After having seen Matt Carpenter in Springfield a couple weeks ago, I found myself questioning what the Cardinals have created for themselves in the selection of Zack Cox overall. I think they’ll have created a situation that is much to their advantage.
Matt Carpenter and Zack Cox are not terribly dissimilar players. Both players have questions about their defense at the hot corner. Cox’s range is sub-par according to some scouts and Carpenter’s throwing motion is unconventional. There’s some hope that both players would be league average defensively. The true calling card in both cases is the bat.
Cox has a short, compact stroke and the lefthander is capable of spraying the ball to all fields. He’s capable of drawing a walk and the secondary skills in his plate approach to support a good on base percentage. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different opinion of his power potential. The bat speed should allow him to drive the ball effectively but the plane of the swing may not be entirely conducive to hitting homeruns. Personally, I like him as a 20 HR hitter with good doubles power. He’s not a power machine but the overall offensive package should be well-rounded and potent.
You could describe Matt Carpenter in a similar way. I’m not as high on his power potential as I am Cox. Carpenter profiles better as a top of the order hitter with exceptional strike zone judgment and plate approach. His swing isn’t as compact or quick as Cox but his pitch selection is superb, which compensates.
Cox was considered the most advanced and polished college bat coming out of the 2010 draft. Matt Carpenter is already playing in AA and dominating. Where the Cardinals will play these two next year should be a source of great interest.
The first point of consideration is that it’s too early to write off David Freese. I’m not nor have I ever been on the Freese bandwagon but, prior to his injury, he was getting on base at a steady clip. His recent surgery makes him questionable for the start of the 2011 season and, even then, injury questions will linger for the foreseeable future. Even with David Freese at full health, I’m not convinced he’s a better player than Matt Carpenter but the team is unlikely to demote Freese to the minors as it would damage his perceived value until he started producing again. More likely is that Matt Carpenter will start the year in AAA. That leaves the team with, to my mind, two options regarding Cox: 2nd/3rd base at Springfield or 2nd base in Memphis.
I’m inclined to see Cox start at Springfield because the coaching staff there is fantastic. Derrick May does great work in Springfield and Pop Warner is a very good manager. If the club is going to refine the swing of Zach Cox, I want Derrik May to get his hands on him first. In either case, I’d also prefer to see Cox move to second. He’s played that position sparingly in college but the reality is that the Cardinals continue to have a huge deficit at the keystone. (Daniel Descalso makes more sense if he can play shortstop or as a utility player. There’s not enough bat there for the majors on a daily basis.)
So, where do the Cardinals play Cox next year? The other recent polished college hitter they drafted, Brett Wallace, started at Springfield the year he was drafted. I think that’s the likely landing place for Cox. I think it’s also likely that they’ll play him at third there and evaluate whether one of Carpenter or Cox should move to second further into the season. In either situation, the Cardinals have a sudden infusion of talent at the hot corner should the need present itself in the majors again.