Tyson Ross - Rising Heat

By Matt Kawahara, Daily Cal Staff Writer

This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Monday, May 7, 2008.
Click here for original version.

Reprinted by permission.

It's a sunny Friday afternoon at Evans Diamond, Tyson Ross is weaving another gem against Arizona, and a funny thing is happening in the stands behind the backstop.

Ross sets and 25 men lift their right arms in unison. He delivers, and all 25 drop their arms to their sides.

The guns go up, the guns come down.

These are the prospectors of baseball. It's their job to judge, uncover talent and expose weakness, find reasons not to expend a draft pick on a player as much as reasons why they should.

The reports of these major league scouts will largely determine who gets a shot at the next level and who hangs it up after college, and today they're here for Ross.

'With him, you want to focus on three things,' says one scout. 'His physical size, the stuff that comes out of his hand and the fact that he's been doing it consistently for two years.'

Ross' physical size is, in a word, intimidating. He's listed at 6-foot-6, 225 pounds and he says that he might still be growing, citing the fact that his 'knees have been hurting' and his 'clothes have been feeling a little tight.'

The stuff that comes out of his hand is straight filth-a six-pitch repertoire headed up by a 91-95 mph fastball and a devastating slider.

And what he has done over the past two years is anchor the starting rotation of the rising Cal baseball team. What he's done is come out almost every Friday and give the Bears a chance to win, compiling a 13-8 record with a 3.14 ERA and 171 strikeouts in his sophomore and junior seasons.

What he's done is mold himself into one of the top college baseball talents in the nation, and set himself up for a future in which Cal pitching coach Dan Hubbs says:

'The sky's the limit.'

The question isn't if Ross will go in the Major League Baseball Amateur Draft in June, but how high. That's what the scouts are here to determine.

But Ross doesn't notice the action behind the backstop.

'I used to when I was in high school, see scouts and say, 'Oh yeah, there's people here,'' says Ross. 'But I've just got to forget about them because no matter where you are, you can't be thinking about who's out there in the crowd.

'You can't live life worrying about what other people think. You've just got to go out there and do your thing. Same with pitching.'

To a quiet kid with a live arm from Oakland, whose dream has always been to pitch in the big leagues, the scouts-and all the pressure that comes with them-aren't really there.

Tyson Ross is just playing a game.

To be fair, Hubbs doesn't lend much credibility to the scouts either.

'Scouting's an inexact science,' he says. 'If it was easy, then every first-rounder would be in the big leagues and be a superstar. You just never know how guys react to pressure, and that's what I'm saying about Tyson. I don't think there's any situation you can put him in that'll faze him.'

Ross was named first-team All Pac-10 and a semifinalist for the Golden Spike Award-given to the nation's top player-after his sophomore season, when he was second in the conference with a 2.49 ERA and third with 120 strikeouts.

Then, during the summer, he went international with Team USA to face the likes of the Dutch and Japanese National Teams. Ross turned in a 4-1 record for the summer with a cool 0.82 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 43 2/3 innings.

And this was all before Ross had even hit his 21st birthday-something that Hubbs again attributes to his poise.

'Because nothing fazes him, he's able to deal with little struggles within the game,' says Hubbs. 'It's not a big deal when he walks a guy. It's not a big deal when a guy boots a ball behind him or hits a homer, because he's been in those situations against great teams and realizes that his stuff is good enough that he can come back and get them out anyway.'

That's why Ross is still on the mound in the top of the eighth against the Wildcats. He has no outs in the inning and he's just hit a batter to load the bases, but nobody comes out to talk to him and the bullpen is quiet.

Instead, Ross takes a quick walk off the mound, looks over at first baseman David Cooper-and cracks a joke at him.

'I got kind of a strange look from the umpire like 'What's this kid doing? He's got the bases loaded and no outs and he jokes around with the first baseman,'' says Ross. 'Your time's limited so you've just got to enjoy it while you can. I just try to have fun while I'm out there.'

It shows in the way that he carries himself on the mound.

