J.B. Cox, RHP, 22
Previously Ranked: 15th prior to 2006
What Others Say: Pinstripes Plus 12th, Baseball America 8th, John Sickels 6th (B)
Physical Ability: A graduate of the standout University of Texas baseball program, J.B. Cox is a right-handed reliever who stands 6’3’’ and weighs 205 pounds. Cox was Huston Street’s successor in college and may have the opportunity to attempt to replace another highly successful closer down the line. His path to that role is not clear however due to many doubting that he has “closer stuff”. This deficiency is due to Cox primarily working with a sinking fastball that runs about 88-92. When looking for a strikeout, Cox will go to his slider, which most say is his best pitch. Finally, Cox has rapidly improved his changeup to the point where there are no longer worries that lefties will own him in the big leagues. In fact, lefties only posted a .479 OPS against him in 2006, as opposed to the rousing RHB line of .566. I don’t expect this reverse split to continue, nor do I expect him to be tattooed by LHB.
What Happened in ’06: Given his pedigree and how well he performed in a brief 2005 stint with the Tampa Yankees, I expected Cox to move quickly. Instead, the Yankees kept him at AA all season and really focused on developing him as opposed to just getting some immediate use out of him. One way in which they did this was to extend him, so he could often be found pitching 2 or more innings. The Yankees felt doing so would help Cox in the process of improving his fastball. The result was less fastball readings in the mid 80s. Another factor in keeping Cox in Trenton, I would assume, was the EL championship drive. Normally, I’m all for placing a player’s development ahead of winning in the minor leagues, but I feel that there is value in leaving these young players in a pressure situation. Cox also played a bit for Team USA at the end of the summer and was shut down with what has been designated “elbow fatigue”. While any time you see a pitcher associated with any sort of pain you worry it’s something more, I’m going to take the Yankee medical staff at their word.
What Lies Ahead: At the start of the offseason, it seemed as though Cox may have had a shot at breaking camp with the big league club. Since then, the Yankees have added 73 right-handers who may or may not factor into the bullpen scene. It is clear that the organization DOES like Cox a lot…and he may still factor into the big league bullpen picture. If not, he will look to continue shutting down minor league batters in the late innings and work on his sub 2 career ERA.
Grade: Because I don’t believe that all closers need to throw particularly hard, I do believe that given his performance history, pedigree, and tools, Cox may be a closer down the line. For his career, Cox has gotten almost 3 groundballs for every 1 flyball. This makes him a great guy to come in during late innings with runners on base. All told, I might even go so far as to say that if everything goes right for Cox…he just MIGHT be able to catch up to the HOF trail that Craig Hansen has been blazing as a shutdown reliever. B-
Eric Duncan #10