At some point in the career of a baseball player, beyond the Little League fields but well before the professional level, a choice tends to fall upon their shoulders.
Am I a position player or am I a pitcher?
It’s a choice occasionally left to high school and collegiate coaches looking to guide potential careers but, just as often, it’s the players themselves who have been known to bow out of one role to further their chances in another.
Christian Cox has been playing the game he loves above all others for 18 years now and he’s thankful that such a choice has not been forced upon him even as he prepares for his senior season at the University of Nebraska.
“I’ve just kinda been doing both since I was really little and I just keep telling myself I’m going to keep doing it until somebody tells me I can’t,” Cox, 22, said of his dual roles in baseball. “I just keep taking care of my arm and my body and try to stay in good health and work as hard as I can to get better in both every day.”
As the summer season sets to close for the West Coast League’s Medford Rogues this weekend, Cox has proven that he deserves to be considered an asset in the outfield and on the mound.
The 6-foot, 195-pound left-hander entered Monday’s game against the Klamath Falls Gems batting .267 with 15 runs, 19 RBIs, 14 walks and seven stolen bases in 28 games. He’s made six starts in his nine appearances and has authored a 1-2 record and 3.97 ERA with 24 strikeouts and 14 walks in 34 innings.
This past season at Nebraska, Cox played in 34 games, including 12 starts, and made two pitching appearances. He hit .300 and played in all three games of the NCAA Stillwater Regional with Rogues teammate Tanner Lubach, and Cox said his Nebraska coaches were open to him continuing to play both roles this summer.
“When he got here we wanted to feel out what he wanted and what (Nebraska’s coaching staff) wanted and we kinda ran with that and it’s worked so far,” said Rogues manager Josh Hogan. “He’s helped us out tremendously on the mound and especially in the outfield defensively, and at the plate he’s been good for us, too.”
Both player and coach recognize the unique nature of Cox’s duality, especially given the high level he is competing at this summer and at Nebraska.
“To see a player like that at the (Division I) level is really rare these days,” said Hogan. “There’s just so much demand on both sides of the ball, the pitching and the positional player side. You have to be, one, really athletic and, two, very skilled and talented in both parts of the game, and Christian is both of those.”
Cox, who hails from Aberdeen, S.D., said it never was a thought to give up either role, although he recognizes why such a choice often is made.
“As you get older in the game and higher up in the game there’s less and less of that,” he said of pitching and playing in the field. “More guys try to specialize in one area and they kinda find their niche, but I’ve been blessed enough to be able to continue to do both and work on both every day.”
Still, Cox admitted that it’s not easy to fit all the work in that he wants to do in order to excel in each.
“It is difficult because I’ve got to try at practice to work my way in with the pitchers and everyone else,” he said. “Usually I go to the outfield and work and then I have to try to get bullpens and stuff like that in after my work is done with the outfielders and in the (batting) cage.”
“It’s really all about taking care of my body and keeping my arm in shape,” added Cox, who was slated to pitch Monday. “I’ve kinda learned how to do that over my first three years at school so now it’s not a big deal.”
That diligent work is definitely what helps Cox be available to do both, according to Hogan.
“He recovers very well and his arm’s not sore so you can pitch him and put him in the outfield the very next day without a problem,” he said.
In both areas, Hogan said, Cox has been a welcomed addition to the collegiate wood-bat team.
“He tracks down everything in the outfield,” said Hogan. “Him and Spencer Smith are probably about equal when it comes to tracking down fly balls and gaining distance on that. His arm is very good in the outfield and at the plate he’s a very good hitter. He’s a huge contact guy and gap-to-gap guy who battles.”
“He’s a very nice asset to have for us,” he added. “Pitching-wise he’s been great. He doesn’t have electric stuff but what he’s done is come in and throw strikes and pound the zone and mix it up with his offspeed pitches. That’s all you have to do in this wood-bat league is throw strikes, keep the ball down in the zone and mix it up and you’ll have success.”
For his part, Cox really doesn’t make much of his dual role.
“I’m just wanting to help the team win any way I can,” he said. “Whatever they need from me I’m willing to do. I try to be a team player and obviously the coaches know what’s best for me and whatever they ask of me I try to give it my best effort.”
Cox said it all comes back to simply welcoming whatever challenge is thrown at him.
“Being a competitor is probably my strength as pitcher,” he said. “I don’t necessarily throw that hard or have the nastiest stuff but I compete and, when I’m out there, I like to think I can be better than the guy at the plate at that given moment. That’s always been how I’ve had success on the mound, and it’s kind of the same thing when I’m hitting or in the outfield.”
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