Ross sees room for improvement

Robbie Ross' professional debut with Spokane this past summer was outstanding, as he posted a 2.66 earned-run average in 15 starts. Still, the 20-year-old isn't quite satisfied. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the southpaw, who is currently at Fall Instructional League.

The Texas Rangers gave pitcher Robbie Ross, the club's second-round pick in the 2008 MLB Draft, a $1.575 million signing bonus.

Although he has been in the organization for little more than a year, the early returns show he could be well worth the money.

The Kentucky native saw his first game action at Fall Instructional League in 2008, but he didn't appear in an official contest until he joined the Spokane Indians this summer.

Ross was outstanding, posting a 2.66 earned-run average in 15 starts, spanning 74.1 innings. His peripheral numbers were also sparkling, as he gave up 68 hits [.240 BAA], walked 17, and struck out 76.

The 20-year-old was the most consistent pitcher on an excellent Spokane pitching staff, and he earned a reputation as an extreme ground ball pitcher. Ross got 3.21 groundouts per airout with the Indians in 2009.

The left-hander showed excellent command of his 88-92 mph fastball, and he even bumped 93 and 94 mph on occasion. As Ross explains, his fastball has a lot of natural movement, which is normal for a southpaw. He also has a good slider to go with a work-in-progress changeup.

At 5-foot-11, 185-pounds, Ross is relatively small in stature, but he is already proving to be one of the top pitching prospects in a system loaded with talented arms. Ross' results were outstanding with Spokane this summer, and he believes there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Jason Cole: You just finished what was basically your first season in professional baseball. What were your thoughts on it?

Robbie Ross: It was amazing. Spokane was great. I got to play in front of a big crowd and I got to be around the area a lot. It was a very homey area–it really felt like home. It seemed like everyone there loved baseball, and it made it a lot more enjoyable being there and being able to play baseball in front of a crowd.

We had people who supported us and were pulling for us all the time. It kind of became a comfort zone to me. It was really nice, and I enjoyed it because I've never had a fan base like that. I've never had the amount of people that would come to those games. It was a good time.

Ross worked out with the AZL Rangers last summer.
Cole: Even though you didn't play in the AZL last year, you were there for the last couple of weeks, and you saw that there are no–literally zero–fans at AZL games. When you were going out there, were you expecting it to be more like Spokane was?

Ross: Oh yeah. When I first came out, I was like, ‘I bet you there are a ton of people here. I bet you that a lot of people come to these games. They probably have nothing to do.' Then that night, when I was out there for the first time, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. There is diddly squat. There are just scouts and coaches and players.'

It makes you really, really want to get out of there. And I think that's good because I think getting to Spokane was such a great thing–getting away from not having fans and not having the people that you'd think you would get all the time. It makes you work a lot harder, and it's just something you strive for.

Cole: Results-wise and on-field performance, what were your thoughts on the season with Spokane?

Ross: It was fun. I had a great season. I think it was a great season because I learned a lot of things. I learned how to pitch. I learned what it's like being on the road. I learned life lessons and things like that–the things that you need to learn before you start to progress.

I think that was why it was such a great season, because I learned so many things and I got to be around a team for a good long time. I was able to see what it was like being on a team for so long and traveling on buses and being away from my family, my fiance, and everything like that. It's tough. And it's something that I grew through, and I'm so thankful for it.

I thank God that I got to have this season, because it helps me mature. I think that it's something I needed to go through, and I just thank God that I got the opportunity to go to Spokane and play in front of those people.

Cole: Obviously no official numbers are kept for Extended Spring Training, and nobody outside of the Rangers' organization will ever know how you pitched there. But what were your thoughts on your time at extended this year?

Ross: I just wanted to get out of Arizona, that's all I thought. I was like, ‘Man, I don't want to be here. I'd love to be with a team. I'd love to be playing in real games where there are fans, road trips, and things like that.' I think that the motivation of being in extended was that it was something I was growing through. It was something I had to go through and something I had to mature in.

