The Future is Unwritten: Cord Sandberg
Sometimes, things don’t come together. I refer, in this case, to something I’ve been trying to write for, oh, like five months now. It was to be a story of choice, specifically the choice a young athlete makes when he decides to move away from the variety of youth and focus on just one sport. I desired to answer many questions about multi-sport athletes and those associated with them during this process of choosing. What role do scouts, colleges, agents and coaches have in the process? How are they impacted by the decision the athlete makes? How do athletes who were once forced to make that choice feel about it in retrospect (Please call me back, Mr. Elway)? What about the ones who didn’t choose (Please call me back, Mr. Henson)? It was all going to revolve around 2013 Phillies draft pick, Cord Sandberg. Sandberg was committed to play quarterback at Mississippi State University before signing with the Phils. The Sandberg story isn’t, on its own, all that interesting. The Phillies had a connection with the Sandberg family, their extra exposure to Cord gave them confidence in his desire to play baseball and so they popped him in the third round. Not astounding. But it provided a terrific launching pad for all sorts of interesting questions and interview possibilities. The outline itself (well, the most recent incarnation of it, anyway) was about 1,500 words.
Alas, it’s been too big for me to tackle in a timely fashion. Between planning a wedding and a move (holy shit, moving is expensive), working, coaching basketball and doing the daily maintenance one must do not to lose one’s mind, it wasn’t possible for me to work the phones 5+ hours a day. But I could no longer deprive you of my thoughts on Sandberg, who is a really interesting player, so I’m tabling the multi-sport piece indefinitely and giving you the Sandberg report now. I promise to conjure multi-sport magic sometime in the future, provided nobody steals my idea. Don’t steal it. On to Sandberg, who turned 19 years-old two weeks ago.
The frame of an SEC QB is evident here. At 6’3” and 215lbs, the broad-shouldered, athletically built Sandberg still has some room to fill out. The body, and where it’s headed, will have a significant impact on what outfield position Sandberg will ultimately occupy. I think he’s ticketed for right field, but allow me to outline other potential outcomes for you, just for the sake of thoroughness.
The Phillies are at least open to the notion that he may be able to stick in center field. At this point, why not? It’s not as if Sandberg is mashing his way through the minor leagues right now and the only thing holding him back is a struggle to develop defensively. Sandberg has plenty of time to adjust to the middle of the diamond, assuming the physicals tools to play there remain intact. You see, Sandberg is presently a plus runner (6.64 in the 60 yard dash) and has the legs to play center field, but his body leads many to believe that he’s going to get bigger, thicker and slow down a bit too much to have the obligatory range to play there. Of course, there’s always the chance that Sandberg develops Defensive Clairvoyance, which is my all-encompassing phrase for things like; great reads off the bat, efficient routes to balls, quick first step, shading hitters properly, and all those other little things that would allow Cord Sandberg to still play a viable centerfield even if his legs go backwards. You can be a fringe-average runner and play a dynamite centerfield if you have Defensive Clairvoyance. Just look at Jackie Bradley Jr.
Sandberg, as of yet, does not possess such prescient gifts and so his speed is of importance and I’ll presently evaluate him as such. He split time between CF and a corner in GCL ball this summer. If he fills out and slows down, it’s right field for him (which is fine, he has an above-average arm and he’d probably be terrific there), if the cement is dry on the body and the feel for CF comes along, then he can play there. There’s also a non-zero chance he gets bigger and somehow maintains that plus speed, or at least enough to play up the middle. Chances are slim, but we’ve seen it before. Josh Hamilton, Shin-Soo Choo, Jon Jay, Robbie Grossman and Avisail Garcia are all on the thick side and have all roamed a big-league centerfield at some point. None of them are really any good at it, and I don’t condone them playing there every day, but they did it.
Even if Sandberg does move to right field (again, I think he will) there’s a chance for enough bat to profile as a regular. The raw power is impressive and there’s room for improvement if he fills out and the right sort of changes are made to the swing. Right now Sandberg is absurdly pull-happy and the swing is rather handsy. There’s little aid coming from rotation and from the lower half. Really, for a player whose athleticism is lauded because of his two-sport pedigree, Sandberg’s swing is anything but athletic. That said, he generates good bat speed and has a bat path that I think is conducive of power. There’s explosive raw substance here for Phillies player development staffers to sculpt. I have an above-average grade on the future power.
Of course, whether or not Sandberg hits enough to tap into that power may be an issue, as is the case with many a prospect. Sandberg’s amateur swing will not work in the Major Leagues (or, frankly, at any level past maybe Williamsport) but the un-teachable skills of bat speed, strength and athleticism are here for the crafting. I see some swing and miss and the pull-only style limits to hit tool utility as well. I have a slightly below average future grade on the stick. Full disclosure, Sandberg’s hit tool is the hardest tool for me to project in this whole system.
There is a tremendous amount of risk here. Sandberg’s dual sport amateur itinerary has left him unpolished, light years away from the Major Leagues. He’s a tough player to project because not only is there great distance between where he is now and where he wants to be, but so much of his future is dependent on mechanical changes that we don’t yet know about, that I’m not in charge of making (not that I’d be good at it if I were asked to), and Sandberg’s ability and desire to manifest those changes into his muscle memory. His makeup has been praised by observers, which is a good start on the road to offensive viability. I think there’s a chance for Sandberg to be a very solid everyday player. It’s a traditional right field profile. Nice power, some striking out, a big arm and modestly esteemed legs. If that skill set comes about then we’re talking about one of the higher ceilings in the system, but you’re not likely to see Sandberg’s name occupying top-10 real estate on any reputable organizational rankings. The risk is just too great for that right now.
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