You could forgive Washington Nationals’ fourth-ranked prospect Joe Ross for feeling a little miffed when a December trade sent him from the San Diego Padres organization to the Nationals as part of the trade that brought Wil Myers to San Diego. The 22-year-old Ross, the Padres’ first round pick in 2011, was about to enter his crucial first full season at the Double-A level, which can be a make-or-break year in a player’s development. To boot, Ross’s older brother Tyson Ross had been acquired by the Padres prior to the 2013 season.
It’s safe to say the Oakland, California native had plenty of reason to want to stay on the West Coast and continue his ascension through the Padres’ system with an eye towards joining big brother in the big leagues. But the heady Ross has taken the move in stride.
“The switch has been a lot easier than I expected. It was a surprise being over in San Diego for a couple years, knowing everyone, and then my brother got traded over. But they made me feel really welcome in Spring Training. It was kind of like being drafted all over again, but it’s been fun so far.”
Even though the trade came unexpectedly, Ross could not have landed in a better organization for a young pitcher in baseball. As a member of the Nationals’ system, Ross has the opportunity to watch and learn from some of the best pitchers in the game — Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmermann to name a few.
“With the big league staff, there are high expectations and you get to learn by watching those guys throw. We have the game on here every night they’re playing. You learn a lot. A couple of their guys came over to the minor league side to throw this Spring Training, and it was pretty impressive. It’s a different level to see it in person. With guys like that in the big leagues you push each other to do better and better between starts.”
The younger Ross is also able to lean on big brother, who posted an impressive 2.81 ERA and 9.0 K/9 last season, between starts.
“Obviously I’m going to leave him alone and let him do his own thing, but if I ever have questions, I can easily go to him. He watches a good amount of my games on his own, so if he sees me doing something he’s able to tell me things to try between starts. He gives me little side notes for my bullpens.”
Ross got a little taste of Double-A baseball late last season, posting a 2-0 record and 3.60 ERA in 20.0 innings for the San Antonio Missions. This year, with the Harrisburg Senators, he has taken his game to new levels. In eight starts, Ross has a 2-2 record with a 3.05 ERA. He has struck out 47 in 44.1 innings while allowing only 12 walks.
Climbing the ranks, Ross has noticed a jump in competition at each level, but he has not been fazed, and has shown a high level of maturity as he works towards the Major Leagues and gets comfortable at the higher levels of professional baseball.
“The competition is better at each level. Every year, I’ve been working on control, command and consistency with my breaking balls. Last year at the end of the season going up, it was exciting, but I was putting a little more pressure on myself to make a perfect pitch every time. This year, starting here, there’s a little less pressure.”
Ross features a good fastball with good late tailing action. At 6′-4″, he is able to get good downward movement and induce groundballs. His fastball generally sits between 93 and 94 mph, but can be dialed up to 97 in a pinch. He is also continuing to develop a slider and changeup, which appear to be good future out-pitches with continued development.
“I like throwing my fastball,” he said, “I don’t want to mess around trying to be too fine. My slider, I like throwing a lot. It’s been a good pitch for me the past year or two. I would like to work on my changeup consistency. Some days it’s good, some days it’s a little tough, just getting that consistently good break and spin. If I can get all three pitches going it will be a lot easier for me.”
There is little to nitpick about with the start to Joe Ross’s 2015 campaign. He has shown excellent maturity and poise on the mound, and has had good command of the strike zone. For the rest of the season, he will look to continue his consistent steady pitching and work on developing his changeup.
“I look forward to going out and pitching every five days,” said Ross, who had gone 11 days between starts prior to last night’s outing against the New Britain Rock Cats, “Getting out there again, I was a little excited and jittery. Working on the changeup is going to be the biggest thing, and then with my fastball, staying down in the zone is the biggest thing.”
Follow Josh Sadlock on Twitter: @JoshSadlock