Cardinals Add Polished Hitter With Cox





ST. LOUIS—Two years after taking the player they called the best college bat in baseball and one year after trading said bat, the Cardinals filled the vacancy with a little draft deju vu.

Surprised third baseman Zack Cox dropped to them at No. 25, the Cardinals seized the Arkansas sophomore and hope to install him as the quick-rising corner infielder, a role formerly held by 2008 top pick Brett Wallace.

"We took the best available (player), an elite college bat," Cardinals vice president Jeff Luhnow said moments after the selection. "He's got a tremendous swing. He's a baseball guy. He's been a baseball rat his whole life. This kid is going to be a fast-mover because his bat is ready. There really isn't anything this kid can't do with the bat."

It's a familiar description.

With the 13th pick in 2008, the Cardinals selected Wallace and he shot to Double-A Springfield in his first year. A year later, the Cardinals packaged him in a three-prospect deal that landed outfielder Matt Holliday. There was no questioning Wallace's bat, power, average or eye; he projected to have it all, but the Cardinals were less convinced he could handle third. Early returns on Cox are that he can stick at third, and while he doesn't have Wallace's pop coming out of college he has better bat speed. "He could be a high-average, medium-power third baseman," Luhnow said, "and that's OK."

Cox, 21, could be a signability challenge for the Cardinals as a draft-eligible sophomore. He turned down an $800,000 bonus from the Dodgers after being taken in the 20th round out of high school. Entering the elimination game of Arkansas' regional, Cox was batting .424 with a .603 slugging percentage.

The Razorbacks third baseman also has experience at second base, though Luhnow said any position assignment will be clearer once he gets in the system. The Cardinals spied him in Cape Cod as a third baseman, and he joins a long list of Cape Cod standouts drafted by the Cardinals. The club floods the league with six scouts, having each spend 10 days or more and scout each team as if it were a professional affiliate.

Cox hit .344 with the wood bats at the Cape, a feat that the Cardinals valued, alongside his performance in a power conference.

"Best college bat in the country, and that's . . . what we think he is," Luhnow said.  "He wants to sign. We want to sign him, and that's always a good place to start."

REDBIRD CHIRPS

• One of the goals for the Cardinals in the draft was to improve the athleticism of the system and add lefthanded depth. With their third pick, 50th overall, they got the athlete. After taking Arizona State ace righthander Seth Blair with their first pick of the supplemental first-round round, the Cardinals gambled on prep righthander Tyrell Jenkins, of Henderson (Texas) High. Jenkins has a football commitment to Baylor at quarterback.

• The Cardinals expanded their pre-draft interview process this year to help identify "more about what drives (potential picks), what motivates them," Luhnow said. Some recent off-field concerns with high-hope draft picks were a contributing factor in the more extensive one-on-one interviews the team conducted at its workouts.