ST. LOUIS -- The first clue about Zack Cox came when Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals' vice president of scouting and player development, called him a "baseball rat." The second may have been when Cox addressed every media questioner as "sir" during his conference call with reporters on Monday night.
The Cardinals took a very talented baseball player with their first pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, but they also selected a young man who scores high on what scouts call "makeup." The skill on the field is obviously the most important thing, and he's got it in spades. But the club also likes his no-nonsense attitude.
"He's got a tremendous swing," Luhnow said. "He's a baseball guy. He's been a baseball rat his entire life. He puts everything he has into the game, and it shows. He hit well over .400 this year in good competition. He hit well over .300 [in the Cape Cod League] this summer. This kid is going to probably be a fast mover through the Minor Leagues, because his bat is pretty close to being Major League-ready. We've seen him hit with wood. We've seen him hit with aluminum. We've seen him hit good pitching. He can hit a breaking ball. He can hit a fastball. There's not a lot this guy can't do with the bat."
It was the second straight year that the Cardinals pounced on a highly rated player who fell in the Draft. Cox, the third baseman for the University of Arkansas, is rated as potentially the best college hitter in the Draft, and MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo projected Cox to go seventh overall in his last mock Draft. Though Cox's status as a Draft-eligible sophomore gives him considerable negotiating leverage, The Cardinals are optimistic they will be able to get a deal done before the Aug. 16 deadline.
Cox, though, wants no part of talking contract. His team is two wins away from the College World Series after advancing to the super regional round of the NCAA tournament on Monday night.
"As far as signability goes, I'm really just focused on winning the national championship, and we can discuss all that later," he said. "I feel honored to be drafted by the Cardinals. It's awesome. But right now I just want to focus on the national championship and we can discuss signability later."
Said Luhnow: "Our sense is that Zack wants to sign. He wants to play baseball, and I think he sees his career moving fairly quickly in getting here, which is what we see for him as well. And I think he wants to sign and we want to sign him."
A left-handed hitter, Cox entered his Monday night game hitting .424 with a .603 slugging percentage through 56 games. He's been dealing with discomfort in his rib-cage area since mid-May, and he was removed from Monday's game as a result of the condition. But Luhnow said that Cox was cleared medically, and Cox downplayed the condition.
"It's nothing serious," he said. "It just needs time to heal, but obviously I don't have time to give it right now. We're in the middle of tournament time. But it's nothing serious. It could be healed in two weeks, but I don't have two weeks to give it, so I'm just going to have to play through it the best I can."
Though Cox, 21, has played second base and third base at Arkansas, the Cardinals project him as a third baseman all the way. They believe that both defensively and offensively, he can be a productive big league player at the hot corner. He said he prefers third base, but one doesn't get the feeling that he's all that picky about it.
Cox entered Monday's game with nine home runs, 11 doubles, 48 RBIs, 34 walks and 34 strikeouts. He's also stolen 11 bases in 12 attempts, all while playing in one of the toughest conferences in college baseball. Baseball America rated him as the sixth-best player in the Draft and the best college position player.
He's made a point not to let that go to his head.
"It just means my hard work has paid off," Cox said of the accolades, "and it means I need to get out there and prove all those people right -- and prove all the people who don't think that wrong."
It's the second time in three years that the Cardinals drafted a college hitter with their first pick. It's also the second straight year that a player rated much higher by some analysts fell to the Cardinals' spot in the Draft.
After years of being known as a team that leaned heavily toward college pitchers at the top of the Draft, St. Louis has changed that trend in recent years. A year ago, the Cardinals selected right-hander Shelby Miller, a hard-throwing high school pitcher from Texas. In the past four years, they've made one first pick from each of the four broad categories: Before Miller, they took college infielder Brett Wallace in 2008, high school infielder Pete Kozma in 2007 and college pitcher Adam Ottavino in '06.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.