KC Royals: Veteran, prospect hurlers baffle Giants

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

A KC Royals veteran and a prospect both bewildered the Giants Saturday.

Bobby Witt Jr. homered and drove in two runs for the KC Royals Saturday. Erick Mejia homered and drove in three. Brad Brach and Jake Kalish each held San Francisco scoreless in their single innings of work. And the Royals beat the Giants 8-6.

But it was veteran Mike Minor and prospect Austin Cox who really caught the eyes of anyone watching, and the ears of those listening to this contest.

Starting and pitching for the first time this spring, Minor, an established big league starter who pitched for the Royals in 2017 and is back on a two-year free agent deal, retired San Francisco in order in the first on three flyouts. Then, after hitting leadoff batter Buster Posey to begin the second, Minor struck out three veterans in a row to end the inning. He caught Evan Longoria looking, got Brandon Crawford on a foul tip, and punched out Darin Ruf swinging.

Young Cox, 23 and appearing in his first spring training game since beginning his professional career in 2018, was just as good, if not better. He took over in the bottom of the seventh to protect the lead the Royals took in the top half of the inning; Chadwick Tromp touched him for a one-out single, but that was the best the Giants could do against the lefthander. He immediately got Ricardo Genoves to fly out; after that, Cox was untouchable.

First, he struck out Marco Luciano looking to end the inning, then did the same to Joe McCarthy to start the eighth. Next, Heliot Ramos went down on a foul tip third strike. Hunter Bishop was Cox’s final victim—like Luciano and McCarthy, he watched as Cox drilled a third strike past him. His pair of innings for the day complete, Cox gave way to Kalish, who closed it out for the KC Royals in the ninth.

That Cox bewildered San Francisco’s batters isn’t shocking, though—he’s Kansas City’s ninth best prospect per MLB Pipeline, and averaged 13.8 strikeouts every nine innings as a rookie at Burlington in 2018 and almost nine across stints with Wilmington and Lexington in 2019. And the Royals think enough of him that he made their 60-man Player Pool last season.

Cox is listed on Advanced A Quad Cities’ roster, where he’ll most likely start the 2021 season unless he continues to be so dominant, in which case he could make the jump to Double A. Triple A is a stretch at this point in his career, the major leagues highly improbable.

Wherever he pitches this year, the Royals hope his improved control remains improved. Cox had control issues in his three collegiate seasons at Mercer and in his first pro ball campaign, but walked less than three batters per nine innings in 2019.

Cox is also stingy, as his two-season 2.96 minor league ERA and 1.183 WHIP prove. He has a solid fastball, a good curve, and a changeup.

Unlike Austin Cox, Kris Bubic didn’t have a good Saturday for the KC Royals

Kris Bubic, who with Brady Singer, Daniel Lynch and Jackson Kowar were picked far ahead of Cox in the 2018 draft (Singer was the 18th overall pick, Kowar 33rd, Lynch 34th, Bubic 40th and Cox 152nd) had a Saturday to forget.

Bubic started the third inning and gave up four runs on four hits and a walk before giving way to Gabe Speier, who quickly ended the inning on a fly out.

Bubic returned to the mound the next inning—a Cactus League rule allows pitchers to reenter games—and was better. The Giants nicked him for another run, but he surrendered just one hit and struck out one.

Preparing for his first full big league season after joining Kansas City’s rotation for last year’s short campaign, Bubic has given up five runs and eight hits in three innings. A bad inning followed by a decent frame Saturday is similar to his inconsistency last season, a blemish he must cure.

Erick Mejia’s and Bobby Witt Jr.’s home runs powered the KC Royals’ offense

Bobby Witt Jr. and Erick Mejia hit their first homers of the spring, and both were two-run shots. Witt’s came in the third inning and gave the Royals a 2-0 lead; Mejia slammed his in the seventh to break a 6-6 tie and picked up another RBI on a double in the ninth. Mejia will carry a .500 average (3-for-6) into today’s game against former Royal Eric Hosmer and his San Diego Padres, while Witt is hitting .333 (5-for-15).

Jorge Soler, Andrew Benintendi and Hanser Alberto all had doubles.

Pitching prospects shine. dark. Next

Mike Minor and Austin Cox befuddled the Giants Saturday. They’ll be interesting to watch as Cactus League play continues.