Friday, December 29, 2006

Prospect Profile: James Brent Cox (#7)

Age: 22
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 205 lbs
Drafted: Second Round in 2005 out of the University of Texas
Position: Relief Pitcher
Throws: Right

Fastball: J.B. Cox is not going to blow his fastball by anybody. He throws a 2-seamer at about 91-92 mph from a 3/4 arm slot. Previously, Cox had proven to throw a very durable near-sidearm fastball, but the Yankees decided to change this. He was throwing 86-89 when they drafted him, in part due to fatigue after throwing so many college innings. The new arm slot vastly improves his breaking stuff, and retains the movement on his fastball. His delivery is still deceptive, and very repeatable. He controls his fastball very well, throwing strikes with ease. The sink on his fastball has been compared to Derek Lowe's.

Slider: Cox has a plus slider, on par with T.J. Beam's. He throws it at about 85 mph, with excellent control. It breaks hard and in to left handed batters, getting him a decent amount of swings and misses. He is by no means a strikeout pitcher, but his slider is certainly a strikeout weapon. He doesn't use the pitch to get strikes, but it certainly looks like a strike when he is throwing it. The weird arm slot that he throws from makes it even more deceptive.

Changeup: Cox entered 2006 with a feel for a changeup, but it wasn't good enough to be thrown in a pressure situation. That changed. He worked very hard, turning it in to a major league quality pitch. It isn't anything special, but it gives the hitters something softer to think about. He will continue to work on it coming in to 2007, and the Yankees believe that he can make the changeup a near plus pitch.

Command: Cox has absolutely stellar command, which is easily his biggest asset. He does not get himself into trouble by walking people. He does not leave balls over the middle of the plate, resulting in an astronomically low 6 career home runs allowed in 290.1 innings between college and the minor leagues. Cox has pitched in 13 CWS games, handling the pressure as well if not better than fellow-Texan Huston Street.

Performance: Cox put together three excellent years in the NCAA's storied University of Texas, pitching 185.2 innings, striking out 190, walking 53, and posting a 2.03 ERA. He got the final out of their 2005 Championship before signing with the Yankees. He has one of best pedigrees for a college closer in the short history of drafted college closers. He doesn't throw as hard as most power relievers, but he has certainly showed up on the mound. Between High A Tampa and AA Trenton, Cox has pitched 104.2 innings, striking out 87 while walking just 29. He has allowed only 23 earned runs during that time for an ERA of 1.98.

2007 Outlook: On a lot of teams, Cox would already be in the major league bullpen and perhaps a major league closer. However, the Yankees refused to rush Cox, seeing Joe Devine on the Braves and Craig Hansen on the Red Sox crash and burn after being rushed from high end college programs to pressure situations in the show. With a suddenly loaded Yankee bullpen, Cox will start 2007 in Scranton, which will give him time to work on his changeup. He will likely be second or third on the Yankee relief depth charts, behind Chris Britton (if he gets optioned down) and T.J. Beam (who is starting to get old). There is no doubt in my mind that Cox could perform better than Kyle Farnsworth or Scott Proctor next year if sent immediately to the Yankees.

Health: If there is one reason to be concerned about Cox, this is it. He pitched well over 100 innings in 2005 between the college season, the CWS, and Tampa. The Yankees slowed it down a bit this year, giving him 77 innings before shipping him off to Team USA. He pitched well there, but went down with an elbow injury in the final days of play. He was supposed to go to Arizona, but was pulled from the team roster. No Yankee official seems to be making a big deal about it though. Hopefully they are not trying to mask a bigger problem.

Ceiling: There is debate as to whether or not Cox can be a big league closer. His fastball is below average for an ace reliever. Most closers (even Mariano) sport a 95+ mph fastball to blow by people. I think that Cox has the ability to close, but will not fool anybody to thinking that Mariano had yet to retire. In terms of quality, I would compare him to John Wetteland. Wetteland was a decent closer, but not a great one. Think about some of Tom Gordon's good years, or one of Shield's better years. The ability to eat innings should not be underrated here. Cox could be one of the average closers in this league or one of the better setup men.

Reaching his Ceiling: He is basically major league ready right now. I would say that there is an 80% chance that Cox steps in and posts a sub 3.50 ERA right away. He has as much experience as we could possibly hope for, and should feed off the pressure of the big leagues. Health is the only concern. 90% Chance of Reaching the Majors.

Comparison: Scot Shields. If Cox successfully turns his changeup into an above average pitch, he will resemble Shields even moreso. Shields relies on his sinking fastball to force ground balls and low pitch counts. Shields will probably strike more people out, but I think that Cox will be a better reliever thanks to the plus slider. He has better minor league numbers than Shields and an excellent college track record.

My Take: Cox wouldn't be #7 if he wasn't so far along. He is going to be at least a good major league reliever very soon, and could very well be a great one. His ability to get left handed batters out just as well as right handed ones thanks to the hard slider coming in will make him better than a middle reliever. He is such a certain product that there is not much more to say about him. Hopefully this mysterious elbow injury isn't serious, and I doubt that it is. Scranton is going to be a fun team to watch.