Austin Cox was the Royals 5th round selection today in the MLB Draft. Cox is listed at 6’4” and 185 pounds. The Royals seem to be targeting college arms who can really rack up the strikeouts and Cox is no exception with the second highest strikeout rate for D1 LHPs.
Talking with Mercer pitching coach Brent Shade earlier today, it is apparent that Cox is a coach’s dream. Coach Shade raved about Cox’s work ethic, servant leadership qualities, and how much the kid wanted success for his team and teammates. Cox was described as a fantastic leader who was always working hard in the weight room, doing his running without question and with high effort, and was always at the front of the line for optional work. “Austin is a competitor,” Coach Shade said before he told a story about Cox’s desire to be in the weight room in 2017. “He was the first kid in our weight room in 2017. Not just the first baseball player, but the first basketball player, football player, anyone. He called up the strength coordinator to see if he could get in and we let him in. I’m very proud of that.”
Coach Shade also talked about what Cox does that makes him successful. The biggest attribute Coach Shade continued to mention was how coachable and teachable Austin is. The second thing he continued to mention was how hard Austin will work at the information you give him. Being a fantastic athlete it is easy for him to repeat those things. Austin played tight end for his high school as well as baseball. Cox is the type of kid who can just do whatever he tries very well. Whether it is playing tennis or going and dunking a basketball, which he can do, he makes it look easier than it is.
As far as pitching goes, Cox throws 4 pitches. He has the fastball combo of 4-seamer and 2-seamer, a slider, a change, and what coach Shade calls a double double plus power curveball. I watched video on the curve and it is good. It has 12-6 action that is late and hard. Some would call it a spike curve. In fact, the velo is low 80s. This is a pitch that he throws to both righties and lefties for strikes and for strikeouts. It is a true swing and miss pitch. The slider is used against LHHs as Cox is a LHP and Mercer’s pitching philosophy is to break the ball away from a hitter’s bat path. The slider isn’t designed to be a swing and miss pitch for Cox but more as a variation to get guys to roll over. The change is an okay pitch that breaks back armside and away from RHHs. The fastball has been up to 96 as recently as his last start but usually works 91 to 93.
Coach Shade said, “when you get two strikes on you, you are done because he’s throwing that power curve.” Cox also does a great job with the running game and the small ball game as he fields his position extremely well. Cox’s stats aren’t as reflective of his body of work as you would think because Mercer plays in an extremely small and hitter friendly ballpark. The contact he gave up was consistently weak but sometimes those flyballs turn into home runs in a small park when the wind is blowing out on a warm day. His stuff will play up in the pro game with wood bats.
Mechanically, Cox is a short stride guy who sometimes gets out of his lane and toward third base. There are times where he gets a little stiff in his delivery instead of allowing it to happen naturally. But this is something that he has been working on at Mercer for the last three years and has mostly cleaned up. Cox hides the ball extremely well and stays on top of the ball very well. Coming out of high school he was a little more over the top than he is now, but dropping down just a touch has allowed him to see his release and clean it up. He has started lifting his hands before pitching out of the windup to help him focus on breathing. This is something a few guys in the bigs do including Clayton Kershaw.
One thing to know about Cox is that he had only one scholarship offer coming out of high school. The scholarship to Mercer. His freshman year Cox struggled to the highest ERA on the team. But Cox went to play summer ball, worked on his approach to pitching, his mechanics, and came back better than ever. The coaching staff knew he was going to have a breakout year his sophomore year simply because of how much effort Cox put into making himself better. And they are proud of him.
Going forward, Cox should have the chance to start either in Burlington or Idaho Falls this year. The Royals will probably limit his innings as he has thrown 87 innings this spring already. Mercer was very careful with their pitchers limiting them early in the year to make sure they were stronger at the end of the year. This is something that you don’t find too often in college with a coach taking care of his players like this. If the Royals decide to move Cox to the bullpen, that power curve and 96 mph fastball will be a really good combination late in ball games.
Cox is the type of kid the Royals love. He is a servant leader who will get on the front step of the dugout and cheer for his teammates. He revels in their success perhaps more than his own. Austin is a leader by example and will show his teammates how to work hard and will expect the same of them. He will be an asset as much in the clubhouse as he will be on the field for the Royals. Cox sounds like a heck of a pick in the 5th round for KC and someone I’m really excited about.