In the aftermath of the community prospect rankings wrapping up, we continue our write-ups for each Ranger prospect who finished in the top 25. Once again, I issue my usual caveat that I have no first-hand information about these guys, but am simply offering capsule scouting reports for each player based on the info that is out there...
After the jump, we continue by taking a look at one of the more controversial prospects in the system, the #8 player in the LSB Community Prospect Rankings, lefthanded pitcher Robbie Ross.
Robbie Ross is a 5'11", 185 lb. lefthanded pitcher who was drafted by the Texas rangers in the second round of the 2008 MLB draft out of a high school in Kentucky. Although Ross was a 2008 high school draftee, he was born in June, 1989, meaning he turns 23 this season, and is a year older than most 2008 high school draftees are. Ross signed right at the the deadline in 2008 for an above-slot bonus of $1.575 million, with the Rangers buying him out of a commitment to the University of Kentucky. The $1.575 million was the biggest bonus received by any second round pick in the 2008 draft.
Before the draft, Baseball America had Ross ranked as the #43 prospect in the nation, and Ross got high marks for his low-90s fastball, his command, and the potential his secondary pitches showed. The knock on Ross was his size, but the Rangers have shown a fondness for small lefties with athleticism, and apparently weren't scared away by Ross's lack of size.
Because Ross was a late sign, he didn't make his professional debut until 2009, when he was placed with the team's Northwest League affiliate in Spokane. In short-season A, he had an impressive 2.66 ERA in 74.1 innings over 15 starts, striking out 76, walking 17 and allowing just 5 home runs, a performance that saw him land at #7 on the NWL top 20 prospect list after the 2009 season.
2010 was a mixed bag for Ross...he started off the season in the South Atlantic League with Hickory, and in 94 innings put up a 2.59 ERA. However, the Sally League is a pitcher's league, and Ross's peripherals weren't encouraging, as he was striking out just 5.9 batters per 9 while walking 1.9 batters per 9. Ross earned a promotion on July 9 to high-A Bakersfield and saw his ERA skyrocket to 5.37 in 52 innings. Although Ross's walk rate increased by a full walk per 9 innings, his K rate also increased, to 8.5 K/9.
Nevertheless, Ross earned a promotion to AA Frisco for the 2010 Texas League playoffs, and ended up starting Game 4 for the RoughRiders against the Midland. Ross got hit hard, however, allowing 7 runs in 3 innings as Frisco was eliminated.
Ross returned to high-A in 2011, although with the Rangers' new affiliate at Myrtle Beach, and put up gaudy numbers in the Carolina League. In 123.1 innings, Ross struck out 98 hitters, walked just 28, and allowed only a single home run while putting up a 2.26 ERA. Ross got a late season promotion to Frisco, where he acquitted himself well with a 2.61 ERA in 38 innings over six starts, K'ing 36 and walking 5, although he did have more of a problem with homers, allowing 5 in that stint. Ross earned the Game 1 start for Frisco in the playoff matchup between Frisco and San Antonio, redeeming himself after his rough 2010 playof appearance by giong 6 innings, striking out 12 and not allowing a hit until the 6th in a game the RoughRiders ultimately lost, 3-0.
What kind of pitcher is Robbie Ross? Ultimately, he's considered a strikethrower, a guy who won't miss a ton of bats, but who also doesn't walk many batters and who gets a lot of ground balls. He has a low-90s fastball and good slider that would give him a chance to succeed right now as a reliever, while his third pitch, a changeup, is still a work in progress.
How quickly could we see Ross? If you believe the Rangers' website, as early as April, 2012. The Rangers have a dearth of legitimate lefthanded relief options right now, and Ross has been mentioned as a potential candidate to earn a spot in the bullpen. If he doesn't crack the Opening Day roster -- and he's a longshot to do so -- he still could end up forcing his way into the bullpen mix at some point this summer if he continues to have the kind of success in the minors that he had in 2011.
What sort of ceiling does Ross have? He doesn't have great stuff, and apparently just has two major-league caliber r pitches right now, so that limits his upside. If his changeup develops to the point that it is a pitch he can use at the major league level, and if his slight build can hold up to the demands of pitching seven innings every fifth day, then he could become a league average innings eater, a nice #4 starter who puts the ball in play and who could have a lot of success if he has a stellar defensive infield behind him. Otherwise, his fastball/slider combo would seem to play well out of the pen, and he could have a lengthy, successful career as a southpaw reliever.