Royals' No. 13 prospect has high upside in more than one way

March 21st, 2024

This story was excerpted from Anne Rogers’ Royals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- As Austin Charles walked off the back fields one day early in Minor League camp, a young fan ran up to him to ask politely for an autograph.

Charles was happy to oblige -- but then he flipped the script.

“Can I have your autograph, too?” Charles asked the fan, handing him a baseball and waiting patiently as the boy signed his own name.

“I was like, ‘Hey man, just get used to it. This might be you someday,’” Charles said.

Charles, the Royals’ No. 13 prospect, is just 20 years old, and while he’s focused on what he’s doing on the field, he also recognizes what he can do off the field to help others.

“I’ve always liked to help people out,” Charles said. “Do what I can to get a smile out of people, make sure everybody feels happy and welcomed wherever we might be.”

The Royals’ 20th-round pick in the 2022 Draft out of Stockdale High School (Bakersfield, Calif.), Charles is a high-upside prospect that the Royals were elated to get, not only for the tools he brings, but also for his makeup and personality. First, though, they had to convince him to turn pro instead of heading to UC Santa Barbara.

Charles chose the Royals and received a $429,500 signing bonus -- roughly fifth-round money -- but it was a decision he didn’t take lightly.

“I thought I was going to head to college for the longest time, leading up to the last day of the Draft,” Charles said. “So I was getting mentally prepared for that. Ultimately, I decided [to turn pro] because I knew that if I got these reps at this age and younger, I would have a better chance for success. I thought this was going to be a better route for me and my path that I saw. It’s been a blessing since then.”

It’s also been challenging. In 2023, he slashed .239/.296/.382 across 71 games. Two of those games came in the Rookie-level Arizona Complex League before the Royals deemed him ready for Single-A Columbia, where he finished out the year and will likely head again to begin ‘24.

“I learned a lot about myself,” Charles said. “I had a lot of success in high school. Getting here and failing and failing consistently and constantly was tough. But knowing that we have games every day -- I might have a bad couple of days, but how am I going to finish out the week? Also just making sure I’m in a place I need to be at all times. Never wasting at-bats no matter how you feel. Taking everything seriously to make sure I’m on the right track.”

One of the best pure athletes in the Royals’ system, Charles has a plus arm and raw power. He comes from an athletic family. His mother, Brandy, was an All-American volleyball player at Cal State Bakersfield, and his father, Arthur, played Division I basketball at Boise State. His eldest brother, Art, was drafted by the Orioles out of high school and the Blue Jays out of college, and Austin’s other brother, Aaron, pitched for Cal State Bakersfield.

Last year, the Royals focused on functional strength before diving deeper into Charles’ swing, allowing him to tighten his body movements and find more stability when he’s at the plate. Over the offseason, he put on 14 pounds of muscle and feels more durable this spring. Now, the focus turns to decision-making and swing mechanics.

“I’ve worked on not pulling off the offspeed, making sure my weight is going forward and giving me a chance to stay in the zone longer, and making sure I’m really using my legs,” Charles said. “Last year, as the season went on, my legs got a little heavy, which I wasn’t used to. Making sure that I’m in my legs a lot more and letting the upper half go on its own instead of trying to be so handsy.”

Defensively, evaluators believe Charles can stick at shortstop or third base despite his size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds). Charles was drafted as a two-way player after flashing a good arm in high school. But the Royals envisioned him as a hitter from the start, and Charles agreed.

“I like to play every day,” Charles said. “The pitchers always give me a hard time, though, asking me if I want to throw a bullpen. But it’s something I’ve always got if I need it.”