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Virginia Tech MLB draft prospect Gavin Cross manages to stay relaxed

In his own words, Gavin Cross is “a pretty cold, low-key guy from Tennessee.”

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

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

“They’re some of my best friends,” Cross said of his Virginia Tech teammates during a Zoom interview. “I just try to do whatever you can to have fun and enjoy it because unless you make it to the major leagues this might be the last team to be team oriented. In the minor leagues, you still want to win, but it’s more individual.

Few players from Virginia Tech’s 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 reach of surpassing former Orioles rookie Johnny Oates (No. 10, 1967) for the highest player draft pick in league history. ‘school.

Still, anyone who knows the 21-year-old understands those aren’t the kinds of thoughts he has in mind. Cross has been tagged in social media posts with fictional drafts that have him landing all over the place, but he tries not to put too much emphasis on it. If he sets Hokie’s new record, he hopes one of his teammates will beat it next year.

No matter what happens, he’s not going to get too upset 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 in him by his father, Adam. The elder Cross played shortstop and second base at East Tennessee State before three minor league seasons, two with the Atlanta Braves and one with the San Diego Padres.

Adam Cross became a professional scout and coach, but he also started a Christian travel baseball organization and enrolled Gavin there. It was with the Crusaders that Cross learned not to care too much about wins and losses, at least while he was still a kid who fell in love with the game.

“Honestly, he never really talked about wins and losses,” Cross said of his father. “We were taught to play the game the right way, to talk to the refs, to develop and win obviously, but he always said if we developed and practiced the right way, wins and losses would come. But we’re here to have fun and show off.

He carried that mentality through high school, where the left-handed hitter became one of Tennessee’s top prep players.

Cross thought he might have a chance to be pulled out of high school before injuries occur. A pitcher and hitter at the time, he injured his elbow in sophomore year, came back strong from his freshman year, and 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 varsity offers started rolling in. It all came to a halt after his back injury, however, taking the MLB draft off the table and narrowing his college options. One school that never wavered in his interest was Virginia Tech, and it stuck with him.

“I wasn’t recruited very well, but Virginia Tech stuck with me and gave me a chance,” Cross said. “They didn’t change anything, they stayed for me. They always believed in me and trusted me and I will always respect that outside 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, handles the bases well, and carries a strong arm. Baseball America rates his best attributes like his power (giving him a 60 on the 20-80 scale) and his arm (60), but he ranks well across the board.

Listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, Cross moved to center field full-time last season after playing as a sophomore. He’s had just one error all year and while he may be better off as a corner fielder or first baseman, he hopes to stay in center field long term.

For Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc, however, the skill that stands out the most for him is Cross’ hand-eye coordination.

“He’s able to put his barrel on the ball more than most hitters,” Szefc said. “If you look at how many hard-hit balls he’ll have with two strikes, he’s not afraid to hit with two strikes. He’s doing well in the count, and I think his hand eye also allows him to demonstrate a really good feel for the strike zone, sometimes where I think he has better feel than the guy who calls the balls and hits behind him.”

That plate discipline was a bit of a question mark heading into 2022, but he reduced his strikeout rate from 20.5% as a sophomore to 14.6% last season. His walk rate also jumped 3.5%, showing progress in his approach even as pressure mounted for him to keep the Hokies in contention for a trip to the College World Series.

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

“Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen his heart rate go over 70, probably,” infielder Tanner Schobel said. “He’s always super relaxed, super calm. Even in the Super Regional, going down the wire roughly, he didn’t get 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. It’s crazy.’ But he always remained super cool, super cool.

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

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As well-equipped as Cross is, he complements that skill set with a high baseball IQ. He arrived at Blacksburg with a solid 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 seem like a guy who would just knock off a clock, but if you watch him go from first to third or watch him go home second on a double, you’re like, ‘Oh, this guy runs a little better than I thought.

“I think his instincts are very advanced compared to almost any I’ve had over the years, maybe better than most, if not all guys.”

That’s high praise from Szefc, who coached over 100 players who went on to play professional baseball. And his teammates agree. When infielder Nick Biddison was hitting into the batting cage, Cross would sometimes point out subtle cues to him about his own swing that he hadn’t noticed. He was doing the fix, and suddenly his swing felt much better.

“The kid just knew baseball, and especially the way he vocalized it and talked about it,” Biddison said. “You could just say that he actually had a deep knowledge of the game of baseball, that he wasn’t just a big kid from Tennessee swinging a bat pretty hard.”

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

“On the pitch in training, he’s always been one of the kids who, if he sees something, 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 be on the lookout and he wanted to help everyone.”