Ross moves around the hill in a loose stroll. He fidgets, but to a kind of rhythm. He flips the ball into his throwing hand instead of reaching into his glove for it and throws his warmup tosses like he's playing catch in the backyard.

Even with a hitter in the box, nothing changes. Ross' motion is easy and fluid, bordering on effortless. It looks like he isn't even throwing hard, but somehow that swing of his right arm generates speeds in the low to mid-90s.

'It may look easy,' says the scout. 'But there's actually a lot going on.'

Think along the lines of a peaceful-looking river with a wicked undercurrent. The drawback is that Ross' delivery relies mainly on his arm-some say too much-and at least one scout points this out as a source of concern.

Ross doesn't hesitate to say that there's a lot more to his mechanics than can be seen with the naked eye.

'I've seen video and stuff where my hips are firing and I'm leaving my top side back a little bit,' he says. 'There's some mechanical changes I can make to make it even easier on my arm.'

'I'd only change it to improve,' he adds. 'I've always thrown like this and it's been working.'

Hubbs is quick to defend his ace.

'I think the scouts make a bigger deal of it than it is; part of that is what makes him good,' Hubbs says. 'He's unorthodox. But the arm works. And because the arm works, he has a chance to be successful (at the next level).'

The delivery is unique, but it allows Ross to be effective with three variations on the fastball-a four-seamer, two-seamer and the cutter that he added over the offseason-and his three offspeed pitches. And aside from a two-week hiatus early this season-due to tightness in his lat muscle-Ross has stayed healthy since arriving in Berkeley three years ago with the same delivery.

'That was the knock on (Tim) Lincecum: 'He's unorthodox, he'll never hold up,'' says Hubbs. 'But he's pretty good. And I think Tyson is another one of those guys.

'Who does he look like in the big leagues? Well, I can't tell you who he looks like in the big leagues. All I can tell you is that I think he's going to pitch in the big leagues.'

From online mock drafts and prospect rankings, common consensus seems to be that Ross will be a first-round pick on June 5. Even the scout at the Arizona game reluctantly agrees that projecting Ross to go somewhere in the 20s is 'probably in the ballpark.'

Ross, unassuming as always, takes the hype in stride.

'It's pretty neat to think about,' he says. 'But you can't really think about the draft too much. It's just one day, it's just your name being called and that's it. First round or 40th round, you're still going to be a professional ballplayer out there with the same chances as everyone else.'

After that, how quickly he rises will depend largely on whether he takes on the role of starter or reliever.

'If I'm going to move up faster in a reliever role, I'd do that,' says Ross. 'If they need me starting, either way. I just want to pitch.'

Ross could progress a little faster out of the bullpen, in the way that former Cal starter Brandon Morrow ascended to the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners as a short reliever.

But Ross was outstanding as a starter for Team USA-an experience that gave him an early glimpse at the professional life. The national team played a lot of games in a short period of time, which made for a harsh travel schedule, and his laid-back approach was well suited to the daily grind of a pro schedule.

'The guys that were stressing out about their performances, what scouts were thinking and whatnot were all in their own domes and they weren't having as much fun as the guys like myself who just went out there to play,' he says. 'I can't imagine over the long haul of a 162-game season, stressing out every day about playing time and how you're doing.'

'That wouldn't be any fun,' he laughs. 'Then it's just another job, you know?'

It's funny because, for Ross, baseball is the furthest thing from a job.

'I go out and have fun, just kind of enjoy myself, and that's how I get the positive results and keep that level head,' he says. 'Can't get too rattled or anything like that. I'm out there just playing a game.'

And with this mentality, Ross approaches the jump to professional baseball.

He doesn't worry about the differences between college and the pros because baseball itself doesn't change. He sees the same rules and the same dimensions of the same game that he's been playing all his life.

'Same thing no matter where you're playing or what level,' he says with a shrug. 'I think I'm just going to go up there and do what I've always done and I'll be just fine.'

It's vintage Tyson Ross. In his future, the sky's the limit. And still his spikes are planted firmly in the ground.

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