This story originally appeared in the April issue of ESPNHS Magazine.
At first glance, you’d probably think Niles West’s Kevin Ross had a good 2011 season. As a junior, he hit .436 with four home runs and 30 RBIs, numbers that would impress most people. But numbers don’t mean everything. Not to Ross, anyway. For the slugging shortstop, the campaign was something of a disappointment.
“I don’t feel like I did as well as I could have last year,” says Ross, who is ranked No. 87 in the Class of 2012 by ESPN. “I never felt loose all season. I was always out in front, and a lot of curveballs were getting me. I’ve got to improve on that if I want to have the kind of season I’m capable of.”
So Ross spent his offseason working on his flexibility and speed. By getting more athletic, he believes he’ll be able to handle pitches that were difficult to square up last year. He’s got the elite bat speed and strong lower half of a prototypical power hitter, but loosening up should make him a more complete hitter in 2012.
Ross, a right-handed batter, looks to one of MLB’s best lefties for inspiration.
“I like to remind myself of Robinson Cano,” says Ross, evoking the New York Yankees’ All-Star second baseman. “He stays loose and lets the ball get deep, and that’s one of my biggest problems. I jump at the ball a lot and don’t always let it get deep. And he’s one of the best hitters in the game, so I try to remind myself to take that approach when I’m up there.”
The offseason focus on better athleticism has also helped Ross in the field. He considers shortstop to be his home on the diamond, but at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, coaches and scouts have told him that he may have to change positions in the near future. Ross wants to hold off on that as long as possible.
Ross stole 16 bases last season, so he’s not exactly slow. But he knows he has to clean up his footwork and increase his range in order to stay at shortstop.
Wherever Ross ends up in the field, his greatest asset will always be his bat. Niles West coach Garry Gustafson says Ross is the type of talent who only comes around “every 10 to 15 years,” and he expects Ross to be among the state leaders in all the power stats this season. Ross is currently batting over .600 through the Wolves' first 11 games.
Ross has been in contact with MLB scouts, and he’s been projected as a potential pick in June’s MLB draft. He’s signed to play at Michigan next year, but being drafted could change those plans.
“My dream is to play in the major leagues,” says Ross. “I’m going to do everything I can to get there.”
Follow Mike Grimala on Twitter (@ESPNHSGrimala).