After Superb Senior Campaign for PU Baseball, PHS Alum Gross Selected by Astros in MLB Draft
PRO PROSPECT: Ben Gross fires a pitch this spring in his senior season for the Princeton University baseball team. The former Princeton High standout enjoyed a superb final campaign, going 4-5 with 52 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings and a 4.47 ERA as he earned second-team All-Ivy League honors. Last week, he was selected by the Houston Astros in the 34th round of the Major League Baseball Draft.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
Coming off a breakthrough junior season in 2017 which saw Ben Gross emerge as a star pitcher for the Princeton University baseball team after two years of struggling with injury, the senior righty got off to a rough start this spring.
Gross, a former Princeton High standout, got rocked in his first two outings of 2018, suffering losses to North Carolina-Wilmington and South Carolina, surrendering 10 runs in six innings for a 15.00 ERA.
But, recapturing his form, Gross got into a rhythm for the rest of the spring, ending up going 4-5 with 52 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings and a 4.47 ERA.
“I was experimenting a little bit which might have contributed to the slow start,” said the 6’2, 215-pound Gross.
“I went back to what worked for me last year and that ended up working out again this year: going with a fastball and a breaking ball that I can manipulate in terms of velocity and movement.”
The late surge by Gross not only earned him second-team All-Ivy League honors, it put him on the radar of Major League Baseball as he got chosen by the Houston Astros in the 34th round of the MLB Draft last week.
Having committed to attend a masters program at Duke University and play for its baseball program due to a year of eligibility remaining as a result of being sidelined by injury early in his Princeton career, Gross wasn’t expected to get the call from any of the MLB clubs.
“I knew that a few teams liked me, going through the motions of filling out questionnaires,” said Gross, who made only one appearance in his first two years with Princeton as he recovered from two operations on his shoulder.
“I met with a few people in person. There wasn’t like an overreaching agreement that I was going to get drafted. I never thought that I was going to get drafted because of this extra year of eligibility at Duke. With all of the things that go into the draft, you never know.”
Looking back on his senior year, which saw him earn a pair of Princeton team awards in addition to his All-Ivy recognition, Gross focused more his growth as a pitcher than any honors.
“I don’t necessarily read too much into the whole accolades and honors and all of that stuff,” said Gross, who received the team’s Kafer Trophy given to a player who exemplifies loyalty and devotion to Princeton’s baseball interests, courage, modesty, perseverance, and determination under discouraging conditions and was named along with sophomore Eli Kimbell as a co-winner of the Edward J. Donovan Award for pitching excellence.
“It is more ‘how do I look at how the season went?’ Outside of the slow start, it was OK. I know that I am better than what I showed this year and look to working hard this offseason and improving upon it next year.”
One of the better moments this spring for Gross came when shut out Penn in a 3-0 win on April 14.
“That was fun; to use a Princeton baseball key word, it was my resilience during that outing,” recalled Gross, who had seven strikeouts and no walks in the effort.
“I gave up nine hits. I had a few innings with guys in scoring position and really battled my way through those jams and got out of them.”
While the Tigers battled hard down the stretch, they dropped their final nine league games in ending up 10-27 overall and 7-14 Ivy.
“That is always hard; it is the second year in a row that we got off to a pretty hot start during Ivy League play and kind of fell apart towards the end of the year,” said Gross, who served as a team captain this season.
“At that point, it was more of going out there and playing for the name on the front of the jersey, who you are, and what you represent, and holding your head high. We didn’t finish it off with a very good ending, but the idea was there.”
For Gross, having represented the Tigers over the last four years is leaving him with some indelible memories.
“Obviously the Ivy championship in 2016 is going to stick out for me,” said Gross. “Even if I didn’t contribute as much to the championship as I did that last couple of years, that was definitely the most fun I had over my four year career. Battling back from injury will stick out to me. I am definitely going to look back at my experience at Princeton and as my baseball career progresses, try to learn from what I have done here.”
Gross is hoping to make progress at Duke as he joins its high-powered Atlantic Coast Conference program.
“I don’t know what my role is going to be there. I want to build on what I have done at Princeton,” said Gross, “It will be interesting with all of the technology and resources that Duke has to see what sorts of developments can be made in my pitching.”
Getting to utilize those resources could help Gross develop into an even better pro prospect.
“The whole draft has to happen again,” said Gross. “It might not be the Astros who draft me; it might be a different team. There is no reason I can’t start a year later.”