The Royals are on fire, as they are currently 3-0-1 so far in Cactus League play after a 5-3 win over the Oakland Athletics. Even for Royals standards, who traditionally “overperform” in Arizona, this start to the Spring Training season has definitely generated some good buzz from Royals and baseball fans alike.
Let’s just hope things don’t take a turn south on April 7th at Kauffman Stadium against the Cleveland Guardians.
Three Stars: Austin Cox, RP
Cox’s stock as a prospect took a hit last season, as he went from a borderline Top-10 Royals prospect going into 2021 to a borderline Top-15 to Top-20 one, depending on the prospect ranking service.
The results weren’t bad from Cox, who primarily pitched in Double-A Northwest Arkansas last season. He posted a 3.00 ERA over 15 starts and 63 IP with the Naturals, which is a stellar line at the surface level. However, his K/BB ratio was only 2.24, and there were reports that his fastball lacked velocity and life in Double-A.
As a result, the Royals chose to not protect Cox from the Rule 5 Draft. Thankfully for the Royals, due to the lockout, the Rule 5 draft didn’t take place, and Cox returned to the Royals this Spring.
In his first Cactus League appearance, the lefty pitching prospect absolutely dealt against the Athletics. In two innings of relief, Cox allowed zero hits, zero runs, zero walks, and struck out three batters.
Here’s a look at Cox working quickly against two A’s batters, while Mike Sweeney talks to Bally Sports’ Joel Goldberg:
If Cox continues to have outings like this in the Cactus League, it’s not out of the question to think that the Royals will add Cox to the 40-man roster sooner rather than later.
Two Stars: Angel Zerpa, SP
Zerpa was a surprise addition to the 40-man roster last Spring, and even though he went through his ups and downs at the Minor League level in 2021 (he had a rough start in the promotion in Double-A), he finished the year strong, with a sterling outing in his MLB debut.
Zerpa is a pretty straightforward pitcher, as he works quickly and attacks the strike zone. In his first Spring Training start this year, the 22-year-old demonstrated that trademark style, and in a positive fashion. In two innings of work, Zerpa struck out a batter and allowed zero hits, zero runs, and no walks.
Alec Lewis of The Athletic sang the praises of Zerpa’s outing, as well as his potential:
It does feel like Zerpa will begin the year in Triple-A, mostly due to the Royals’ depth of young starters, in addition to Zerpa’s lack of experience beyond Double-A. However, Zerpa is off to a strong start this Spring, and if he continues to get comfortable on the mound, he could fill in at the Major League level in a hybrid starter/bullpen role.
One Star: Bobby Witt, Jr., 3B
The hype on Witt this Spring is so great that we’re expecting him to do something amazing each and every game. In terms of his overall stat line, Witt only went one-for-three in his three plate appearances in the A’s.
But Witt stole all the attention of the game, mostly thanks to this moonshot of a home run:
Furthermore, let’s take a look at the swing in slow-mo, just for giggles:
It’s going to take a lot for Witt to NOT make the Opening Day roster. And it’s home runs like this that make Royals fans excited for not just 2022, but for years to come as well.
I can’t wait for what Witt will continue to do this Spring in Cactus League play, especially as he gets more comfortable against Major League pitchers.
Photo Credit: Ralph Freso/Getty Images