Minors : : General
Monday, August 20, 2012

Story Stock

Nick Kappel        
Photo: Around Town Photography

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Every baseball player has a story. Some are high draft picks who soar through the minors and break into the big leagues without a hiccup along the way. Others are long-shots who endure the better part of a decade toiling in front of empty stadiums while suffering through long bus rides and self-doubt.

And others, such as Robert Stock, fit somewhere in between.

Six years ago, Stock was one of the top high school prospects in the country. In fact, according to one PG scout, Stock might have been the best:

Stock is aggressive and routinely shows a 91-94 mph FB with riding action at the plate and good life down in the zone. He also possesses a power downer curve that has plus spin and sharp, late action…Stock has a surprising feel of his 79-81 mph change-up…On offense, he’s a left-handed hitter with plus bat speed. He is an excellent gap-to-gap hitter with power. Stock is one of the very elite ’07 prospects and is a legitimate two-way talent, not only for major D-I baseball, but also for pro baseball.”

In the 2006 Perfect Game All-American Classic, Stock was the West’s starting pitcher on a staff that featured Tim Alderson and Blake Beavan opposite the East’s Madison Bumgarner, Matt Harvey, Rich Porcello and Michael Main. Stock looks back on that experience with fond memories.

“That was a blast,” he said. “Getting to play in front of a nation-wide crowd because it’s on TV, even to this day it’s something I can recall.”

Most of the PG All-Americans returned to high school the following year. But not Stock. He skipped his senior year of high school — a la Bryce Harper — and took his two-way talents straight to college, signing with Southern California.

Stock was a pitcher, catcher and designated hitter in his three years at USC. His bat was a fixture in the Trojan lineup and showed improvement as his slugging percentage increased each season. He pitched 39.2 innings in a relief role between his freshman and sophomore seasons. During the summer of 2007, he played with the Cape Cod League’s Cotuit Kettleers. In his junior season — his last at USC — Stock started nine games on the mound. In 20 appearances that year, he posted a 2.90 ERA and struck out 86 batters in 77.2 innings.

Despite his superior numbers on the mound, Stock made it known that he wanted to play catcher professionally. The St. Louis Cardinals obliged, selecting him in the second-round of the 2009 draft.

From there, it’s been a three-year roller-coaster ride. Stock dominated rookie ball in his first pro season to the tune of .322/.386/.550 with seven homers in 166 plate appearances. Splitting time between A-ball and High-A just two years later, he hit .240/.314/.330 with just one long ball in a limited role.

When Stock arrived in spring training to begin the 2012 season, the Cardinals’ brass decided to make a change.

“The guys who are in charge of my development sat me down and decided to make me a pitcher,” he said. “So this year I’ve been giving it everything I can only having a limited amount of preparation going into the season.”

Now 22 years old, Stock has struck out 65 batters in 68.2 innings for the Quad City River Bandits (A) in a long-relief role. 

While Stock admits he’s not as sharp on the mound as he was in college, he’s working hard to regain his old form. His repertoire hasn’t changed (he still throws in the low-90s, sometimes creeping into the upper-90s with a good change-up and developing curve) and neither has the ultimate goal.

When asked whether he prefers to pitch in a relief or starting role, Stock smiled and said, “I prefer to be a major leaguer.

“It really just depends on how my arm responds this year and how my pitches progress,” he continued. “Obviously, most people would prefer to be a starter, but not everyone can. We’ll see what happens come February, 2013.”

Despite the turmoil he’s endured, Stock doesn’t have any regrets — especially not his decision to graduate high school a year early and enroll at USC.

“I think my three years at USC were some of the best years of my life, considering the friends you make on the baseball team, the baseball, the school and the college life,” he said. “And then going on to play summer ball in the Cape Cod League, that was really — I can’t see myself missing out on that. I had a wonderful host family. My brother just got back from visiting my host family that hasn’t hosted me in years. My mom still talks to their mom all the time. It was a great experience.”

Stock has two younger brothers, Richard and Jacob. Richard was a catcher at Nebraska before being drafted in the 23rd round by the Cleveland Indians earlier this summer. Jacob, who’s also a catcher, plays high school ball in the family’s hometown of Westlake Village, Calif.

The eldest Stock brother plans to attend the Cardinals’ instructional league in Florida this offseason before returning home, where he plans to keep working throughout the winter.

“I think this offseason is a good opportunity for us,” Stock said. “Now that I’m pitching, I can throw a bullpen to Richard. And then (Jacob) can catch, so Richard can hit. What better way to practice?”

After a winter of “practice,” it’ll be back to the grind as Stock hopes to end the final chapter in his minor league story with a big-league promotion. But if it doesn’t work out, he doesn’t want to look back with regret.

“That’s something I learned from day one,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be in big league camp and hear it straight from Mike Matheny: You give it your all until they pull the uniform off your back. I’m working really hard; eating right, sleeping right and practicing intensely. There’s only a small window of opportunity someone has to make it. I’d hate to look back on years past and think I didn’t give it all that I could.”

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