The Texas Rangers selected left-hander Robbie Ross in the second round of the 2008 MLB Draft, knowing it would likely take an above-slot bonus to sign him.
After a long wait, the club was able to ink the Lexington, Ky., prep star to a signing bonus of $1.575 million just prior to the August 15 signing deadline. The bonus was not only the highest of any player drafted in the second round, but it was also higher than any supplemental first round draft pick.
The Rangers were eager to open their checkbook for Ross because of his advanced repertoire for a 19-year-old. Unlike most high school pitchers, Ross enters pro ball with an advanced changeup to go along with his fastball and slider. The southpaw’s fastball, as he explains in the interview, generally sits in the upper-80s, low-90s, but he has shown the ability to dial it up to 94 mph at times.
Because Ross signed a contract for the 2009 season, he will not appear in any minor league games this year. However, the Rangers sent the Kentucky native to their minor league complex in Arizona the day after he signed so he could begin working out and throwing bullpens with the Rangers’ coaching staff. Ross will pitch at fall instructional league beginning in late-September and will make his official professional debut next season.
Lone Star Dugout recently caught up with Ross just after he arrived in Surprise.
Jason Cole: First off, tell me how it feels to finally get a deal done, get out here, and kind of start your professional career.
Robbie Ross: It’s exciting. I’m very happy. I just thank God that I get this opportunity. I’m just excited about the fact that I get to play with the Rangers and that I don’t have to go to college. It’s a good feeling to get to finally start actually pursuing a career in something. It’s kind of funny that it would be right after my high school years.
Cole: Was there any point in the negotiation process where you thought a deal might not get done or were you pretty confident the whole time?
Ross: The very first part when they were saying, ‘It’s just going to take time,’ because they said what I was asking for was out of slot. They didn’t want to rush into it because the commissioner’s office said we couldn’t. That kind of was like, ‘Man, I hope this ends up working out.’ They were like, ‘No, it’s going to be okay.’ As it went on, I kind of started to chill out a little bit.
Cole: How did you pass all that time between your high school season, graduating, and then finally signing with the Rangers?
Ross: What I did was I worked out a lot and tried to stay in shape and threw. I got to hang out with my girlfriend a whole lot and with my family. And I got to golf a lot, so that was what kind of bought all my time.
Cole: Tell me a little bit about yourself as a pitcher. Can you give me sort of a run down on the pitches you throw and the speeds you usually work at?
Ross: I throw a fastball – four-seam and two-seam. Then I’ll throw a changeup and a slider. On a good day, my fastball is maybe from 90 to 91. On a day that is just normal, maybe from 88-89.
Cole: Did you throw the changeup much in high school?
Ross: Oh yeah, I loved my changeup. It kind of sped their bats up, but at the same time, it kind of helped me learn how to throw it in a real situation.
Cole: Kasey Kiker, the Rangers’ first round pick in 2006, was drafted out of high school. Like you, he is left-handed and has a similar build. Have you heard the comparisons to him at all?
Ross: That’s what some people compare me too, I guess. They say that a lot. They say I’m a lot like Kasey Kiker, I guess in the build and everything.
Cole: Before you signed, you were in Frisco and got to see Derek Holland’s first Double-A start. You were also able to meet Jon Daniels and some of the other Rangers’ brass, right?
Ross: Yes, sir. I got to meet with all of them.
Cole: Was that the first time you had met J.D.?
Ross: Yes. He’s a great guy, a great GM. It’s good to have him there. It’s a funny thing because everyone I met was just really nice. What was funny was you would think that they’re just nice because I’m about to start playing or they want me to play. But at the same time, they were nice even when I had signed and they were even nice to the people around me too. That was exciting to see.
|Ross has been working out with the AZL Rangers.
Cole: What was it like seeing the ballpark in Frisco? I guess kind of seeing what you’ve got to look forward to at the upper levels.
Ross: That was sweet. Frisco was a really nice stadium and a really nice group of guys too. It was exciting, just getting to see that first off and then coming here. You have something to look forward to every time, I feel like. I got to see the Ballpark in Arlington too. I got to see their locker rooms, I got to see the locker room in Frisco, and I got to see the locker room here. It’s something to look forward to.
It’s the kind of thing where you want to force yourself into saying, ‘Man, I want to get there so I can have that locker room.’ You don’t have to compare it to that, but I feel like God has given me an opportunity to do this and I feel that if I shortchange myself in any way without giving it my all and trying to excel, then I’m cheating myself of what God has given me.
Cole: Did you get a chance to talk with any players in Frisco or Arlington?
But I got to talk with Nolan Ryan, so that was nice. That was really sweet – just getting to talk to him about baseball. I asked him what his favorite moment was and things like that. That was good.
Cole: I remember earlier this year in spring training, it seemed that Nolan Ryan made it a point to give the system’s pitchers one-on-one instruction after their outings. How much are you looking forward to working with him?
Ross: That would be awesome, to get Nolan Ryan to kind of critique my pitching. He is just a legend pretty much and he’s an amazing guy. He was really nice to me and he said, ‘I hope you can be here one day.’ I said, ‘If it’s God’s will and if I play as well as I can, then maybe it can happen.’ But I’m just going to take every step one step at a time. I’m just excited to have the opportunity to get to have someone like him around possibly. Then at the same time, have people like the coaches here. It’s exciting.
Cole: I’m assuming you will be going to instructs after this season?
Ross: Yes, sir. I will be there. They said I would come out here just to get ready for instructs, which was fine with me because it’s hard to keep a schedule when you’re on your own. But at the same time, you can. But getting it like this is just a lot more fun. Getting acclimated to the weather and the atmosphere of everything. That’s what is good.
Cole: What are you looking forward to working on with the coaching staff once you are at instructs?
Ross: I’m looking forward to getting my changeup a little bit better. I mean, I love my changeup the way it is, but getting it to do other things and getting it to spot-up differently. Things like that.
Also what I’m really looking forward to is for them to help me with my pickoff move. My pickoff move isn’t that great, but if you’re a lefty, you should have a great pickoff move. Honestly, mine is dooty. But I can hold runners, it’s just that when somebody gets on base, I want to do what Kyle [Ocampo] did tonight. How he’s picking people off. I would love to have that feeling where if somebody gets on base, it’s, ‘Too bad, you’re going to get out now.’ I want to be to a point where I can be like that.
Cole: Being such a good high school pitcher, I guess you didn’t have very many baserunners to deal with, did you?
Ross: Not so much, but at the same time, it was good to have some people on base because then I could try to figure out how I could keep them closer.
Cole: This is your second day out here in Surprise. How has it been, getting to know these guys on the team?
Ross: It’s awesome. I’m starting to learn a little Spanish, which is funny. I mean, I’m from Kentucky, so you don’t really have many Spanish-speaking people around there unless you work out on a farm or things like that. But it’s great. The guys are just awesome. It’s a great team – fun to be around. Funny guys. Just funny Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and Venezuelans. My dad told me that I would love it because they just chatter a lot. Today when we were doing our little PFPs and infield things, it was awesome because they were just chatting it up. I was just like, ‘Dude, this is so fun.’