Projecting KC Royals prospects: No. 11, Austin Cox

(Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images) /

The KC Royals have generated a lot of buzz for the arms they took in the first few rounds of the 2018 draft, but what about their fifth-round pick?

The “Fab Four” of the KC Royals’ minor league system stems from the 2018 MLB Amateur Draft. Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic have been terrific pitchers in the minors thus far. There’s legitimate hope that all four of them will one day play key roles in the success of the major league team. Austin Cox, the team’s fifth-round pick in the same draft, has been pretty good in his own right.

Cox has posted much better numbers in two minor league seasons than he did with Mercer University for three years. In 33.1 innings of Rookie-level ball in 2018, the 6-foot-4 lefty spun a 3.78 ERA and struck out a whopping 51 hitters. That success would continue in 2019, as he went 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA and 129 combined strikeouts between levels A and A+.

MLB Pipeline ranked Cox as the KC Royals’ No. 21 prospect ahead of 2019. That number rose to 11th this season, as his impressive campaign was enough to earn some respect in the rankings. With a good fastball, a terrific curveball and a solid changeup/slider combo to round out his mix, Cox certainly has the potential to become a big-league starter. Will he reach his ceiling, though?

Best scenario:

Cox’s surprisingly good control over both his delivery and overall pitch location remains effective. His curveball builds a reputation as one of the better pitches in the entire organization and he rides that wave of momentum into an MLB debut a year or so from now. In the MLB, Cox is a reliable middle-of-the-rotation starter and uses his fastball/curveball combo to leave hitters guessing. The strikeouts become a staple of his game, and the Royals have their No. 3 starter for years to come.

Worst scenario:

Cox reverts to his college ways. While he continues to strike out opposing hitters at a good rate, the walks creep their way back up near 4BB/9 territory. This, combined with the fact that his fastball is merely solid instead of a plus pitch, dooms him as a starter. He moves to the bullpen but because the curveball is already so effective, he still carves out a decent role there.

Most likely scenario:

Cox is able to hold down the fifth starter role for the Royals, or possibly becomes one of the better swingmen in the MLB. It all depends on how he develops both his slider and changeup. In this scenario, he doesn’t tweak them too much, leading to him relying on the fastball/curve combo to get him to the majors. It works, and he never looks back. It’s entirely possible that he shifts to the bullpen if his arsenal doesn’t improve as a whole.

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Cox may not have been on many radars heading into 2019, but the pressure is now on for him to put up big numbers moving forward.