Getting his shot
- Grant Lucas
- Forest Grove News-Times - Sports
Forest Grove grad Zac Rosscup spent two years polishing his skills at Chemeketa Community College and now he'll get his chance to impress the Tampa Bay Rays after signing a professional contract
Each year during Major League Baseball's First-Year Player Draft, more than 1,500 high school and college athletes' lives are changed forever. Their dreams of becoming professionals and local heroes come true. Each pick is followed by a phone call to family and friends. The receiving end is filled with cheers, congratulations and - for some proud parents - tears of joy. Some draftees sign contracts worth more than they ever imagined.
Forest Grove High School alumnus Zac Rosscup experienced that very process last month when the Tampa Bay Rays selected him with the 859th pick of the draft and signed the left-handed pitcher to a seven-year deal.
'He was in Alaska playing baseball when he called me,' Rosscup's mother, Lisa, said. 'I was so excited, I started crying. He said to someone, 'See, I told you I could make my mom cry.''
Not everyone was surprised by the news. Nathan Pratt, Rosscup's coach at Chemeketa Community College, thought Rosscup had a shot at getting drafted after an outstanding sophomore season in which the 6-foot-2, 205-pound southpaw posted a 1.60 earned run average and was a First Team All-Southern Region selection from the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.
'Being a left-handed pitcher with his velocity and ability to command pitches, he has the raw talent that the Rays saw they could mold him into a real polished pitcher,' Pratt said.
After the draft, Pratt sat down with the rising star to discuss Rosscup's expectations for the league as well as the signing and developmental process that would soon occur. Pratt said Rosscup was extremely mature - that he already knew exactly what he wanted to do.
Tampa Bay management asked Rosscup to travel to West Virginia immediately after the draft to join up with the Princeton Rays, the organization's advanced rookie-level team. After a quick break to move out of his apartment, Rosscup was on his way to Princeton where coaches put him on a 'fast track' within the organization. In a phone conversation shortly after arriving, Rosscup told his mother that the coaches felt he had a great deal of natural talent and they wanted to simply polish it.
Rosscup made his first appearance last Wednesday against the Greeneville Astros, the rookie-league affiliate of the Houston Astros. Rosscup entered in the ninth inning with the Rays trailing 4-3. He gave up a leadoff triple to Jose Altuve and an RBI single to Jiovanni Mier but settled down after that, forcing a pop-up and an inning-ending double play.
Recently retired Forest Grove baseball coach Joe Baumgartner remembered Rosscup as a player with 'immense talent.' Even in high school, coaches could see the potential he had.
'Physically, he had all the skills in the world,' Baumgartner said. 'On top of being left-handed, he's got great movement on all of his pitches and pretty good control. That's a deadly combination.'
Forest Grove athletic director Doug Thompson said that Rosscup's accomplishments make things exciting for the school and the community.
'Any time you get a kid in any sport that gets a chance to go to the big show, it's going to encourage young kids to say that anybody can do it,' he said.
Growing up, Rosscup wanted to play football but his grandfather wouldn't allow it. Rosscup's size and natural ability to throw strikes at a high velocity tipped his grandfather off that football was the wrong way to go. He told his grandson that he had a great asset in his pitching arm and that he would have the chance to do big things with it someday.
After his grandfather's death, Rosscup wasn't planning on playing high school baseball, but his family wouldn't let the dream end there. They eventually convinced him to continue with the sport and use the gift in his left arm.
Rosscup had an up-and-down career at Forest Grove before enrolling at Chemeketa in 2008, and that was where his career began to take off. He earned NWAACC South Region First-Team honors as a freshman with a 1.55 ERA and 67 strikeouts, sixth most in the conference. Rosscup followed up with another strong campaign in 2009, striking out 71 batters and catching the attention of professional scouts.
'My hat's off to him,' Baumgartner said. 'He's proven a lot of people wrong and kept at it. Hopefully, he'll make things work.'
To make it, Baumgartner said, players need to have a lot of heart, soul, responsibility and accountability. If Rosscup can acquire all those attributes, he can go a long way.
'With his ability level, the sky's the limit,' Pratt said. 'It's great to see a local guy doing well.'