With their 20th-round pick in the 2022 Draft, the Kansas City Royals opted for upside by taking Austin Charles, a shortstop and pitcher out of Bakersfield, California. Charles, who stands 6-foot 6-inches and turns 19 next month, was ranked No. 106 by Baseball America in their printed draft preview and No. 109 by MLB Pipeline.
Possibly due to a commitment to UC-Santa Barbara, Charles fell to the Royals at pick No. 595. Thankfully, the Royals took the risk and selected Charles, who ended up foregoing his commitment to sign professionally.
Charles, back home for a spell, recently took the time to chat with me about, among other things, what it felt like getting draft, getting some at-bats in the Arizona Complex League, what comes next, and whether he could whiff his older brother, Art, himself a 20th-round draft pick back in 2010.
Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
How did it feel to get drafted?
Feels great. Feel like all your hard work paid off, like a relief. And then to start the next chapter, it’s a new road, new beginnings.
Did you know much about the Royals before they drafted you?
Honestly, I didn’t know that they were interested. I had communications with them a little bit, but not too much, so it kind of surprised me. After they drafted me, I started to do a little bit more research, just trying to find things out.
What did you research about them?
Just trying to find out about the player development, the team they have, how they get things done and how that would benefit me and help me out for my dreams and my goals to get to the major leagues.
I subscribe to Baseball America and I went back to their draft preview issue and it had that you had been committed to UC-Santa Barbara. What changed your mind about going there and instead signing with the Royals?
Honestly, I felt like either way, I would have been in a great situation. I just felt that if I signed now and started on all the things they wanted me to work on now, it would put me ahead long-term in terms of getting a lot of at-bats and just finding out the little things that I needed to work on. I felt like Santa Barbara would’ve helped me out too but this is a better path to get to where I want to be earlier.
In high school, you were a two-way player, a pitcher and a shortstop. What do the Royals have you focusing on now?
They have me just playing short right now. They gave me the option to pitch, too, if I wanted, but they were like, “We believe that you’re a shortstop and you have the tools and skillset [to play shortstop].”
That’s cool that they gave you the option. I wasn’t sure what to expect there. Were you surprised they gave that option or did you think they would have?
Once they drafted me, the talks that we had—they stuck to their word. They were like, “Hey, you want to pitch, you can pitch, but we know that you’re a shortstop and that’s what you really like to do so we’re going to let you do it.”
Austin Charles UCSB Bound Class of 2022 Stockdale High School. Goes deep. pic.twitter.com/0uq30v4yLU— Art Charles Sr (@artcharles7_sr) May 15, 2021
You mentioned earlier you had some talks with the Royals before they drafted you but you were kind of surprised that they had—did you think another team was going to draft you?
Yeah, leading up to the draft, I had previous communications with a lot of teams. Obviously you don’t know what’s going to happen—it’s a draft, it’s unpredictable. But I thought I would go with another team. I feel like I’m in a blessed situation, everything happens for a reason.
That’s a great way to look at it. I also looked at your profile on MLB Pipeline, they had a couple of paragraphs on you, and it mentioned that you have an older brother [Art Charles] who was drafted about 12 years ago. Has he been able to give you pretty good advice throughout all of this?
Yeah, having him was a huge tool to have. He’s been through the same situation I’m going through now. Just having him by my side, helping me out with everything mentally and just knowing what to expect—he really helps out a lot.
You tweeted out a video of him blasting a ball for a home run to right field—that was quite the hit. You think you could strike him out, though?
Yeah, of course! I’m always going to bet on myself, no matter what it is. He might go yard a couple of times but I might get him once. Once I get him one time, that’s all I need.
Have you been out to Kansas City yet?
I haven’t yet. We’re going to go in January. We have a team orientation thing, go to the field, do some ground balls, get some work in, meet everybody. I’m looking forward to that.
Have you looked into anything you want to do when you’re in town?
I don’t really know what to expect from Kansas City. I’ve never been there. I’m not familiar with the area. Just excited to see the ballpark and just be around the atmosphere.
What made you gravitate toward being a shortstop?
Growing up, I’ve always been a shortstop. In high school, I hit a growth spurt, now I’m like 6-6, and they told me I still have the same actions as a six-foot shortstop. Just staying mobile, I really feel like I can play shortstop at the next level, and it’s that they have that same confidence in me.
Any players, shortstop or otherwise, you model your game after?
Yeah, I feel like now that [Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop] Oneil Cruz is up, that’s an easy comp. There’s been a lot of guys, like Chipper Jones.
Looks like you got into three games in the Arizona Complex League. What was that experience like?
It was nice. Getting at-bats, getting used to the environment. Felt like that was huge that I was able to get into those games now instead of just starting new next year, to have a little taste of it and know what to expect. I’m looking forward to getting back after it. Hopefully after spring training I break a Low-A team. And if not, keep pushing.
What was the biggest difference between where you were playing and the ACL?
It’s more consistent in terms of pitching. We’re not going to face a guy throwing 95 one game and the next game someone’s throwing 82. It’s all gonna be within a range. Also, the off-speed is for sure better. Everybody there has tools. It’s just a matter of executing those—better approach at the plate and doing the little things right.
What’s your main goal for next season?
I’m just trying to take things slow, so my goal is to hopefully break Low-A and to finish in High-A. And then after that, start in High-A and finish in AA, and continue to work my way up until I get to the [majors] here in three, four years.
The Royals, after they drafted you, had some big changes happen in the organization. Did any of that affect you?
At the moment, none of that has affected me. I’m just trying to let all of that stuff be. I have no control over any of that, so just focusing on me, keep getting better. Just controlling what I can control.
That’s a great attitude to have.
Thanks to Austin Charles for his time and to RSR Sports for the opportunity to chat with him.