PEORIA, Ariz. — Two days and three games have come and gone for Cory Acton and his Elite Squad Prime 2018 teammates in the 90-plus degree heat at the Wilson Premier Classic and it appears as though the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. native has yet to break a sweat playing third base.
Despite entering Sunday's playoff round with a 1-2 record, Acton has played flawlessly at the hot corner for the entirety of the tournament, turning all his defensive chances into routine outs with relative ease.
Perhaps Acton's comfort and natural ability at third base shouldn't come as a surprise, especially considering Acton is viewed as one of the premier high school position players in his class and has been one of Florida's and head coach Kevin O'Sullivan's prized recruits in the 2018 cycle for some time.
Yet, ask Acton about his long-term future at the position he's grown up playing and you'll find that there is a feeling of uncertainty surrounding him. The sense of unknown doesn't originate from any self-doubt or lack of confidence on Acton's behalf, but rather a running theory from people in-and-around the sport that Acton profiles better as a second baseman at the professional level.
"Third base is where I've always been and it's the position that came most natural to me, but I've been told that the middle infield is best for me, in terms of the future," Acton said. "So I've really been looking at getting better at those middle infield spots as I've gotten older and I think I'm at the point now where I feel really good at either spot."
Much of Acton's projected move to second base has to do with the fact that, at 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds, Acton does not carry the prototypical size or power potential that most everyday third baseman possess at the Major League level. In some ways, Acton views the potential shift as a compliment, as scouts must see the athleticism necessary to make the switch.
"Third base is pretty much just drop (to a knee) and block (the ball), honestly," Acton said with a laugh. "So I've really been working on my footwork around second base, making sure I can set my feet properly and have my hands in the right place to turn double plays and stuff like that — just all the things that go into playing in the middle."
As President of Elite Squad Prime and head coach of Acton's 2018 team, Richie Palmer isn't as convinced that Acton will end up switching positions full time. Instead, Palmer is fairly certain Acton would thrive if he continued at third base, going as far as to drop a lofty comparison on Acton in the form of a slightly-undersized, but highly-successful third baseman at the game's highest level.
"I honestly compare him a lot to David Wright," Palmer said. "David Wright isn't the biggest third baseman, but when healthy he is one of the best. It's obviously a different level, but Cory has been one of the best defensive third basemen we've had in our program for a long time. He's a true plus defender over there right now with a strong arm and he makes plays that make you go, 'Wow, do you really want to move him out of there?'
"But I can see why professional scouts project him as a second baseman, just because of his size. Is he a guy that's going to be projected to hit 30 bombs in the big leagues? I don't know, but probably not. So I think that's an easy assumption to move him over to second base, where you could have a power-hitting second baseman who's going to hit around .300 at that level."
Palmer's claim of Acton being able to hit .300 with some power at the Major League level is not one made out of exaggeration or jest. In fact, the only reason Acton's defensive future has even come in question is because his hit tool has stood out so much that it's become a question of when, not if, Acton will play professionally, according to Palmer.
"We're fortunate to live in South Florida where a lot of good players come from, but Cory is one of those special hitters that only comes around every so often," Palmer said. "It doesn't matter if he's facing a righty or lefty, because those lefty-lefty matchups don't work on him. I think he's one of the best hitters in his class and it's been that way for a long time now."
Acton's strong, left-handed swing was on full display through the first two days of the Wilson Premier Classic, when he went 5-for-9 with two triples, two doubles and either scored or drove in all four of Elite Squad Prime's runs over a three-game stretch.
On Saturday, Acton turned on a fastball from 6-foot-5 left-hander Kyler Busch of eXposure 2018 and put it into right-center field for a standup double in the fourth inning. Then, in his next at-bat two innings later, Acton saw another fastball from Busch, who is committed to Washington State, and drove it the opposite way for an RBI triple off the left-center field wall.
"I usually have more power to left-center field, especially when I get a pitch up in the zone like I did (Saturday)," Acton said. "Really my approach is always just trying to stay closed and make sure I don't open too much so I can track the ball and hit it where it's pitched."
That approach — and subsequent ability to make hard contact to all parts of the field — is what separates Acton from his peers in Palmer's eyes. And it is those qualities that has made Palmer such a believer in Acton's future potential — regardless of where he ends up defensively.
"You see a lot of power guys at his age and they're very pull-happy," Palmer said. "That works for them, but Cory is not that type of hitter. That's why I think he'll always hit for a high average, no matter what level he plays, because he does such a good job of using the whole field. And he's going to give you some power, as well. You can see that just by the way he drives the ball into both gaps so well."