The Royals announced Wednesday that they’ve selected the contract of left-hander Austin Cox from Triple-A Omaha. Righty Jose Cuas was optioned to Omaha to open a spot on the active roster, and southpaw Kris Bubic was transferred from the 15-day IL to the 60-day IL to clear space on the 40-man roster.
Cox, 26, was Kansas City’s fifth-round pick out of Mercer University back in 2018. He’s opened the season with 20 1/3 innings of 2.21 ERA ball but a 22-to-11 K/BB ratio in Omaha. Cox is currently sporting a career-best 53.5% ground-ball rate in this year’s small sample of innings — a stark increase from the 37.5% mark he posted in 147 2/3 innings of Triple-A ball in 2022. Last season, Cox worked to a 4.21 ERA in Omaha, fanning just 16.2% of opponents but posting a strong 7.7% walk rate.
During the Royals’ most recent rebuilding effort, they spent a couple years putting an emphasis on college pitchers early in the draft, and Cox is a product of that strategy. It hasn’t panned out yet for Kansas City, however, as they’ve yet to produce a reliable big league starter from the experiment. Brady Singer certainly looked to be that during a breakout 2022 season, but he’s been torched for 28 earned runs in 29 2/3 innings this season. Other notable college draftees include Bubic, Daniel Lynch, Jackson Kowar, Asa Lacy, Alec Marsh, Grant Gambrell and Jonathan Bowlan, among others, but the development on that group simply hasn’t gone as hoped, whether due to injury or poor performance.
The Royals didn’t announce Cox as a starter for any of their upcoming games, so he could well head to the bullpen for his initial MLB assignment. That said, Kansas City starting pitchers have combined for a ghastly 5.80 ERA on the season, so there ought to be ample opportunity for Cox to eventually break into the group. Brad Keller and the injured Bubic — who’ll miss the rest of the season following Tommy John surgery — are the only Royals starters with ERAs under 6.00. Zack Greinke (6.10), Jordan Lyles (6.11), Singer (8.49) and Ryan Yarbrough (7.40) have all struggled enormously to begin the year.