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Time to temper excitement with Sandberg

June 25, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Let's take a minute and calm down. It's easy to jump aboard the Cord Sandberg bandwagon, and there are plenty of reasons to do so.

But let's wait just a minute … Or a week … Before jumping to any kind of rash, or definitive, conclusions about the 19-year old Williamsport Crosscutters outfielder.

As one of the most intriguing players in the Cutters' clubhouse, this is an important week for Sandberg. This is the first time in his scorching first two weeks in the New York-Penn League that he has to face teams for the second time. This is going to be the start of the time where prospects can truly be evaluated.

As much fun as he's been to watch as he's torn up the New York-Penn League, up until now it's been a study of tools, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. But now we get into the true mental aspect which comes with playing baseball every day. It's a game of adjustments to be made every week, every series, every at-bat, every inning and every pitch.

This is when the true Cord Sandberg is going to show through.

He's given no reason over the first 12 games of the season to think things will be much different. The 2013 third-round draft pick has been everything Phillies fans could have hoped for in his first full season of professional baseball. He is second in the New York-Penn League in hitting (.358). He leads the New York-Penn League in hits (19). He's the only player in the entire league to have a hit in each of his team's games, and one of only two players with at least a 10-game hitting streak.

He's already shown the pop you'd expect from a 6-foot-3, 215-pound corner outfielder with two home runs. He's shown the speed you'd expect from a leadoff hitter with two infield hits on opening night of the season, plus three stolen bases.

On the surface, Sandberg looks to be just the type of prospect the Phillies' system needs. A young outfielder with power potential who avoids strikeouts (just nine so far) and gets on base. But what has to be remembered is Sandberg is far from a finished product. He knows it and spoke about the things he needed to work on still during Crosscutters media day now two weeks ago.

He talked about shortening his stride with minor league hitting coordinator and former Crosscutters manager Andy Tracy. Consistently facing pitchers throwing in excess of 90 mph is something new for Sandberg, and the idea of shortening his stride allows him to use his quick hands to get through the zone.

He talked about learning to throw better from the outfield – where he's capable of playing all three positions. He's had to adjust from the quick release throwing motion which comes with throwing a football as a Division I quarterback recruit, to trying to get longer with his motion to get more distance and carry on the baseball.

It's good to be excited about the potential which lies within Cord Sandberg's game. He's been thought of highly enough to be the Phillies' No. 10 prospect according to MLB.com. One reputable Phillies minor league blog has him as the No. 7 prospect in the system in its midseason Top 20.

It's easy to fall in love with a player when things are going well, and clearly they are for Sandberg. He's done everything in his power to assert himself as a player to watch. But it's when failure comes when you'll better be able to understand him as a player.

On the positive side, the left-handed hitter already dealt with that in his stint in the Gulf Coast League last year, hitting .207. He rebounded to make adjustments and become the kind of player who can generate discussions as to where he belongs in the upper echelon of the organization's prospects.

This is an opportunity to be optimistic, but still cautious. There's a ton of season left to play, and maybe more than 1,000 at-bats to go before the discussion of when Sandberg could see a call to Citizens Bank Park even begins. There's still so many variables which could both derail or accelerate the production of a player who is still so young.

But the fun of watching players at this level as they just begin their career is the speculation, the projection of ceilings and floors, the grading of abilities now versus future abilities. Sandberg is going to continue to generate that kind of discussion. But be reasonable, manage your expectations, and enjoy the show he continues to put on.

Mitch Rupert covers the Williamsport Crosscutters for the Sun-Gazette. He can be reached at 326-1551, ext. 3129, or by email at mrupert@sungazette.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mitch_Rupert.

 
 

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