Gavin Cross' stellar Virginia Tech career ended abruptly last June when the Hokies suffered a nine-run Super Regional loss to Oklahoma. The defeat made the difference between a trip to the College World Series and one last trip back home to Blacksburg for Cross, one of the country's top baseball prospects and a sure first-round selection in the then-upcoming major league draft. The KC Royals had the ninth pick, but there were no assurances he'd be available when Kansas City's first turn on the clock came.
A little more than a month later, Cross' world had changed. Just days after Kansas City grabbed him in the draft when eight other teams hadn't, Cross signed a full-slot, $5,202,900 deal with the Royals to presumably secures his financial future.
Then he was off to Arizona to begin his professional career in the Arizona Complex League. His stay in Surprise wasn't long: after going 5-for-10 with a homer and three RBIs in three games, the Royals bumped him to Low-A Columbia, where his seven homers, 22 RBIs, and .293/.423/.596 26-game line made anyone not already familiar with him take notice.
Now, and despite his fast and impressive start, and his lofty status as MLB Pipeline's No. 1 Kansas City prospect, Cross isn't among the elite group of prospects and free agent signees the club invited to its big league spring camp, which isn't surprising considering the brevity of his post-collegiate experience.
But the Royal brass will watch him closely on the minor league side of camp, where the primary Cross question will be this: When will he make it to the majors?
Can the KC Royals resist the temptation to fast-track prospect Gavin Cross?
Moving even the best prospects along too quickly is a mistake major league franchises make less frequently than they used to. Whether the Royals acted with undue haste when they promoted Brady Singer and Kris Bubic, neither of whom had pitched above Double-A when the team brought them to KC for the entire, albeit short, 2020 season, remains a question.
No such debate should be necessary in Cross' case. With rare exceptions, the Royals don't expedite their prospects' paths to the majors; if anything, they can be too cautious, as some rightly or wrongly believe they were with Bobby Witt Jr. And nothing about the club justifies rushing Cross to Kauffman Stadium.
Yes, the Royals aren't a very good team, their outfield picture is still unsettled, and they can use all the power they can get. As good as he appears to be, Cross might be able to help this season, but the downside of unduly accelerating his journey to KC outweighs the upside.
Cross, who turned only 22 earlier this month, is simply too inexperienced. Less than 30 times has he played in a professional game, he's yet to see heavy doses of the kind of hard and breaking stuff he'll face and must master at levels higher and more difficult than he confronted last year at Low-A Columbia, and he hasn't undergone the trials and tribulations of a full pro season.
To rush Cross, then, is to invite regression from which, even armed with his vast talent and potential, he might not recover. And the team has no reason to push him harder than necessary: the Royals don't need him in Kansas City, and the Storm Chasers don't need him at Triple-A Omaha. (He could begin this season in Double-A, but a short return visit to Columbia, followed by a promotion to High-A Quad Cities, seems wiser and more likely).
The Royals need to let Cross proceed at his own pace. Only merit and preparedness should trigger promotions. And considering Cross' performance so far and his ability, moves up the ladder will come soon enough.
Look for the Royals to move deliberately with Gavin Cross.