Welcome back to Kings of Kauffman's continuing series of stories profiling some of the KC Royals organization's top prospects. Up today is outfielder Gavin Cross.
When the KC Royals announced their non-roster invites for spring training, there was one name surprisingly omitted. That of the ninth overall pick in the 2022 MLB Draft, the name of Kansas City's former top prospect, outfielder Gavin Cross. The 22-year-old lefty still ranks as the Royals' sixth-best prospect, according to MLB.com. But few minor leaguers need a comeback in 2024 more than Cross.
Cross hit the ground running after Kansas City drafted him. After spending three seasons with the Virginia Tech Hokies, Cross quickly overwhelmed his competition in Low-A Columbia. He hit seven home runs and posted a 1.019 OPS across 26 games with the Fireflies, ending the 2022 season with them. Cross garnered some top-100 prospect consideration for that performance, plus his profile as an experienced batter and polished fielder. His outlook was the brightest in the Royals' system.
That all changed with a cold start in 2023. Cross appeared alongside MLB players during spring training and looked like he belonged. The Royals started him in High-A Quad Cities with realistic hopes of him progressing quickly. That did not happen with Quad Cities, as his first month saw him post a 66 wRC+, striking out 30.1% of the time, and not hitting for power.
That first month drove much of the discourse for Cross last season, but he never came back with a resounding reason for evaluators to rally behind him. After May 1, he did improve most of his metrics. His wRC+ improved to 95, the strikeout rate dropped to 27.3%, and he notched 10 home runs in the remaining 77 games. While all those are great numbers for most minor leaguers, they are hardly noteworthy for a top-10 pick.
Cross did move up to Double-A Northwest Arkansas but did not make many appearances for the Naturals. He landed on the IL due to an illness, originally reported by Farm to Fountain's Preston Farr. Cross last played on Aug. 9, with six plate appearances in Double-A.
Thankfully, Cross did return to action, albeit after the season's end. The Royals sent Cross to the Arizona Fall League with a mixed bag of prospects, fringe minor leaguers, and fresh MLB talent. Cross had mixed results in the AFL. The positives were a .353 OBP, seven steals in eight games, and solid fielding in center and right field. The negatives were still struggling to hit for average and power, evident by the .222 batting average and .296 slugging percentage.
How can KC Royals prospect Gavin Cross move on from 2023?
There are a few positive ways to slice Cross' 2023 season overall. One can hope he takes the adversity and lessons learned from the season and hits the ground running in 2024. Signs are pointing to how Cross can bounce back in 2024.
First and foremost, his .258 BABIP was second-worst in the Royals organization. A number that is far below average suggests some return to the mean, offering a positive spin on him producing an 89 wRC+ despite such horrid luck.
Secondly, Cross had an acceptable 14.3% swinging strike rate, showing that he does make contact at least. That offers some solace for the 27.8% strikeout rate if you want. Also, Cross appears to be a strong fit in center field due to his speed and impressive arm performance, with only two errors in 768⅔ innings this year.
In conclusion, while Cross had a disappointing season in 2023, several factors suggest he has the potential to bounce back in 2024. His low BABIP indicates that his luck was unusually bad and that he is likely to see some improvement in his overall performance. Additionally, his acceptable swinging strike rate demonstrates that he is capable of making contact at the plate. Taking all of these factors into account, it is reasonable to believe that Cross can have a more successful season in the future.