Cord Sandberg: Shiny New Thing/Fast Car/Lion/Rose

Sometimes, when you’re looking at a shiny new thing, the “thing” blinds you for a little bit. Because of the shininess.

– Soon-To-Be-Popular Modern Saying

Cord Sandberg is like a 2013 Roadster. He’s maybe lost some of that “new car smell” from a summer spinning his tires around the Gulf Coast of Florida, but his engine still alternately purrs like a kitten and roars like a lion. He’s currently sitting on an every-game-of-the-young-season hitting streak of 12 games, which has gotten some around the internets all abuzz with J.P.-Crawfordian good-time super-happy feelings. And while Sandberg and Crawford came out of the same draft class, and had far different levels of success in 2013, both have put together hot streaks in 2014 that make you look up and wonder if the kitten is actually a lion cub growing up before our very eyes, and lying in wait to ambush and eat his opponent…which I’ll readily admit, would get either of them suspended for nine FIFA matches or released by the Dodgers. Resist the urge, Boys.

A bit of housekeeping for you – Sandberg is not related to Ryne Sandberg. Nor, from all accounts, is he kin to poet Carl Sandburg. Sandburg once said “We may pull apart the petals of a rose or make chemical analysis of its perfume, but the mystic beauty of its form and odor is still a secret, locked in to where we have no keys.” The keys to this rose are not 12 games of New York-Penn League baseball statistics. And yes, I just compared a svelte young man to a rose. But he was also just called a fast car and a lion, so he’ll get over it.

Now, I could quote you a 58 PA OPS of .940 or a real nice wRC+ of 182, and sure, they sound great. Also, the aforementioned 12-game hitting streak to start the year is very nice, especially for a guy who was supposed to have a slow go of it since he’d played football at such a high level in high school that he was offered a scholarship to the SEC (well…Mississippi State). (Oh yes, I did).

But what will tell the tale of this young man, what may begin to unlock his scent or “odor” (gross) or whatever it was from that Carl Sandburg bit a few graphs ago, is eyes on the man, seeing what there is to see right now, and hoping to figure what is to come. And since I live near zero of the places he’s played thus far, I asked for help.

Mitch Rupert writes about Williamsport Crosscutters Baseball for the Williamsport (Pa.) Sun-Gazette. He wrote a column about Sandberg last night, which you should read. Chris King is a scout working in Florida, covering the Gulf Coast League and Florida State League for Baseball Prospectus. He’s seen Sandberg many times over the last calendar year, especially last summer in the GCL. I asked both for their opinions on a few things related to Sandberg.

Here’s what Mitch had to say as a first impression:

I’m surprised at just how baseball proficient he is. He didn’t really play any elite level baseball until after his junior year of high school, but he seems to understand the game well and understand who he is as a player.

Mitch again on Sandberg’s defense and arm:

He’s a natural in the outfield which reminds me of Aaron Altherr, just has a good feel for how to play the position. What I’ve seen of his arm is just from (workouts) every day and I expected a bit more from a guy who was going to be a D1 quarterback. Dylan Cozens and Kelly Dugan come to mind right away as having much better arms in right field. (Sandberg) said he’s still working on getting longer on his throw because his arm motion is kind of short. (note: Chris likes the arm, put a 6 on it).

Chris on Sandberg’s defense and body:

I’ve seen him in both corners and in center, and while he was plenty capable in center, he was a little stiff and seemed better suited for a corner. As for his physical, he’s thick from top to bottom and you’d think he’d be a little un-athletic, but that’s not the case.

Mitch on his swing:

I love to watch this kid swing the bat. There’s no extraneous movement in his swing. No big load in his hands like from Maikel Franco or Cameron Perkins. There’s a simple weight transfer and the hands just explode from set-up to contact point. It’s a short and quick stroke, and he doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by plus velocity.

Chris on his bat:

The hit tool is his biggest concern. He has a good eye and will work the count, but was too patient for me, at times hesitant to pull the trigger. His swing got longer as the season went on and was rolling over a lot and generating weak contact. He’s got plenty of raw power and he flashed glimpses of it I’m games. I’d put a 6 on his future power grade.

…and on his makeup:

Since the first day he showed up at complex, all I’ve heard his what a great teammate, hard worker and natural leader he is. Being a big-time recruited quarterback, that shouldn’t be too surprising, but some guys who are two sport studs can be arrogant and feel like they don’t need to put in the work. That’s not the case with him. Plus-plus makeup.

Mitch on what to expect in the near-term:

I think what these couple weeks have shown is what he’s capable of, but we can’t rush to judgement. Mitch Walding got off to a hot start like this a couple years ago and never got back to this level. This week is going to be a big week for Sandberg. It’s the second time he’s seeing both Auburn and State College, so we’ll see what kind of adjustments are made.

Add all this up and you get a pretty good picture of the athlete. He’s proving right now that he’s got some of the tools to succeed. As Mitch points out, he’ll be tested shortly. He started a little hot last year too, and Chris saw either adversity or exhaustion or a combination of the two cause him trouble thereafter. He’ll get his fair share of both in the nine weeks before this season closes, I’d imagine.

Now, as a fan of the game, and a fan of the team, I’d love to be able to tell you that this is a star in the making, that he’ll break out and mash all summer long, that the flaws we see won’t be exposed, but rather worked through. I’d love to place this guy on the fast track to Philadelphia or even Lakewood, New Jersey. But the best I can say is this: There may be a mystic beauty within him that’s just now begun to be uncovered. Finding the key that unlocks the chains that hold back a budding star may take this young man some time. All we can do is watch as the petals unfurl and hope the bloom lasts through this summer and many more to come.

And Carl Sandberg just woke from the dirt nap and said, “Dude, don’t twist my words like that! You totally missed the point!” Sorry, Carl.

Mitch Rupert’s blog at the Sun-Gazette is Beyond The Boundaries, and he can be found on Twitter @Mitch_Rupert.

Chris King is on Twitter @StatsKing. You can read his work at Baseball Prospectus.

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  1. Romus

    June 26, 2014 02:52 PM

    Great read.

  2. DMAR

    June 27, 2014 10:59 AM

    This piece was too flower-y for me!

    • Brad Engler

      June 29, 2014 12:24 AM

      Oh boy.

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