A 2009 College World Series participant, Arkansas is one of the teams I marked on my calendar the day 2010 college schedules were released. I got to see the them play Cal twice last weekend, including batting practice and infield.
Zack Cox (3B/2B) is the Razorback who's gotten the most 2010 hype so far. A draft-eligible sophomore, he's one of two First Team Preseason All-Americans on Arkansas, as named by Baseball America. Brett Eibner (CF/RHP) is the other. Arkansas also has Second Team Preseason All-American Andy Wilkins (1B).
Baseball America polls MLB Scouting Directors for its Preseason All-American lists. The lists are a good start for identifying players who could appear atop draft boards this June. But a lot can change once games get started and performances are evaluated -- Jared Mitchell was Third Team behind First Teamer Kentrail Davis last year.
Ideally, I'd see Arkansas play a few more times before stacking up its top draft prospects, but information can be gleaned from small samples. And by bringing footage back to the video room, I was able to break guys down in a little more detail than I could live. Here's how I currently have Arkansas' top talents for the 2010 draft ranked:
1. Andy Wilkins, 1B (9/13/88)
Wilkins first caught my eye in during infield drills. I was really impressed with his athleticism and agility at first base. He was smooth with soft hands and he demonstrated exceptional leaping ability. I wasn't impressed with his arm; it's only fringe-average. While first basemen are near the bottom of the defensive spectrum, Wilkins could be a plus defender at the position.
With elite bat speed, a patient approach and the ability to manage the strike zone -- didn't chase pitches when I saw him -- Wilkins could be in line for a monster year. He walked almost as much as he struck out last year (16.3% BB, 17.4% K) and is off to a great start in 2010 (11 BB vs. 5 K over 53 PA). Wilkins' power numbers have been ridiculous so far. He's on pace to top 30 home runs, a total that no NCAA hitter has reached over the last three years.
Zack Cox has more hype than Wilkins right now, but there's a reason why Wilkins hit third for Arkansas last weekend and Cox batted fifth. Wilkins is much more advanced. Don't be surprised if Wilkins' name starts getting thrown out there as a potential top 20 overall pick. He looked great when I saw him and he has the production to back up his tools.
2. Brett Eibner, RHP/CF (12/2/88)
Entering the weekend, I knew Eibner was a two-way player, but I figured he'd have more potential as a hitter. I was wrong. While Eibner is an outstanding athlete who plays a fine center field, he didn't impress me much as the plate. Yes, he does have outstanding bat speed and some raw power, but there's more to hitting than that.
Eibner seemed happy to offer at any pitch in the strike zone. He'd take a hack at the first strike he saw, rarely in a good position to drive the ball. He didn't chase many pitches outside of the zone, but he also didn't much make loud contact.
On the mound, Eibner was a different story. With a balanced and easy delivery, he was able to touch 94 MPH regularly with his fastball and sit 91-93 -- you can see him fanning a batter with his fastball in the clip to the right. The offering was pretty straight overall and he missed with it up in the zone a lot. Eibner also showed a slider that could become above-average.
Lincoln Hamilton analyzed Eibner's mechanics for me. The first thing that he pointed out was that Eibner hooks the ball behind his back, which creates a timing problem. He also doesn't get the ball into the driveline at footplant, leaving his arm in a position where it has to rush and play catch-up with his body. Eibner has a bit of recoil after follow-through, but overall he's pretty smooth. If he can iron things out on the mound, Eibner could pitch his way into the first round. At the very least, his velocity should put him in the mix for strong top 75 pick consideration.
3. Zack Cox, 3B/2B (5/9/89)
Cox, has a relatively short track record in college ball. He opened a lot of eyes last summer in the Cape Cod League but he's still a guy who put up a well-below-average strikeout rate during his first season with the Razorbacks (28.9% over 225 PA).
Steve Carter analyzed Cox's swing for me before I got my first glimpse of him. Carter pointed out how Cox's swing was largely driven by his shoulders and front side. He noted that such a swing would leave a hitter in a poor position to adjust to breaking balls. Cox took more than a few ugly swings -- like the one to the right -- against breaking balls last weekend.
A solid defender at third base -- he's below-average at second -- Cox has made a lot of progress over the last year. He appears to be making a conscious effort to adjust his swing and approach in hopes of making more contact than last season. To date this has resulted in fewer strikeouts and more contact but a decline in power.
Cox is much more balanced than he was in high school and as a freshman. He didn't take any swings where his back leg flew out behind him as shifted his weight, something he's done in the past. I was impressed with the opposite-field power I saw from him during batting practice. And he has a pretty good eye to go with some patience. He just has more adjustments to make than I'd want from a guy who I was thinking of spending a million dollars on. Right now, I wouldn't touch Cox in the first round. But his elite bat speed and potential to play solid defense at third base still make him one of the 100 draft-eligible talents in the nation.