After his Rule 5 reprieve, Austin Cox could join the KC Royals this season.
Unlike Asa Lacy, Austin Cox didn’t miss pro ball in 2020. Kansas City included him in its 60-man Player Pool, so he spent the summer working at the club’s Alternate Training Site with other top organization players.
Cox’s selection made sense. A highly-regarded prospect, Cox was coming off a good season split between Low-A and High-A—he’d gone 8-6 with a 2.76 ERA in 24 games (all but one of them starts) in 2019 and appeared well on his way to Kansas City.
But a gut punch followed his good 15-start, 3-1, 3.00 ERA 2021 season at Double-A Northwest Arkansas—the Royals left him unprotected for the winter’s Rule 5 draft by not including him on their 40-man roster.
If it wasn’t shocking, exposing Cox to the Rule 5 unprotected was certainly surprising. He’s a fine starting pitcher, a valuable commodity the club should covet considering the struggles Singer, Bubic, Kowar and Lynch, his fellow 2018 draftees, have experienced so far.
Fortunately for the Royals and Cox, however, the 99-day lockout counts the Rule 5 draft as one of its victims—MLB will skip it for one year, meaning Cox is safe unless the Royals trade him or let him go.
Doing either would be unwise; Cox’s status as a top pitching prospect hasn’t changed. He’s 13-8 with a decent 3.30 ERA and 9.3 BB9 in three minor league seasons, MLB Pipeline considers him the12th best player, and fifth best pitcher, in the organization and, although he’s still not on the 40-man, he’s in big league spring camp at the Royals’ invitation.
But can he earn an even bigger invitation, one to Kansas City during the regular season? Perhaps, but he’ll need to continue pitching well, and his attractive assortment of effective pitches—fastball, change, curve and slider—could prove valuable at the major league level.