Royals Prospect Gavin Cross Talks Hitting

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Gavin Cross loves to hit, and he does so, figuratively speaking, with his feet planted firmly on the ground. The son of a former minor leaguer who went on to become a scout and a coach, the sweet-swinging 22-year-old outfielder was drafted ninth overall last year out of Virginia Tech and is now one of the top prospects in the Kansas City Royals organization. His smooth left-handed stroke is a big reason why. Cross logged a 1.071 OPS in his final collegiate season, and he essentially matched that number in his first taste of pro ball. Playing all but three of his games with Low-A Columbia, he put up a 1.070 OPS over 135 plate appearances.

Cross talked about his development as a hitter, and his ability to stay in the moment, last week.


David Laurila: How would you define yourself as a hitter, and how have you evolved?

Gavin Cross: “My dad played, and from a young age I was taught to be a hitter first. I was really conventional with my setup all the way until college, and was always trying to hit line drives to left-center. My freshman year — that was the COVID year — I had 24 hits, and 23 were singles. But I was second on our team in exit velo, so I was hitting the ball hard. I just wasn’t really hitting it in the air [and] splitting the gaps.

“I started trying to shift my sights from left-center to center. Nothing with my swing… I mean, I made a minor swing adjustment, but not specifically to try to get the ball in the air. I was just trying to hit the ball out front a little bit more. At the same time, it’s physics: if you hit the ball out front, it will go in the air more. I made that simple adjustment in my sophomore year and had one of my best years. I took that into the summer with Team USA and kind of just ran with it from there.”

Laurila: What was the minor adjustment?

Cross: “It was the way I was holding my weight in my back leg. Again, I was pretty conventional in high school, and couldn’t necessarily adjust to breaking balls. I was always a good fastball hitter, but couldn’t adjust that well to different pitches, different guys. That was something coach [Kurt] Elbin at VT… I mean, they did a great job with me. It was definitely a big change. It took me four or five months to kind of get used to it, then COVID happened and I had six, seven months to go back home and work on it. No live [at-bats] — a controlled setting — and it became really comfortable. Now my swing is just natural.”

Laurila: The change wasn’t to your swing, yet it impacted your swing…

Cross: “I mean, I’ve never tried to alter my path to have more loft. It was all in the load phase. I’m trying to hold it in my back leg more — keep it in my back leg — while still being balanced and not getting stuck on my back side. It’s all about being athletic, being adjustable, and getting the most out of your body. My freshman year, I wasn’t getting the most out of my body; I was kind of just trusting my natural hand-eye, and just hitting.”

Laurila: What about adjustments after you got into pro ball? I assume you went to instructs?

Cross: “I went to instructs after the draft, but kind of just played, really. They prepare us very well as far as scouting reports, but they also trust us. We’re grown up and can make adjustments on our own. I mean, there’s a reason they drafted us. They just want our bodies to move the right way, so they’re not really strict on how you stand, how you load. It’s all about getting to a good position where you can swing and be athletic.

“Drew Saylor, our hitting coordinator, is one of the best in the business at doing that. I’ve only been around him since July, but relationship-wise, communication-wise, he does everything extremely well. And he’s obviously very intelligent. You’ve seen it with some of the results from MJ [Melendez] and Vinnie [Pasquantino], and even Bobby [Witt, Jr.] — some of the guys in the big leagues that he’s worked with for a couple years. He’s not trying to [implement] major adjustments, but rather give them some feel. I’m excited to work with him.”

Laurila: Were you happy with your groundball/fly ball rate last year?

Cross: “I don’t really take too much into that, honestly. I want to hit the ball in the air — I want to slug — but at the end of the day, as long as I’m hitting the ball off the barrel, and hitting it hard, I don’t really care. I’m not chasing numbers. I’m just trying to put good at-bats together and hit the ball off the barrel. If I’m 50/50, and [half] of those groundballs are over 105 [mph] and go for hits… I mean, I’m not going complain if I’m hitting .500 on groundballs, if you know what I mean.

“I obviously don’t want to hit the ball on the ground. My goal is to hit the ball hard, and at the same time, hitting is hard. I’m just trying to train my body to see the pitch, recognize the pitch, and… I mean, the more you try to hit it in the air, the more you’re going to try to be out front, and that causes some more swings and misses. So, there’s a fine line between the whole fly ball/groundball ratio. I’m trying to hit for both average and power, and that will come from putting good at-bats together.”

