Virginia Tech's MLB draft prospect Gavin Cross finds success in staying relaxed

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VT's MLB draft prospect Cross finds success in staying relaxed originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

In his own words, Gavin Cross is “a pretty chill, lowkey guy from Tennessee.”

Over the past year, the Virginia Tech outfielder has starred for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, put together his second straight first-team All-ACC season and helped lead the Hokies to their first ever Super Regionals appearance. It’s all set to culminate Sunday when Cross is expected to be taken in the first round of the MLB Draft.

While that’s a lot for anyone to pack into a 12-month span, Cross has embraced the grind that comes with being a draft prospect. Rarely one to ever let a moment get too big, he spent the last year focused on enjoying what was likely his final season before going pro.

“Those are some of my best friends,” Cross said of his Virginia Tech teammates during a Zoom interview. “Just trying to do everything you can to have fun and enjoy it because unless you make it to the big leagues, that might be the last team that’s team-oriented. In the minor leagues, you still want to win, but it’s more individual.”

Few players to have come out of the Virginia Tech baseball program have had a better chance of reaching the majors. MLB Pipeline ranked Cross as the 10th overall prospect in the 2022 draft class, putting him within range of surpassing former Orioles draftee Johnny Oates (No. 10, 1967) for the highest player selected in school history.

Yet anyone who knows the 21-year-old understands those aren’t the kind of thoughts on his mind. Cross has been tagged in posts on social media with mock drafts that have him landing all over the place, but he tries not to put too much stock into them. If he sets the new Hokie record, he hopes one of his teammates breaks it next year.

No matter what happens, he’s not going to get too worked up about it.

 

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Cross grew up in Bristol, Tennessee, as the coach’s son, and he loved it. His passion for baseball was first instilled into him by his dad, Adam. The elder Cross played shortstop and second base at East Tennessee State before three seasons in the minor leagues, two in the Atlanta Braves’ organization and one with the San Diego Padres.

Adam Cross became a professional scout and coach, but he also started a Christian-based travel baseball organization and enrolled Gavin in it. It was with the Crusaders where Cross learned not to worry too much about the wins and losses, at least while he was still a kid falling in love with the game.

“He was honestly never really about the wins and losses,” Cross said of his father. “We were taught how to play the game the right way, how to talk to umpires, how to obviously develop and win but he always said if we developed and practiced the right way, the wins and losses will come. But we’re here to have fun and showcase ourselves.”

He carried that mentality into high school, where the left-handed hitter emerged as one of the top prep players in Tennessee.

Cross thought he might have a chance at getting drafted out of high school before injuries struck. At the time both a pitcher and hitter, he injured his elbow as a sophomore, came back strong his junior year then suffered a stress fracture in his back the following summer.

That junior season saw him set the Tennessee state record for most stolen bases in a season with 41, and the college offers started to roll in. It all came to a halt after his back injury, however, taking the MLB Draft off the table and narrowing down his college options. One school that never wavered in its interest was Virginia Tech, and that stood out to him.

“I wasn’t very highly recruited but Virginia Tech stuck with me and gave me a chance,” Cross said. “They didn’t change anything they were staying to me. They still believed in me and trusted me and I’ll always respect that out of Coach [Kurt] Elbin and Coach [John] Szefc.”

 

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Cross’s profile checks all the boxes for a potential top-10 pick. He plays a premium defensive position well, hits for power and average, runs the bases well and carries a strong arm. Baseball America rates his best attributes as his power (giving him a 60 on the 20-80 scale) and his arm (60), but he grades out well across the board.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Cross made the full-time switch to center field last season after playing in right as a sophomore. He recorded just one error the entire year and while he may profile better as a corner outfielder or first baseman, he hopes to stay at center field long term.

For Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc, though, the one skill that stands out the most to him is Cross’s hand-eye coordination.

“He’s able to put his barrel on the ball more than most hitters would,” Szefc said. “If you look at the amount of hard-hit balls he’ll have with two strikes, he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes. He’s OK going deep into the count, and I think his hand-eye allows him to also demonstrate a really good feel for the strike zone, sometimes where I think he has a better feel for it than the guy calling balls and strikes behind him.”

That plate discipline was a bit of a question mark heading into 2022, but he cut down his strikeout rate from 20.5% as a sophomore to 14.6% this past season. His walk rate also jumped by 3.5%, showing progress in his approach even as the pressure went up for him to keep the Hokies in the running for a trip to the College World Series.

Even so, the pressure was never a problem for Cross. His teammates were stunned at how calm he managed to be even in the most crucial of moments.

“I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen his heart rate get above 70, probably,” infielder Tanner Schobel said. “He’s always super relaxed, super calm. Even in the Super Regional, coming down to the wire pretty much he wasn’t getting all nervous, he wasn’t a jerk at all. It’s super easy for someone to be like, ‘This is my last game at Virginia Tech, oh my gosh. This is crazy.’ But he always just stayed super chill, super cool.”

That also applied to his stint with USA Baseball last summer, when he led a group that included fellow top draft prospects including Brooks Lee of Cal Poly and LSU’s Jacob Berry with a .455 batting average and four home runs in 11 games.

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As toolsy as Cross is, he complements that skill set with a high baseball IQ. He arrived in Blacksburg with a strong understanding of the game, making smart decisions in the moment and limiting so-called rookie mistakes.

“He’s very instinctive,” Szefc said. “I think you can see that with him how he runs the bases. He doesn’t appear to be a guy that would just knock a stopwatch out but if you watch him go first to third or watch him go home to second on a double, you’re like, ‘Oh, that guy runs a little better than I thought he did.’

“I think his instinct is very advanced compared to just about anybody I’ve had over the years, maybe better than most guys — if not all.”

That’s high praise coming from Szefc, who has coached more than 100 players that have gone on to play professional baseball. And his teammates agree. When infielder Nick Biddison hit in the batting cage, Cross would sometimes point out subtle cues to him about his own swing that he hadn’t noticed. He’d make the fix, and suddenly his swing felt a lot better.

“The kid just knew baseball, and especially the way he vocalized it and how he talked about it,” Biddison said. “You could just tell that he actually had a deep knowledge in the game of baseball, that he wasn’t just a tall Tennessee kid who swings a bat pretty hard.”

It wasn’t just Biddison who he was helping, either. Freshmen often came to Cross for advice and he made an effort to try and help out his teammates whenever he could.

“On the field during practice, he was always one of the kids who if he sees something he wants to help out,” Biddison said. “He would be the kid who never really needed to be asked to do it, but he would always have a lookout for it and he wanted to help everybody out.”