Milwaukee Brewers pitching prospect Austin Ross was born and raised in Shreveport, LA—a mere four hours from where he played college ball in Baton Rouge.
The 22-year-old Ross—who earned a Pitcher of the Week Award and an All-Star nod in the Midwest League earlier this season—helped pitch the LSU Tigers to the College World Series title as a sophomore in 2009 before being drafted by the Brewers in the eighth round of the 2010 MLB draft.
It's been a fun ride for Ross as he's moved up through the Brewers' organization. He's currently taking the ball every fifth day for the Brevard County Manatees in the Florida State League—the Class A Advanced affiliate of the Brewers.
This is the first of two articles stemming from the interview—with this one giving a great outline on how Austin has put himself in position to be a MLB pitcher and what he needs to do from here on out to achieve that dream.
After speaking to Austin, two things came to mind. One, he is a stand-up guy who is a perfect fit for the Milwaukee Brewers organization. Secondly, to him, it's all about playing baseball.
Jeffrey Beckmann is a MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Jeffrey on his new Twitter account for all of his latest work. You can also hear him each Friday at 1 pm EST on B/R Baseball Roundtable.
Since you grew up in Shreveport, four hours from the LSU campus in Baton Rouge, were your parents able to make it to a lot of games?
My parents actually came to every home series in Baton Rouge while I was there. It was nice having them four hours away, along with anybody else from town who wanted to come.
What is it like growing up as a young baseball player in the south?
You know, it's the only thing we did growing up. I remember being 10-11 years old and playing doubleheaders in 100-degree heat. That's pretty much all we did from January until August. One of the benefits of growing up in the south is that we were able to play almost year-round.
What are some of the advantages of growing up in that environment?
The more games you play, the more prepared you are as a player. Going into high school, we had played a lot more games than kids up north. I think that's a huge advantage. Up north, the sheer number of games you're able to play is limited.
Did you always know you wanted to be a pitcher?
Yeah, I've been pitching since I was about nine years old. I played some infield, too, but I've always been a pitcher.
What was it like being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010?
We had just gotten knocked out of a regional and gone back to Baton Rouge to take care of some end-of-season meetings and clear out our lockers and stuff. I actually got picked during our final team meeting and I really didn't know about it. I was following (the draft) before the meeting started because it was around the time I was supposed to get selected.
I couldn't really pay attention in the meeting because I was hoping to get picked soon. Somebody looked at their phone before I did and said, "Hey, you just got picked." Then I looked at my phone and saw a a bunch of missed calls from my scout and all that good stuff. It was definitely exciting. I'm thankful for the opportunity the Brewers gave me.
Yeah, that has to be an awesome moment. How soon after the draft were you in Helena?
About two weeks. It took a couple of weeks to finalize everything and to get ready to go, and then 12-15 days later I got on a plane to Montana.
How was it up in Montana?
Some people don't like it because it's in the middle of nowhere, but I'm an outdoorsy kind of guy. I like to hunt and fish, and I got to do a little fly-fishing. I enjoyed it, ya know, it's a different part of the country up there. It was a fun half-season. Having a great team and a great group of guys made it better. We ended up winning that league, so it was a fun experience. It was a very unique place to spend the summer.
So two weeks after your season ended at LSU you were pitching in Helena. What big changes did you notice right away?
Well, you know the facilities we had at LSU were as good as it gets for college ball. They put a lot of money into their baseball program, and we flew everywhere on chartered planes. Then in Helena we drove around on an old, dingy bus, and the clubhouse was pretty small and crammed. The field wasn't that nice and we were playing in front of about 800 people.
From that standpoint it was different, but at the same time it was kind of fun. We went back to our roots and it was just about playing baseball. It kind of took me back to playing ball when I was younger.
I definitely had to get used to playing a game every day. Every day's the same, ya know? You get to the field at one in the afternoon and your game isn't until seven. I also had to get used to pitching every fifth day. In college, if I threw on a Saturday then I'd throw on the following Saturday. So there's a shorter recovery time.
