If the Miami Marlins elect to cash in on Casey McGehee by trading to him to a contender, New Orleans Zephyrs third basemen Zack Cox may get a chance to show what he can do at the big league level. Cox is an interesting case of a player who was once a highly thought of prospect, but may end up a career "4 A" player.
When he was drafted 25th overall by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2010 MLB draft Cox was thought to be a quick riser through the minor leagues. The consensus at the time was that Cox would develop into mediocre defensive third basemen with decent power, but his primary value would be in his hit tool. He had a smooth left-handed swing and hit the ball well to all fields with doubles power.
At Arkansas Cox was one of the best college hitters of 2010, and an All-American. As a draft eligible sophomore he hit a staggering .429/.507/.609 with nine homeruns and 48 RBI. Concerns over his plate discipline and defense led him to fall towards the end of the first round, but Cox still seemed like a surefire major league starting third basemen.
He succeeded initially at the professional level, performing very well in rookie ball, and at the advanced A level. Once he made the jump to Double A his play regressed slightly, but he still looked like a potential MLB regular at third base. In fact, at the beginning of the 2012 season ESPN's Keith Law had Cox ranked 66th on his top 100 prospects list. All signs pointed to Cox tapping into his potential as a prospect.
After early career success, the Cardinals started Cox at Triple A Memphis to begin the 2012 season, with the hopes he would soon play his way onto the major league roster. In 299 plate appearances for Memphis Cox would hit .254/.294/.421, and only walk 12 times. The lack of plate discipline was a serious concern for St. Louis, so on July 31st they elected to send Cox to the Miami Marlins for relief pitcher Edward Mujica.
Once in the Marlins organization he continued to struggle, and even has had to deal with injuries which have limited his playing time. In 2013 Cox only played 88 games due to those various injuries.
Through 67 games in 2014 Cox has shown improvement from his first stint in Triple A, but still is not hitting like he did at the beginning of his career. Currently he is hitting .265/.321/.408 with five homeruns and 19 RBI. He began the season playing well, but he is currently in the middle of 5 for 33 slump, with only one extra base hit in his last ten games.
As you can see Cox has had a mediocre few years after such a promising beginning to his career. If he is going to get a chance to play regularly for Miami this season it will likely be because Casey McGehee has been traded, or gotten injured.
2013 first round pick Colin Moran is progressing nicely, and is certainly Miami's third basemen of the future, so this season or early next season may be his last chance to see meaningful playing time for the Marlins. It just goes to show how flawed and difficult the scouting process is, especially for players who played college baseball before the potency of metal bats was reduced. Even now, sometimes players just do not perform when they consistently face good pitching or make the transition to wood bats. Your eyes can tell you a kid will develop into a good player, but unless that development happens you are left with an unfinished product that never becomes what you thought it would.
For Zack Cox the combination of injuries, a lack of plate discipline, and an overall lack of performance have left his career stuck in Triple A, waiting for an opportunity that may never come. Cox is still a good guy to have in your organization for depth if someone goes down with an injury, but the days of his name being on top prospects lists are over. There is always a chance Cox is a late bloomer who one day becomes the player he was destined to be, but right now we are left to think about what he could have been.