Baseball: Dad an early believer in Pirates’ draft pick’s potential
Niles West shortstop Kevin Ross, who committed to Michigan last year, was selected Tuesday by the Pirates in the MSL Draft. | Jon Durr~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 15, 2012 2:24PM
Kevin Ross has been making baseball look too easy since he was 4 years old. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who selected him in the eighth round of the MLB Draft on June 5, would like that to continue.
“He was 4, and his brother and the other kids were 8. His first time in a game, and the first time a ball was hit to him, he made a triple play,” recalled Ross’s father, Gerald. “He caught a ball on the fly, tagged the runner and stepped on the base. Even at that age, he just knew what do in the situation. That told me even back then he could be a special player.”
Ross excelled at shortstop and hit more than .600 as a freshman and sophomore at Mather. When his family moved from Chicago to Skokie, he stood out at Niles West despite playing much stiffer competition. He batted .436 as a junior and .427 as a senior.
But it was in the summer after his junior year when his stock skyrocketed. Last August, Ross sparkled at third base and hit .538 in the Area Code Games, a showcase for premier talent. He received the New Balance Kevin Youkilis Heart and Hustle award.
Ross also hit .650 that summer for the Chi-town Cream, co-coached by his father and Chuck Reeder. Interest from colleges and big-league organizations increased from heavy to intense. Ross verbally committed to play for the University of Michigan before scouts from all 30 MLB franchises scrutinized him this spring.
They liked what they saw. Ross walked 19 times and struck out only twice. His on-base plus slugging was a stratospheric 1.208. He stole 27 bases without getting caught, except for three pickoffs. Of his 44 hits, 20 went for extra bases, including two homers.
Ross, a big-shouldered and powerful 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, throws and hits the ball with uncommon velocity for a shortstop.
“Kevin takes 300 to 400 swings and 200 grounders every day,” said his father. “He just loves to play the game, and he is always motivated and hungry.”
Ross suffered a hairline fracture to his thumb in the Wolves’ final regular-season game. In three state playoff games, he pinch-ran in the first and went hitless in the last two. His thumb is already feeling better.
“It said a whole lot about Kevin that he even tried to play,” said Niles West head coach Garry Gustafson, whose team went 26-11 and captured a Class 4A regional title.
Ross was disappointed that he didn’t get selected in the fifth round, which was about where he was projected. He went out to play baseball with friends, then, at 3:30 p.m., his cell phone lit up. The Pirates had made him pick No. 256 and one of only two high-school position players in the state to go in the first 10 rounds.
“I thought it might be the Pirates. Their scout had seen me about 14 or 15 times,” said Ross. “I think it’s a great fit because they have a lot of pitching, but they need hitting.”
Finances likely caused Ross to fall a few rounds. Under MLB’s new collective bargaining agreement, teams now have a cap on the amount that they can dole out to their top 10 picks combined.
Ross’s agent is Jeff Borriss of Beverly Hills Sports Council, which represents more than 70 big-leaguers and several All-Stars. Borriss will want considerably more than a $140,000 signing bonus—the approximate sum corresponding to Ross’s draft slot. Pittsburgh, which retains signing rights to Ross until July 15, has spent heavily in recent drafts to amass young talent.
Ross holds a weighty bargaining chip. There are worse fates than playing ball for a prominent Big Ten program and reaping the benefits of an education and the college life. Ross would be a cinch to start for the Wolverines as a freshman.
“I just want to see how things unfold, and then I’ll be able to make a good decision,” said Ross.
George Kontos was the only Niles West player to be drafted higher than Ross. Kontos, out of Northwestern, was tabbed by the New York Yankees in the fifth round in 2009.
“We’ve had some great players here, and Kevin is right up there with any of them,” said Gustafson. “I am so proud of him. He’s worked so hard, and it’s all paying off now. It’s a tremendous accomplishment to be drafted in the top 10 rounds right out of high school.”
It would be expected that the Ross family threw a big party and celebrated the achievement that night. Wrong.
“I didn’t want that. Of course, I was happy, but that’s really just the start,” said Ross. “But I did think about my father. He taught me everything, and he put in as much effort as I did.”