A full baseball scholarship to the University of Michigan or a signing bonus around $200,000 with the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB organization.
Which way would you go if you were a freshly-graduated Niles West High School alum?
“I’m squarely in the middle,” said Kevin Ross, an 18-year-old with win-win options.
A hard-hitting shortstop who attracted scouts this spring like bees to honey, Skokie resident Ross will mull over the biggest decision of his young life in the coming days.
He has his college education paid for at one of the best public universities in the country in Ann Arbor. Or he can take the Pirates’ money, have the team pay for his education in the off-season and start a pro baseball career on a rookie-level team in Florida.
Ross, scholarship already in hand, received the good news he was drafted in the eighth round by the Pirates Tuesday afternoon. Before the Pirates could call him with the news, well-wishers following the annual amateur draft on line in real time blew out his cell phone with messages. A man with a lightning-quick bat and gun of an infield arm, Ross wasn’t the least bit nervous about the life-changing turn of events.
He’ll never be nervous. He exudes confidence from every pore, including a specific goal for a few years in the future.
Middle of Pirates’ order a goal
“Batting third or fourth at PNC Park (in Pittsburgh),” Ross said in a quieter moment in the Niles West home dugout on the school grounds Wednesday as he discussed his options with Garry Gustafson, his high school coach, nearby. Even major leaguers, like the White Sox’s Orlando Hudson, don’t specify where they’d like to hit upon arrival with a new team. Ross knows exactly where he wants to go, and when.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound Ross batted .428 for Niles West this spring to cement his leveraged status. He worked out at U.S. Cellular Field Saturday with other draft prospects.
He is still officially undecided about college or the minor leagues, the tea leaves he parcels out suggest the Pirates. He wore a Pirates cap when he met a reporter Wednesday. As he walked through Niles West’s halls, Ross accepted congratulations from both students and teachers – and not about the prospect of becoming a Wolverine shortstop.
“I’m just going to think about what I really want to do,” he said. “It’s my decision.
“The only reason why I’m still thinking Michigan is because I feel I can go three years and be a first-rounder,” he said of the 2015 draft. “(Going with the Pirates) I can go to school and play pro ball now.”
Asking price for bonus around $200,000
New major-league rules restricting bonus money for each team should not crimp Ross’ ability to snare around a $200,000 deal. Ross confirmed that number when reminded a seventh-rounder last year got a $175,000 package of cash and school tuition. Jeffrey Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council, which represents such top big leaguers as Albert Pujols, is serving as Ross’ advisor (not a formal agent), and has recommended the asking price.
Baseball scouting officials said the new rules were aimed at restricting mad money being given to first rounders. Further down in the draft, where Ross was picked, the scouting officials said signing money actually could increase.
Ross’ main Pirates contact was area scout Andrew Wycklendt, who was at his home Tuesday night. Also flying in from the East Coast to take a closer look at Ross in recent weeks was Greg Schilz, the Pirates’ north region supervisor. Ross, a Yankees fan, just missed getting picked by his favorites. The New Yorkers were interested, as were the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics. The White Sox and Cubs were well aware of Ross.
But the Pirates were most dogged in their pursuit.
“They were out to at least half a dozen games,” said Gustafson. “We were playing at Waukegan, and they wanted us to take batting practice at Niles West after that game. But it was too late in the day.”
Although some experts feel Ross would be shifted to third base in pro ball, the Pirates have told him he’d remain at shortstop. “His throws were timed at 90 mph from short,” said Gustafson.
His bat pushes the speed limit even higher. Gustafson said the ball off Ross’ bat was clocked at 110 mph.
As a projected trip next week to the Pirates’ spring training base in Bradenton, Fla., nears, Ross’ conversations with parents Gerald and Tina Ross should be interesting. The family has no bad choices.
Ross has a bottom line way beyond dollars or scholarships.
“Right now I’m not even worried about money,” he said. “I just want to play baseball.”