I think now, looking back on it, it wasn't that long, but it seemed like the longest thing ever. At the same time, it helped me to get that background of playing out in Arizona and going through the grind and being able to push myself. That made me feel really good that I could go through all that and mature and try to just battle.

Extended really is like a battle, because you've got to battle things off the field and things on the field. You don't have fans. After games, you go back and you have hours upon hours of just nothing. It's like you have to work hard at it. It's awesome because I think that I learned a lot about who I was and who I needed to become to get out of there. I really enjoyed it, even though it was tough.

Cole: I talked to Matt Thompson about this as well, but your pitching coach in Spokane was obviously former big leaguer Justin Thompson. Especially being a fellow left-handed pitcher, what were some of the things you were able to pick up from him and what was it like to work with him?

Ross: It was awesome because we got to pick his brain and he got to help us mature ours. I think it was awesome because I could go up to him and ask him anything and he pretty much gave me an answer. Or if he didn't know the answer, he would research it.

It's funny because there's a guy back in Lexington, Kentucky, where I live, that knows him really well. They played together on the Tigers–his name is Willie Blair. They knew each other. It was really hilarious because I was like, ‘You played with the Tigers. Do you know Willie Blair?' just out of the blue, I just said it. He was like, ‘Yeah I did. We were real good buddies.' It was just funny how that all started.

But at the same time, it was good because JT really–he hasn't been out for very long, so he still has that same mindset as we do. He always knows that we need to do things to mature and grow, and he helped me a lot with my changeup and my command and issues that I couldn't figure out why I was doing them. He would say, ‘Robbie, try this,' or, ‘Try to focus on this part of your game and not get so caught up in the fact that you're not doing this.'

It was great because I could go to him and ask him any question. I could go and say, ‘Hey, did I slow down my motion on my changeup? Did I throw a quality pitch right there? What did I do wrong?' It was good because he was a younger guy that we could knock heads with to figure out what was going on and what we needed to get done.

Cole: You had a groundout-flyout ratio of 3.2 to 1 this year. That's pretty unheard of at any level. Have you always been more of a ground ball guy?

Ross: I don't really remember. I don't know.

Cole: I'm guessing in high school you were more of a strikeout guy, right?

Ross: Yes, sir, I was. In high school, it was different. But now, it's ground balls I guess. All I did was really just try to throw strikes and get the ball on the ground because I knew I had a great infield behind me. I knew that they would get the job done for me. I just tried to get as many ground balls as I could.

Sometimes I was surprised that I got ground balls. The way that they would see a pitch, and I'd think, ‘Oh man, this is gonna get creamed.' But a lot of them turned over. I guess it looked like such a meat pitch and maybe it moved or something–I don't know. I just threw the ball and I guess I just got a lot of ground balls. Hopefully I can figure out how I can do that all the time.

Honestly, I just think it just happened and that's the way it goes. I knew that if I could get ground balls, our infield was going to make plays for me because they always did. They got me out of so many jams. They made plays that I was just like, ‘Wow, I can't believe you made that play.'

Cole: With the fastball, are you a four-seam guy, a two-seam guy, or both?

Ross: I'm just a four-seam guy.

Cole: So does your fastball have any natural sinking action that allowed you to get those ground balls, or were you just working down in the zone?

Ross: It has a lot of movement. It depends on the day. Sometimes it'll cut, sometimes it'll sink, and there are days where it'll move away. It just depends. It is really weird. I can get it where I can spot up and there are days where I can make it cut across the plate and stuff like that. It's not like I can do it off of just doing it. It just comes off my hand that way and it's going to that spot, but it takes a different route. It's funny.

Ross is focusing on his offspeed stuff.
Cole: You said you worked on your changeup with Justin Thompson this summer. How did you feel about the development of that pitch this year?