Laurila: I’ve read that you “have an ability to slow the game down at the plate.” Does that come naturally, or is it something that’s developed over time?

Cross: “I think a lot of it has to do with my background, how I was raised. I was born into kind of a baseball family, and my dad has coached me since I was probably six years old. He’s helped me with the mental game since a young age. He’s always told me, ‘Hey, this is a game of failure, and the more you move up, the more you’re going to fail.’ I think I’ve always kind of understood that.

“Then, at VT, we had a mental skills coach who helped us kind of breathe and battle through those times of struggle. And it’s not easy. But on the outside, I’m always trying to relay a message to my teammates, and to my coaches, that ‘Hey, I’m here, I’m locked in the moment.’ I also try not to make it about me; I want to be there for the team. That’s just kind of how I’ve grown up and played the game.”

Laurila: Changing direction, what was your draft day experience like? Did you have a pretty good idea that it would be the Royals?

Cross: “I actually played golf with my buddies that day. We had a group of like 20-30 guys, parents and friends, and I was basically trying to get my mind off of it. I mean, I knew that night was going to change my life, and that I was super blessed for everyone that helped me get to where I was. As for where I thought I’d go, I didn’t have any idea. I thought it was going to be anywhere from eighth [overall] to 13th or 14th, but you never know with the draft. It shakes out in different ways. And I was really nervous. I don’t think I talked to anyone for like an hour during the draft. I was kind of shaking, to be honest. Even when I got drafted, I was still kind of… I mean, I didn’t even have a reaction, because it was as though I didn’t even know what happened.”

Laurila: What about on the golf course? How many balls did you slice into the trees because your mind was drifting off to the night ahead?

Cross: “I actually played really well that day. I golfed in high school with my buddies, and a bunch of them play D-I golf, so the course is kind of my getaway. You need one, especially in the season. I’m not saying that you should golf three times a week, but I think I’ve seen where Mike Trout has said he tries to golf on off days. You need something to get your mind off baseball and kind of reset, and refocus, for the week ahead.”

Laurila: As nervous as you were on draft night, golfing really well earlier in the day is pretty impressive. I assume that ability to focus translates to the plate?

Cross: “Yeah. That’s a big thing that Alex Gordon talked to us about a couple weeks ago, trying to settle into where your feet are — being in the present moment at the plate, or with whatever it is you’re doing. You need to settle in on the task at hand. You might have a big series coming up on Friday, but today is Tuesday, so just focus on Tuesday. That’s what he told us his approach was, and Alex was obviously very talented and a really hard worker. But yes, that’s what I try to do. I try to always be where my feet are.”


Earlier “Talks Hitting” interviews can found through these links: Jo Adell, Jeff Albert, Greg Allen, Nolan Arenado, Aaron Bates, Alex Bregman, Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, JJ Bleday, Bobby Bradley, Jay Bruce, Matt Chapman, Michael Chavis, Jacob Cruz, Nelson Cruz, Paul DeJong, Josh Donaldson, Brendan Donovan, Donnie Ecker, Rick Eckstein, Drew Ferguson, Justin Foscue, Michael Fransoso, Ryan Fuller, Joey Gallo, Devlin Granberg, Andy Haines, Mitch Haniger, Robert Hassell III, Rhys Hoskins, Eric Hosmer, Tim Hyers, Josh Jung, Jimmy Kerr, Heston Kjerstad, Steven Kwan, Trevor Larnach, Doug Latta, Evan Longoria, Michael Lorenzen, Gavin Lux, Dave Magadan, Trey Mancini, Edgar Martinez, Don Mattingly, Hunter Mense, Owen Miller, Ryan Mountcastle, Cedric Mullins, Daniel Murphy, Vinnie Pasquantino, Brent Rooker, Drew Saylor, Trevor Story, Fernando Tatis Jr., Justin Turner, Mark Trumbo, Josh VanMeter, Robert Van Scoyoc, Chris Valaika, Zac Veen, Mark Vientos, Matt Vierling, Luke Voit, Jared Walsh, Jordan Westburg, Jesse Winker, Nick Yorke, Kevin Youkilis

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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