Mitchell Gross is ending his high school career in an expected position: As an ace.
The Forsyth Central senior is technically one of two, as Bulldogs head baseball coach Kevin McCollum specified on Monday, alongside Jacob Ryan, but that’s not meant to detract from Gross’ abilities. He was first team All-County in 2018, compiling a 2.76 ERA with 26 hits allowed and 56 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings, and has experienced similar success this year.
And he has a college baseball future ahead of him, too, even if it isn't the one he had first planned as a sophomore. Gross, who is set to play at Santa Fe College, a community college in Gainesville, Florida, was one of five Central athletes to sign their National Letter of Intent on Monday afternoon, alongside Ryan (Georgia Highlands), lacrosse player Jason Mamrick (University of the Cumberlands), and soccer players Alexis Sherman (North Georgia) and Allie Strunk (Georgia State).
A quick rewind: Back in December of 2016, before Gross had thrown an inning at the varsity level, Gross committed to play at the University of Georgia. He had significant interest from a number of other high-major programs, but the Bulldogs offer was for, in Gross’ words, “a lot of money.”
College baseball has trended towards these kinds of early offers in recent years, but they also carry lots of inherent risk and volatility, given how unpredictable the development of male athletes can be.
Gross still would have had a spot at Georgia, but the Bulldogs’ offer shrunk, and they also parted ways with former pitching coach Fred Corral, a major part of Gross’ recruitment. The news that Gross’ scholarship would be less – baseball is one of the college sports that operates in partial scholarships, as opposed to “head count” sports like football and basketball – didn’t necessarily blindside him, but he was disappointed nonetheless.
He turned his thoughts about the situation in a constructive direction, though, and surveyed the many other options he had. The prospect of going to a junior college stuck out: He could go for a year or two and transfer to a Division I program that offered him a better scholarship, or even get drafted, if he gained a few ticks in velocity.
“There’s a lot of good things that can happen at a juco,” Gross said. “And I really like where I’m at with Santa Fe, too.”
A number of former Central players have had success going the junior college route, and Gross looked specifically at Parker Biederer, a former Bulldogs outfielder who is currently hitting .324 with a .428 on-base percentage in his redshirt sophomore season with the Saints.
Gross still keeps in touch with a number of Division I programs – mainly at the mid-major level, he said – and ending up there instead of junior college isn’t out of the question. He’s also still locked on contributing to the Bulldogs as much as possible as a pitcher and hitter, and the initial disappointment of the opportunity at Georgia not working out helped motivate him to work harder on his craft.
“You never know what would have happened if I didn’t have that little bit of a push, maybe,” Gross said. “Both hitting and pitching, not that I was going to Georgia for hitting, but it encouraged me to be at the field more, throw more, work out more, and I feel like it’s translated onto the field.”