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Decision for Sandberg to sign with Phillies was easy

June 16, 2014 - Mitch Rupert
Cord Sandberg has always considered himself a baseball player. Even when his college scholarship offers were for football, he always thought of himself as a baseball player.

It wasn't exactly a difficult decision for the Bradenton, Florida native to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies when he was selected in the third round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. He hadn't devoted nearly as much of his offseason time to baseball as he had to football, but scouts were convinced he wanted to sign a pro contract when their did their evaluations a year ago.

So here Sandberg is in Williamsport as the Crosscutters' leadoff hitter and right fielder, in the midst of his first full season as a professional baseball player. It's where he wants to be.

“I have a passion for baseball,” Sandberg said. “Sure, I enjoy playing football, too. But if you go to college, it's baseball, football and school. To be able to come to the Phillies for professional baseball and just focus on one sport, it really was an easy decision.”

Sandberg had options. Will Muschamp wanted him to come to Gainesville to play football for Florida, but wasn't exactly sure of the role he wanted Sandberg for, even hinting at playing him at safety. He really enjoyed the offensive setup at Missouri and was considering signing with the Tigers. Sandberg, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound quarterback at Manatee High School, eventually accepted a scholarship offer to play at Mississippi State.

The Bulldogs were going to give him the option of playing both baseball and football, something Sandberg wanted to do no matter where he played in college. But the idea of getting his pro baseball career started, along with a $775,000 signing bonus were just too much to turn down. Sandberg signed a deal which included the fourth-highest signing bonus among third-round draft picks last year, despite being the 16th selection in the round.

“Being picked where I was definitely made the decision easier,” Sandberg said. “Had it been the 10th round or 12th round, whatever it was, I probably still would have played baseball and given it a shot.”

It's not that Sandberg didn't think he could handle the kind juggling act which would come with trying to transition from baseball to football and include strong academic progress with it. He wanted to be able to focus solely on one sport and put everything he had into it.

As a senior at Manatee High School, Sandberg hit .418 with one home run, nine RBIs, 22 runs scored and seven stolen bases. But he had never been a year-round baseball player. In fact, he didn't even play in any summer showcase events which many of the nation's top high school players compete in until just before his senior year of high school when he was selected to the Perfect Game All-American Game.

It was after his appearance there in which his named was mentioned along with Austin Meadows, who was considered the top prep outfielder in the country leading into the 2013 draft. Meadows was selected ninth overall by the Pirates.

Football always seemed to be Sandberg's calling card, though. He had natural quarterback size. As a senior, he led Manatee to an undefeated regular season, completing 70 percent of his passes for more than 2,600 yards. He threw for 35 touchdowns and just one interception.

But the way Sandberg has always seen it, if this baseball thing doesn't work out, he can always go back to school and scratch his football itch.

“And if for some reason you do go back to college and play football, it's 100 percent focus on football,” Sandberg said. “And when it came down to it, Mississippi State and Missouri were the two schools where I really enjoyed the offenses they run. And the lure of the SEC with all these places you want to go play at. So I wanted to be in the SEC for sure.”

When Sandberg was assigned to the Gulf Coast League Phillies following his signing last summer, he didn't have any grand plans of coming in and dominating the league. He knew, in comparison to other players in the league, he was still a very raw baseball player.

He ended up hitting .207 in just under 200 plate appearances with an OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) of .585. But Sandberg did show solid plate discipline with a walk rate of just over 12 percent, and a strikeout rate of just over 18 percent.

The Phillies sent the then 18-year old to the Dominican Republic for four weeks over the winter to get even more reps than he did in 48 games in the GCL. “It was an experience. It was not miserable by any means for the weeks I was there,” Sandberg said. “I was able to enjoy just about everything there. And once you're on the baseball field, a baseball field is a baseball field, so that's all kind of the same.”

Sandberg spent his first foray into pro baseball trying to rid himself of some bad habits which can come with being a dominant high school player. Hitting just over the Mendoza line in the GCL was the first time he had really ever experienced failure as an athlete, but he took it as a learning experience.

“The biggest change was playing every day and then facing 90 miles an hour,” Sandberg said. “At the plate, you're facing guys who are getting paid to get you out. Honestly, I didn't have expectations going in. I was just going to say, 'I'm here, let's get after it.' I felt like I was a pretty good athlete, but on the baseball field I was interested to see how I stacked up against guys. I'm pretty happy with how I've been progressing.”

Sandberg has gotten off to a hot start for the Cutters, collecting two hits in each of his first three game with Williamsport, the only player on the team to do so. He doesn't come from the mold of other recent Phillies high school draft picks.

He doesn't come with a pedigree of exceptional power. He's been a fixture in the Cutters' leadoff spot with a short, compact swing which sees him get his hands from set-up to contact with very little extraneous movement. He does possess a speed factor – he bunted for a hit on opening night – which makes him a fit for the top of the lineup.

“I like him there. He puts together good at-bats and I like that he's got a little bit of pop there, too, and can drive some balls,” Williamsport first-year manager Shawn Williams said. “He does just a little bit of everything. He can bunt. He can run and steal a base. He's just a good baseball player.”


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