be one of the top three outfielders in the system if not the best. He’s the type of player that could, eventually, carry team and be a perennial All Star. I’m bullish on Austin Wilson and, while acknowledging that he could never make it to the majors, think his ceiling is 5 WAR . . . . maybe 6 depending on how many Franklins I’ve had.
So, back to the original question. If Wilson and Cox are mutually exclusive options, who is the better choice? I think the rational decision here is Zach Cox. He’d boost the major league club quickly, is almost a guaranteed return on investment. Finding a position for him isn’t a problem and he’d be a cheap solution for a team scheduled to get more expensive in a hurry. Austin Wilson, despite how much I think of him as a player — and the Cardinals scouts are very high on him too — is less of a sure thing. He’d be a blast to track through the system but he’s more of a lottery ticket than a safe investment.
I’d pick Zach Cox if I was forced to choose but my robot heart will always be with Austin Wilson.