Royals top prospect tumbles his way to debut triple

Cross overcomes extreme nerves to come through in first Spring Training at-bat

March 5th, 2023

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Gavin Cross had one thought as he rounded second base and zeroed in on third Saturday night.

Do. Not. Fall.

Playing in his first Cactus League game in the Royals’ 7-6 loss to the Dodgers, Cross legged out a triple in front of a nearly sold out crowd under the lights at Surprise Stadium. The Royals’ No. 1 prospect and No. 7 overall Draft pick last year was used as a Minor League replacement in the big league game because the Royals played a split squad Saturday and needed substitutions for both games. Cross was joined by prospects Carter Jensen (No. 10) and Peyton Wilson (No. 20) on the bench.

“It’s cool to see them, especially in a night game like this with a good crowd,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “It’s probably a little extra adrenaline, which is great. You got to get used to that. You want them to experience it.”

Cross checked in at center field in the top of the sixth, and by the time he walked to the plate in the bottom of the inning, he still hadn’t really found the feeling in his legs.

“I was extremely nervous,” Cross said. “Just trying to enjoy it and soak it all in. It took an inning and a half for my legs to feel like they were there. It was fun.”

When Cross ripped a pitch down the first-base line and into the right-field corner, he took off, initially thinking he had a double. Halfway to second base, he realized he could get to third. He picked up his pace, but his legs were feeling like Jell-O. As he neared third, he started to stumble, and while the head-first slide wasn’t the prettiest he’s ever done, he made it safely.

“I looked back, almost tripped on the bag, I don’t know how I didn’t fall down,” Cross said. “But it was good. Glad I got there. It could have looked a lot better, but the fact I got there was a good thing.”

Cross described Saturday night’s game like his first college game at Virginia Tech “but on steroids,” and he tried to breathe his way through the nerves and emotions throughout the night. A piece of advice from a former first-round Draft pick helped, too.

“Just trying to relax and have fun,” Cross said. “That’s what Bobby [Witt Jr.] told us all in the dugout: Just go have fun. I thought that was pretty cool. He didn’t have to do that.”

Cross arrived in Surprise for Minor League Spring Training late last week and saw live pitching for the first time on Wednesday. He found out he’d be available off the bench for Saturday’s game on Thursday.

That forced him to get his timing back quick. He learned more from his strikeout Saturday than his triple. Facing a tough lefty in Adam Kolarek, Cross struck out swinging and came back to the dugout to talk to hitting coach Alec Zumwalt.

“Even though I struck out, I took a lot out of it,” Cross said. “Just learning from your mistakes and different things that happened in the game.”

Greinke tunes up vs. Dodgers
Zack Greinke was aware that Dodgers second baseman Miguel Vargas -- who is healing from a hairline fracture in his right pinky finger -- wasn’t going to swing during his at-bat in the top of the third inning Saturday night, so Greinke wanted to have a quick at-bat while also using it to try a few things out.

In typical Greinke fashion, he dropped in a couple of slow curveballs -- 59 mph and 66 mph, to be exact.

Then he tried out a max effort fastball, slinging it 92 mph down the middle of the plate for strike three.

“I won’t do that during the game,” Greinke said with a small grin. “You got to try to throw hard to throw hard, sometimes. I was mainly just trying to build up arm strength. But then I didn’t want to take a long time. Then I was getting tired from going so fast and trying to build up arm strength. It ended up being a mess of an at-bat.”

Greinke allowed one run on three hits in three innings with three strikeouts. He called his own pitches with the PitchCom device again, fastened to his belt.

Royals rumblings
• In the Royals’ 12-6 win over the Reds earlier on Saturday, MJ Melendez led off with a homer, and Nick Pratto went 3-for-3.

• Lefty Kris Bubic is scheduled to pitch in his first Cactus League game on Monday against the D-backs after a successful bullpen session Saturday. He’s been behind in his throwing progression because of slight shoulder soreness, so that will likely put him an inning or two behind at the end of spring.

• The Royals had special guests in camp on Saturday, including Bo Jackson, George Brett and Ned Yost. They’re here for a community sponsorship event and caught batting practice before Saturday night’s game.