The Next First Round Third Basemen

This follows up yesterday’s piece about the history of first round third baseman. It follows the outline of similar pieces on the 2010 draft’s top catchers and shortstops.

Yesterday, I talked about how first round third baseman have done pretty well, at least relative to the other positions we’ve discussed thus far. They move quickly, and usually give you a pretty good idea of their future, as long as you wait to judge until they hit Double-A. There isn’t that luxury on draft day, as scouts will be working through the weekend to put their final reports on these players.

1. Zack Cox – University of Arkansas

One study that still needs to be done: how patience translates from college baseball to pro baseball, and more specifically, when it does not. I say this here because it seems to me that patience is more important in the development of Cox more than most players. There really isn’t a skill that Cox has shown consistently in two years: as a freshman, he was a swing-and-miss power third baseman. As a sophomore, he was a contact-ready, Dustin Ackley-like second baseman. In fact, how about a comparison of their sophomore seasons:

Ackley – 278 AB, 32 XBH, .417/.503/.597
Z. Cox – 213 AB, 20 XBH, .432/.516/.606

Very similar, but because he’s not consistent, and he’s not quick, Cox isn’t talked about in the same breath as Ackley. Instead, he’s a bit more befuddling. However, if we know that he’s a plus patience guy, like his numbers sort of suggest, then all you really need to project is either the hit tool or the power tool. However, if his patience erodes in pro ball, he’ll need both tools, and I wouldn’t be as confident. For what it’s worth: everything you hear about the hit tool suggests it’s going to play in pro ball. Perhaps speed is all that separates Ackley and Cox, after all.

2. Josh Sale – Bishop Blanchet HS (Wash.)

Sale is something of a familiar commodity in the first round: the slugger from a non-traditional baseball state. It seemed like, at least in my head, like we had one of those every year. So I went back through the logs, and noted every high school player drafted from bad weather states. Here’s the list:

2009 – Mike Trout (NJ)
2008 – Brett Lawrie (Canada)
2007 – Devin Mesoraco (PA), Jon Gilmore (IA)
2006 – Billy Rowell (NJ), Travis Snider (WA), Preston Mattingly (IN)
2004 – Neil Walker (PA), Blake Dewitt (MO)
2003 – Chris Lubanski (PA), Eric Duncan (NJ)
2001 – Joe Mauer (MN)
2000 – Rocco Baldelli (RI), Corey Smith (NJ), Scott Thorman (Canada), Aaron Herr (PA)

Even there, you can see that New Jersey and Pennsylvania are fairly standard pipelines to the first round. Sale is sometimes compared to Snider, but it’s a comparison born of laziness — his bat isn’t as polished, his body not as thick as Snider’s was in 2006. If I was going to reach for any comparison on the above list it might be Eric Duncan, although I can’t speak to whether Sale will swing-and-miss at such a rapid pace. It does sound like the power is going to play, however.

And unlike Duncan, and more like Manny Ramirez, Sale will probably not see the third base bag much in the minors. He’s been groomed to play right field, although no one seems to think he’ll be “plus” at the position. Since the difference between the positional adjustments is 10 runs, I might at least have Sale work with my infield instructors in short-season ball, and see if he could play there. After all, a minus-ten defender at third base is going to produce more WAR than a minus-five defender in right, all else being equal.

3. Kolbrin Vitek – Ball State University

I’m going to start with the defense. It sounds like scouts can’t make up their mind about Vitek’s defense, but if this makes sense, they already know his positional adjustment: +2.5. There is a chance he will play all 3 positions that are +2.5 as a professional: second, third and center field. And while the indecisions on his defense suggest maybe he doesn’t have a good glove — the boys at College Splits have numbers that suggest differently. Here’s what they sent me:

2009 (at 3B): +1
2010 (at 2B): +1

As an offensive player, there is little to pick apart. Forty extra-base hits, a good base stealer, a 33/36 walk-to-strikeout ratio in about 275 plate appearances. I think there is probably convincing that needs to be done about facing better quality players in bigger ballparks with wooden bats, but if he actually is a plus defender at a premium position, the climb isn’t so uphill.

Honorable Mention

Jedd Gyorko is painted as a sort of poor man’s Vitek, as he’s not as athletic, and even more questionable a defender. But his numbers are better than Vitek’s across the board. If you think he works at second, he’s worth a pick … Kaleb Cowart looks like he’ll be drafted in sort of the Casey Kelly mold, as a lot of teams still haven’t decided if he’s a hitter or a pitcher. The difference is that Cowart seems to have some pop in his bat, and his pitching won’t come as polished … I spoke with Tulane 3B Rob Segedin‘s coach from last summer in the Cape Cod League, long time Bourne manager Harvey Shapiro, and he said, “Rob reminds me of Kevin Youkilis. Good baseball player. Comes to the ballpark with a smile on his face, he just loves to play. He’s a gap hitter, hits for doubles, doesn’t strike out that much. He’s an outstanding hitter.” Here’s how both players did in their final season:

Youkilis – 210 AB, 27 XBH, 59 BB, 21 K, .405/.549/.714
Segedin – 212 AB, 45 XBH, 33 BB, 20 K, .434/.516/.788

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Mike Green
Mike Green
6 years 2 months ago

Nice summary. Josh Sale as a major league third baseman doesn’t seem too likely to me. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend trying to stretch him defensively a la Pedro Guerrero.

6 years 2 months ago

Vitek is going to be the big sleeper in this draft. Kolbrin Vitek is a name to remember.

6 years 2 months ago

Vitek is under, yes under-valued at #9. His power, speed, and glove are all underrated as well. Mark my word, full time big league player within 2 years. Can hit to all fields and has power to spare with a wooden bat in his hands. Offer him some protection in the line up and he can flat out rake.

6 years 2 months ago

They are third baseMEN.

Sorry, inability to pluralize gets on my nerves. Continue.

Andrea Englehardt
6 years 6 days ago

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