Ross: Honestly, I think that I need to keep working on it. I don't have that great of a changeup. I'd love for it to just get to where it's just something that I throw and I can throw in a 3-2 count, a 2-2 count, a 1-2 count, an 0-1 count or 0-2 count. Just to get the feel of it to where I could throw it like a fastball and have it whenever I need it. But I don't have that, honestly. I need to keep working at it.

I was talking with some of our guys, and they were saying, ‘Robbie, you're just going to have to keep working at it. It doesn't happen overnight. It happens over time, and you're probably never going to master it. But you're going to be able to throw it, and if you do master it, it'll be later on down the road.' Right now, it's just kind of refining and getting it back to where I can throw it accurately.

Cole: How often were you throwing that in games with Spokane? Was it a pitch that you forced yourself to count on at times or were you going away from it mostly?

Ross: I wasn't using it that much. I really wasn't. I would resort to throwing a slider or a fastball, and my changeup kind of fell back a little bit. But at the end of everything, I started throwing it a whole lot. I tried to get it back so maybe the guys that had seen me before might have a different angle of it. I tried to throw it more in situations that I might not.

Cole: Talk about the slider that you just mentioned. How did you feel about that this season?

Ross: It's good. It's not like it used to be, but I know that hopefully me working on it here and then in the offseason, hopefully I can get it back to where it was. I'm not like, ‘Oh gosh, I need to get all these pitches, this is insane and I'm way behind.' I don't think that's the case. I just think that I want to be able to throw it and get people out.

I feel like working on those pitches–if I can get them all under control, I would feel a lot more comfortable. It's a lot easier when you've got three guns going to a fight instead of just one. I just think once I can finally do that, it'll be a lot easier. I'm not going to be impatient with it or anything. I'm just going to try and work at it and ask God for the strength to just keep driving on and keep doing it.

Cole: You're at instructs right now. Obviously guys use instructs as a way to work on their weaknesses and refine their game. What are some of the main focuses for you right now?

Ross: Throwing my changeup and throwing my slider to the back foot of a righty. And working on some lefties. I would like to be able to have some good command on lefties–I'm not having great command on lefties. But it is going to hopefully come around.

Cole: Name a couple of players that have been impressive you at instructs so far this year, if you can.

Ross: Right now, Matt Thompson has been doing really well. He has been throwing well and he has some real good stuff. He is working on a lot of things, just as much as I am. It's nice because you can see that there is someone else working too.

Hitting-wise, I'd say that Michael Ortiz is just playing an unreal first base. I'm telling you, he is picking balls and hitting well. He is just moving so quick–the way he has come from extended to Spokane–he was making plays for us. He just rolled in there and played real well. And then Vinny DiFazio is just tearing the cover off the ball. He is just left and right doubles–just hitting the ball hard.

The other pitchers probably would be like Joe Wieland, who has been doing really well. We've got some good new guys who are stepping in and just playing well. It's going to be fun to see all the guys when we get to Spring Training. I'm excited and instructs has been fun so far. Hopefully we can finish up and just have a good time.

Cole: One last question for you. Looking forward to next year, I'd imagine that Lexington is at least fairly close to Hickory. But of course, there's always the change that you skip ahead to Bakersfield. Do you have any idea where you'll be starting in 2010, and do you have any expectations right now?

Ross: In my mind, I hope and pray that I get the opportunity to play in Hickory. I hope that the most. If anything else happens, that's fine. But I'm just taking it in stride and thanking God for the opportunity to play baseball and get the opportunity to be with the Texas Rangers. I'm not looking too far ahead. I'm just taking it in stride and being thankful for what I have at the time.

I'm not saying that I don't want to be in a Bakersfield or a Double-A or Triple-A or the big leagues. I'm not saying that I don't want to. It's just that I'm thinking more along the lines of what is realistic. In my wildest dreams, I'd love to do what Martin Perez did. In my wildest dreams. That would be unreal. But it's not like I'm like, ‘Oh yeah, I can do that.' But in my wildest dreams, I'm like, ‘I'm going to try as hard as I can to do that.' But I think that right now it's just going to be Hickory hopefully.

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