'Pretty good haul' for Royals on Day 1 of Draft

Virginia Tech OF Cross is school's highest selection; Arkansas 3B Wallace is choice at 49

July 18th, 2022

KANSAS CITY -- Gavin Cross didn’t know how Day 1 of the 2022 MLB Draft would play out for him. By the end of it, he was name-dropping George Brett and looking forward to eating barbecue with the Royals legend.

Not a bad start to Cross’ professional baseball career.

“I had a phone call with George Brett earlier, and he said he can cook me some barbecue,” Cross said. “Looking forward to it. He was just congratulating me and welcoming me to the Royal family. Said how passionate they are and how loyal they are.

“That’s all it was, but it was really special to me, and I thought it was really cool.”

The Hall of Famer welcomed Cross to the Royals after they selected the Virginia Tech outfielder No. 9 overall on Sunday night. In a hitter-heavy Draft, Kansas City also selected Arkansas third baseman Cayden Wallace at No. 49 overall.

The Royals hadn’t drafted a college position player in the first round since Hunter Dozier in 2013, but they walked away from Day 1 with two power hitters and versatile defenders. Cross will start his career in center field, but he can play all three outfield spots. Wallace was a right fielder his freshman year at Arkansas, but he moved to third base this year.

“We think they’re both going to be potential middle-of-the-order bats, and the good thing is that they’re both plus defenders,” Ontiveros said. “We just feel like we got really well-rounded players that fit with what we’re doing right now.”

The Royals had just two picks on Day 1 after they traded the No. 35 pick to Atlanta last week for three prospects. The scouting department, clad in powder blue suit jackets to honor the late Art Stewart, knew they needed to maximize the first day of the Draft financially and positionally.

“It was important we walked out of today with baseball players that were versatile, that could do a lot of what you see in the Major League team now, what went on in [the weekend series in Toronto], with a lot of versatile players that could play multiple positions,” Royals vice president of player personnel Lonnie Goldberg said. “When that pick was traded, we also look at those three players as part of our Draft.

“If you think about what we added in that trade and what we added today, pretty good haul for the first day of the Draft.”

Cross, speaking from the watch party he hosted at a golf course near his home in Bristol, Tenn., said he didn’t know how the Draft would play out, but he knew the Royals were interested.

“Just surreal, man,” Cross said. “I got a really good relationship with Danny and the whole staff. The Draft is crazy. I didn’t know how it was going to work out. Just blessed to be in this position and thankful to everyone who has helped me get here. Thankful for Danny and the Royals for believing in me and giving me a chance. I can’t wait to get to work.”

Cross went from a relatively unheralded recruit coming out of the Tennessee high school ranks to a Top 10 pick in the Draft, thanks to his strong hitting profile as one of the best all-around college bats in this class. The 21-year-old led the Hokies to arguably the best season in program history, highlighted by their first NCAA Super Regional appearance. He slashed .328/.411/.660 with 17 homers and 50 RBIs in 2022.

A left-handed and traditional power bat, Cross has the chance to become an above-average hitter with above-average power. He is also an above-average runner for his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame. He was 12-for-12 on stolen base attempts this season and swiped 28 stolen bases in his college career.

Cross can be deceptively fast in center field, and the Royals will give him a look there as they continue to search for their center fielder of the future.

“I feel really comfortable in center,” Cross said. “… I’ll try to stay in center field, but obviously, I want to hit first, so whatever the team need is. I can play center, left, right. I can play first base. Wherever the team thinks I can impact the game and help the team the most is what I want to do.”

Cross turned heads in his first two seasons at Virginia Tech and flew up Draft boards with a strong summer on the 2021 U.S. Collegiate National Team, leading a stacked roster in batting average (.467). He also tied for the team lead with four homers, 12 RBIs and three stolen bases. Now, he’s the highest Draft pick in school history and just the second Hokies hitter selected in the first round (Franklin Stubbs went 19th overall to the Dodgers in 1982).

“I think he’s going to blend in really well to what we’re doing with our hitting development, and he’s going to continue to take off,” Ontiveros said.

Cross projects to sign for around the slot value at No. 9, $5,200,200.

'There's more ceiling' for Wallace

Wallace, who was Arkansas’ top prep player in 2020, went undrafted because of his commitment to the Razorbacks and he then made an immediate impact in ’21 -- tying the freshman home run record with 14. He followed up with a .298/.387/.553 slash line this year.

At Arkansas, Wallace played with Royals president of baseball operations Dayton Moore’s son, Robert, whom the Brewers selected No. 72 overall on Sunday.

Wallace is one of the best pure power hitters in the ’22 class. His bat speed, strength and compact right-handed swing led to impressive exit velocities. There is question about his swing decisions, but that’s where the Royals’ hitting development team specializes.

The 20-year-old Wallace has a plus arm and he is an average defender at the hot corner, but he was primarily a right fielder as a freshman, which is where some evaluators think he’ll end up as a pro.

“He’s a little more seasoned, a little more polished,” Ontiveros said. “I still think there’s more ceiling. When you get athletes like this and they have polish to what they do, and they have work ethic, the sky’s the limit with these types of guys.”