No. 5 prospect Wallace thriving in Royals' 'family environment'

March 18th, 2023

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Not long after was selected in the second round of last year’s MLB Draft, he had another dream come true when the Royals signed his brother, Paxton, to a Minor League deal in December.

The two went from backyard baseball when they were kids to professional baseball together on the same field. The last time they played together was Cayden’s freshman year of high school at Greenbrier (Ark.) High School.

“We’ve been playing ball together since we were young,” Cayden said. “He’s a really good player, and I’ve seen him work really hard to get to where he is. I’m very thankful the Royals are giving us the opportunity to play together. It feels like a family environment here, and with him here, it’s even more of a family environment.”

And it’s only made this Spring Training even more special for Cayden.

The 21-year-old made his first Cactus League start Friday afternoon in the Royals’ 12-1 loss to the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. He played third base and hit ninth, going 0-for-2. A byproduct of players being gone for the World Baseball Classic and Kansas City’s upcoming split-squad matchups this weekend, when half the team will be playing in Las Vegas, is several Minor Leaguers and prospects are seeing Cactus League action.

It might cause a scheduling headache for the Royals’ front office and staff, but the players are trying to take advantage of every opportunity.

“All those guys, to be honest, have been really impressive,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “They're really good athletes. They handle themselves well. Cayden’s put a couple of good swings on the ball. … I think what’s made them stand out and fit in more is that they seem like they belong. They feel like they belong there, and they’re not overdoing it.”

The club’s No. 5 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, Wallace has a chance to move quickly in his first full year of professional ball. Strong and physical, he stands out for his compact and efficient swing with a true feel for finding the barrel and letting his power play. He’s learned a lot so far from hitting coordinators Drew Saylor and Nic Jackson on pitch recognition and swing mechanics, both keys to him unlocking his game at the next level.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with those guys,” Wallace said. “They really want to figure you out. So I’ve enjoyed that. And they’ve made a drastic improvement with this organization. I don’t think you can get two better guys. They work with guys on mobility improvement and how that goes, and it’s really interesting to learn about that. It’s helped me out. I just don’t know if there are two better guys that I’d rather be working with right now. I’m very thankful for how it’s been so far.”

Wallace has tried to control his emotions in each Cactus League game he’s been able to play in, including Friday. He wants to impress on a bigger stage in front of the big league coaches, but he also wants to soak it all in and learn as much as he can.

“I’ve been pretty nervous, but it’s exciting,” Wallace said. “Just trying to play my game and watch, too, [and] look around and learn from the big league guys -- how they do things and how I can model my game after them to get to where they are, too. I’m trying to take it all in. It’s been a really cool experience.

“They’ve done it right here. They surround you with good people and good players.”

Heasley roughed up again, then optioned
The Cactus League has not been kind to Jonathan Heasley, who was roughed up again Friday when he allowed nine runs in 2 1/3 innings. That brought his spring ERA to 17.36, with 18 runs allowed across 9 1/3 innings. Following Friday’s game, the Royals optioned Heasley to Triple-A Omaha.

“Honestly, it just looked like [the Angels] were on whatever he threw,” Quatraro said. “It looked like they had an idea of what he was coming with, and they squared him up.”

Heasley has been trying to establish a sweeping slider in his arsenal this spring, but the right-hander has also struggled with fastball command, which then affects the rest of his pitches.

“I felt fine. I was just kind of middle of the plate with everything, and they were on it,” Heasley said. “So you want to put that behind you and move on.”

Heasley was competing for a roster spot this spring, but he’ll head to Minor League camp now to continue to build up innings and iron out the command issues. He will likely get called up to Kansas City at some point in 2023, either as a starter or a long reliever, as the Royals make use of their depth.

“[I’m] pretty frustrated. Obviously [I’m] competing for a spot on the team and trying to do everything I can,” Heasley said before the move was announced. “Put up a dud like that, it’s not going to help. Definitely some frustration in there, but all I can do is get back to work and hope for the best.”