Before 2009: Was there any doubt that J.B. Cox would be wearing pinstripes one day? The former closer at The University of Texas, Cox was selected in the second round of the 2005 draft by the Yankees. The club thought so highly of him, they sent him straight to High-A Tampa, and he rewarded them with a 2.60 ERA and a 27:5 K/BB ratio in 16 appearances.
Cox started his 2006 season in Trenton, and was essentially lights out. In 41 appearances, he was 6-2 with three saves and a 1.75 ERA, holding the Eastern League to a .196 average against.
But then he went to the Olympic Qualifying Tournament before the 2006 season ended. For all intents and purposes, he never came back. Cox would reveal several years later that he was pitching through elbow pain that year, and he the pain eventually became too much and he underwent elbow surgery. He missed all of 2007, but came back strong in 2008.
He started out in Tampa, made a brief stop in Trenton, and would spend the final four months of the year pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A Scranton. While his numbers were pretty average (5-4, 4.75 ERA, 36 IP, 17 BB, 16 K) the main thing he came away with that year was his health. Cox seemed to have gotten himself back on the path to the big leagues, and would start the following year back in Scranton, just one step away from the Bronx.
2009: The righty reliever started the season with Scranton and struggled early and often. He posted an 0-1 record with one save and an ERA over seven before going down with a shoulder injury. When he was ready to come back, he found himself smothered by an overcrowded bullpen and subsequent lack of innings. So he was sent down to Double-A.
I spoke to Cox when he came back, and he seemed optimistic about getting things back on track one more time.
“I feel like I’m getting closer and closer,” he said.
“But it’s hard for me to say that, because I still don’t feel exactly like I was then, and maybe I never will. But there are instances and times where I’ll get that flash and it’s like, ‘wow, this feels really great.’ But other times, I’ll get out there and have to battle a little bit more. But the times are coming more and more together now, just in my bullpen sessions I’m starting to get a little bit better feel now. Hopefully I can just get a couple good outings in a row, get on a hot streak, and we’ll see what happens.”
What happened, however, was Cox was flat out not good. In five outings, he went 0-2 with an 8.31 ERA, six walks and four strikeouts. And he posted a WHIP of 2.54, which was clearly good for one of the worst marks on the team. In the middle of June, Cox would leave the team and go into a temporary retirement, returning to his home in Texas. It’s a retirement that may become permanent.
After 2009: Nobody knows what the future holds for J.B. Cox. Just 25 years old, if he can ever return to the pitcher he was back in 2005 and 2006, his future is a bright one. But if he feels like he just doesn’t have it anymore, there’s no telling if he’ll ever come back. Personally, I think he got too close and was too good to hang it up without giving it at least one more shot. But we may not know until Opening Day next year if that will actually happen.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com