The power the KC Royals wanted when they drafted Gavin Cross in the first round of last year's amateur draft is still there. He's stealing bases, and a lot of them, something the club has to love considering the premium it traditionally places on speed. And his glovework is fine.
But despite the good, whispers that Cross might not be the real deal after all must be out there. That's because he's not hitting like the outfielder MLB Pipeline says is Kansas City's No. 1 prospect should be if that lofty ranking is accurate.
Playing his 83rd game of the season for High-A Quad Cities Thursday night, Cross singled twice in three at-bats and stole his 20th base of the year, but he's hitting only .208, a number barely over the Mendoza Line and one hardly befitting of any major league franchise's top prospect. And it's a statistic not born of some recent slump; instead, it's the product of a prolonged and profound bout with the bat.
Top KC Royals prospect Gavin Cross has struggled at the plate all season
Cross has battled High-A pitching since the River Bandits opened this campaign in April. He went 0-4 Opening Day and ended the month with a .169/.265/.338 line. May was better, but he still hit only .225, and improved to .236 in June.
July, however, hasn't been kind to Cross—his 2-for-3 Thursday effort is encouraging, but he's slashing a miserable .179/.217/.250 for the month.
For Cross, then, this is a season that, absent significant improvement before Quad Cities' regular campaign ends Sept. 10, he'll most likely want to forget, especially considering the flashy numbers he put up last summer. He made a quick stop in the Arizona Complex League and went 5-for-10 before playing 26 times at Low-A Columbia, where he homered seven times, drove in 22 runs, and slashed .293/.423/.596.
Not surprisingly, though, even those good numbers didn't draw an invitation to major league spring training from the Royals. Not many A-ball players reap such things. But the club did the next best thing when, needing players for limited big league exhibition action, it put him in five spring contests; making the most of those opportunities, Cross delighted Royals fans by going 5-for-9 with a homer, triple, double, and two singles.
So, what's plaguing Cross this season? What's overshadowing his 10 home runs, 50 RBIs, and those 20 steals?
Strikeouts. They're his primary nemesis—entering Thursday's action, he was fanning almost 30% of the time (29.8%, to be precise). That's too much, and a rate Cross must improve.
Fortunately, he works pitchers for walks at a good clip (about 9.5%), which helps explain why, with his .208 average, he's reached base often enough to steal 20 bases.
Still, Cross' bat needs to get better. A lot better. He certainly doesn't want to repeat High-A ball.