A pitcher's worst nightmare
Ryan Roberts hit everything in sight during his record setting senior season
Third baseman Ryan Roberts hoped his final baseball season at UTA would be a big hit.
One big hit after another.
But he never expected to rewrite the school record book, earn a spot on every All-America team in sight and, by the end of the summer, have professional pitchers gasping for air.
“I just wanted to improve my numbers from the year before,” he said. And that he did.
His batting average jumped 80 points to .422, to go along with career highs in home runs (16) and RBIs (69). He fell two RBIs short of becoming the second player to lead the Southland Conference in all three major offensive categories.
He set school records in hits, extra-base hits, slugging percentage, on-base average, runs scored, total bases and RBIs. His 97 hits tied the all-time conference mark.
“It was one of the best offensive seasons in school history,” Mavericks coach Jeff Curtis said. “It was the best in some categories. It was very special.”
When the season was done, national coaches and media voters selected Roberts to three All- America teams and one all-region team. Then the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in the 18th round of the Major League Baseball first-year players draft.
That made him a steal, Curtis said. “He was definitely a good bargain. I think he’s showing that.”
In his first 150 professional at-bats, Roberts hit .302 with nine extra-base hits and 20 RBIs for the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays. He scored 37 runs in 40 games and averaged more than four at-bats between strikeouts, a good ratio for a young power hitter.
The pitchers he’s facing now are better than the ones he saw in college. They throw harder and have better control.
It just doesn’t make much difference to him. “I’m doing the same thing I’ve always done,” he said. “The main thing is to hit the ball from gap to gap and not pull the ball too much. … That’s what I try to do all the time anyway.”
Roberts wasn’t considered a top prospect entering his senior season. Although he had an all-conference junior year, he didn’t hit with enough power to suit some scouts, and he was already 22. Not even UTA coaches realized what he could do.
“We knew he would be able to hit, but nobody really thought he’d put up tremendous numbers,” Curtis said. “Is he the kind of guy who’s a prospect? Maybe nobody would have said that at the beginning of the year. But I think now he’s proving that he is just that. The guy really likes to play baseball; that’s one thing about him. He loved coming to the ballpark every day, even if it was just to practice.”
Now that he’s getting paid to play, Roberts is beside himself.
“Playing pro ball has been a lot of fun—our stadium and the minor league program,” he said. “I had the picture that minor league ball is horrible. I had a worse picture than what I got. You play in little towns, but it’s not a big deal. It’s a lot of what I saw in college.
“The best part is just getting to play every day and not worrying about school. I want to play ball as long as I can.”
A good career choice.
“He’s a true baseball hitter,” Curtis said. “He’s just a true hitter.”
– Danny Woodward