What about changes you've noticed on your path up from Helena, to Wisconsin, to Brevard County now?
It's just the better hitter's at every level. It's not a huge difference, but you can tell at each level they go up a little bit. Hitters begin to find their approach and start finding more power. Basically, they're just better hitters, not more talented or anything, they just have an idea of how they are as hitters, what they're looking for at the plate and what they want to do with an at-bat.
So they're beginning to come into their own?
Yeah, there are still some inexperienced guys, but more players will try to make adjustments in each at-bat. The biggest thing I think is that hitters start finding their approach and what kind of hitter they want to be, so they go up (to the plate) looking for certain things. They no longer go up to the plate blind.
What adjustments have you made with each step up in the organization?
The biggest thing is to keep doing what got you there, ya know; don't think that because you're at a different level that you have to become a different pitcher or that you have to do something more. You do the things that you do well that have gotten you there and add to them a little bit. You don't need to change.
Are there any players you've moved up the organizational ladder with?
A majority of the team in Helena started last season in Wisconsin and then there were two of us, me and Tyler Thornburg, who moved up together to Brevard County. So me and Tyler have been with each other every step of the way so far.
Does that make the transition to the next level easier?
Yeah, I mean a little bit, definitely. Even though I knew some guys on the team and had been with them in spring training, any time you know guys it makes it easier to get ingrained on that new team and get comfortable.
I suppose the team probably changes a lot over the course of a season.
Yeah, the team you start with in April is not going to be the same team come September. Lots of guys coming and going throughout the season.
Was it always your dream to play in MLB?
Definitely. From a young age, baseball was always my favorite sport and I was always better at it than any other one. I've always loved it, and I guess that's any little kids dream who plays baseball growing up. I'm fortunate that things have worked out so far and I have a chance to play.
At what point did you realize you were going to pursue a career in baseball?
Probably my junior year of high school when I started getting recruited by Division-I schools and some bigger colleges. I realized that I had a chance to do something with this game. Up until that point, I just enjoyed playing high school ball and I tried to be as good as I could, but I didn't anticipate anything. Then, when I started getting recruited, I thought, "Wow, this is something I could have a future in." Hopefully it'll work out.
What is the best advice you've been given along the way?
Somebody once told me (in regards to what he might see or hear), "Don't believe too much of the bad and also don't believe too much of the good." If everybody is talking good about you, don't believe too much of that, and if somebody is down on you talking about how bad you are, don't believe any of that either. Stay as even-keeled as possible.
I hear you have a pretty sick slider at this point. What kind of things do you need to work on in order to realize your dream of pitching in MLB?
Ya know, I think I just need to keep progressing on all the things that I need to do—working on my command and throwing my off-speed pitches on any count. I mean, there's no real secret to pitching. You need to command your fastball and keep it down in the zone, and then you need to be able to throw your off-speed pitches in any count.
If you can do that consistently then you can pitch in the big leagues. It's just a matter of going out and doing it on a consistent basis, and I'm going to continue trying to improve in each one of those aspects.
Have you had a chance to make it up to Milwaukee since you were drafted?
Yeah, I actually played in a Rising Stars game with other prospects in the organization. We left spring training a few days early and spent three days in Milwaukee. We played an exhibition game at Miller Park a few days before the season started. It was fun. We were in the big league clubhouse and there were like 8,000 people (at the game).
Have you made it to a Brewers game yet?
No, but I was about to go to one on our All-Star break up in Wisconsin. I went to the All-Star Game, and on my way back I was going to stop in Milwaukee to go to a Brewers game. I get a call when I'm an hour from the stadium, and the next morning I was on a plane to (Brevard County) Florida. I wanted to go to a game, but I got promoted, so I guess it's a good thing I didn't get to go.
To be continued next week...