For Griffin Roberts, Interest in His Ability No Longer an Issue

By Wareham Gatemen | Jun 26, 2017
Photo by: Claudia Chakamian

As Wake Forest’s collegiate season came to a close in the beginning of June, Demon Deacons’ right-handed pitcher Griffin Roberts found himself in a unique situation.

 

A draft eligible sophomore, Roberts had the opportunity of achieving the once seemingly unattainable goal of playing professional baseball.

 

Possessing a sinking fastball that hovers around between 91 and 95 miles per hour as well a sharp breaking ball the right-hander has the makings of a dominant closer.

 

The Deacons’ reliever, however, elected to pass on the 2017 Major League Baseball draft and now the possibility of Roberts becoming a front of the rotation starter has Major League Baseball teams swooning at acquiring the Gatemen pitcher in the spring of 2018.

 

 

Making a Choice: In the precursor to his senior year in high school, Griffin Roberts poured over his options.

 

A late bloomer of sorts, Roberts received minimal interest from colleges through his first three years at James River High School in Midlothian, Virginia.

 

He had yet to develop as a pitcher lacking the jump in velocity that most top-level amateur players experience early in their high school career. While he had proven to be an offensive threat of sorts, Roberts had neither the body type nor the personal interest in pursuing a baseball career on that side of the diamond.

 

So, as the summer turned to fall in 2015, Roberts set his sights on having a collegiate life that consisted solely of academics.

 

Prior to making such a decision though, Roberts elected to give a potential future in baseball one last go.

 

He put on weight, added a couple of miles per hour to his fastball, and took a trip to participate in camps at Wake Forest, VMI, and the University of North Carolina.

 

Roberts said the Deacons were the first to inquire about the possibility of him joining their roster for the 2016 season.

 

“I pitched one inning down at Wake Forest and luckily I pitched really well,” said Roberts. “That day, Coach (Tom) Walter offered me a spot. They had been following me a little bit but they were waiting for that jump in velocity. For me that did not happen until late.”

 

What drew Walter to Roberts on top of his plus artillery was his demeanor. Someone who always feels as though he is control, Roberts exhibits a consistent aura of confidence that cannot be described as anything less than a “closer’s mentality.”

 

There was never a question in his mind or Walter’s that he belonged at Wake Forest.

 

“Griff was a great fit at Wake because he has complete confidence in himself and his ability,” said Walter. “To compete at this level you have to truly deep down in the depths of your soul believe you belong.”

 

The right-hander accepted the opportunity to be preferred walk on.

 

A booming senior varsity season saw Roberts go 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA. Using an overpowering four-seam fastball, he struck out 76 hitters in 50.2 innings while allowing a mere 33 hits.

 

Roberts headed to Wake Forest with the Demon Deacon’s intention of having him be a shutdown reliever.

 

Freshman year certainly brought with it a seismic adjustment.

 

Control problems emerged, and with the dynamic collection of pitches that Roberts brought to the table also came a question of a command.

 

Additionally no longer was one fastball that sat around 94 miles per hour sufficient enough to have consistent success in the stalwart Atlantic Coast Conference.

 

At one point during his initial collegiate season, Roberts went through a period of seven outings where was unable to record an out.

 

It was time for the Virginia native to reinvent himself.

 

 

Starting Over: Over the course of the remainder of his freshman season, Roberts was relegated to the bullpen where he threw two times a week.

 

His mechanics were simplified, his motion refined, and his mind settled.

 

The key turning point, however, came in the summer prior to Roberts’ sophomore season.

 

A trip to Amsterdam, New York was in store to play summer baseball for the Mohawks of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League.

 

While there, Roberts improved his confidence on the mound and was able to develop a rhythm in which he threw a trio of pitches for strikes.

 

Over 35 innings, Roberts struck out 41 hitters and walked just 15. The three walks per nine innings were a significant improvement from 22 in 15.2 innings from his freshman season just months earlier.

 

“I was able to pitch well as a starter and developed a bit of confidence facing off against other collegiate hitters,” said Roberts.

 

The brief trip to New York paid dividends for when Roberts returned for his sophomore year.

 

All of a sudden the pieces that once seemed to belong to an island of misfit toys began to come perfectly together to form one of the most lethal relievers in the country.

 

 

Disappearing Act Quickly, Roberts no longer became known for his fastball that blew the opposing hitter away, but rather for his whipping breaking ball.

 

For the spectator at home, the pitch can be confused to what one throws with a whiffle ball.

 

Seemingly swooping in as if it were impacted by a gust of wind, Roberts’ slider starts at a right-handed hitters backside, only to snap back to split the plate into two.

 

The result – either leaving the hitter’s knees locked into two or receiving a swing and a miss.

 

Should Roberts’ desire to throw his breaking pitch on the outer third of the plate, the pitch will often begin on a trajectory that appears to be down the middle only to quickly dart outside eliciting an aimless whiff.

 

Walter highlighted how Roberts’ high profile breaking ball has always made him an attractive option on the mound.

 

“Once we saw him we immediately knew we wanted him in the program,” praised Walter. “He showed good projection and a plus breaking ball.”

 

The combination of his slider combined with his sinking fastball led to an eyebrow raising sophomore campaign.

 

While helping to spearhead Wake Forest to a Super Regional appearance, Roberts became nearly unhittable out of the Demon Deacons’ bullpen.

 

Over 52.1 innings Roberts struck out 83 opposing hitters. His walks per nine innings dropped by nearly a full seven walks. Opposing hitters, meanwhile, when they saw a potential pitch to hit batted a feeble .160 for the season as he compiled eight saves.

 

In Wake Forest’s 4-3 extra inning win over West Virginia in the NCAA Regionals, Roberts was the pitcher of record grabbing the victory. He went 1.2 innings scattering a single and striking out four.

 

Roberts made a pair of appearances in the Super Regionals against Florida, recording nine outs five of which came via strikeout.

 

Regardless, the six-feet three-inch 205-pound reliever had already made his case. If he wanted to pursue a career as a professional baseball player as a middle reliever he could go and do just that.

 

Roberts, however, has come to play for the Wareham Gatemen in the summer of 2017 with something far greater in mind.

 

 

Stretched to the Top:

Over the course of his week on the Cape League, Roberts has already begun working towards a single goal – establishing himself as Wake Forest’s Friday night starter in 2018.

 

With the help of Gatemen pitching coach Jim Lawler, Roberts is looking to improve on his changeup, which he hopes he can use as an additional weapon against left-handed hitters.

 

Lawler has placed some restrictions on Roberts to help develop his repertoire.

 

In his first outing for the Gatemen back on June 20th, Roberts pitched an inning of relief in which he was not permitted to throw a single breaking ball. Rather he was to rely solely on his fastball and slowly improving changeup to get through the inning.

 

It was the first time in nearly four years that Roberts had gone an entire inning without showcasing his slider.

 

“That was a bit different,” recalled Roberts. “Usually my breaking ball is the pitch that I rely on to get opposing hitters out. It’s a pitch I can throw in any count so that was a real learning experience for me.”

 

Four days later, Roberts made his first start of the summer. A gradual stretching out of his arm that is expected to continue throughout the coming weeks, Roberts went four innings scattering five hits while allowing just one run. He fired home 58 pitches, near his season high from back at school.

 

His slider drew the expected amazement from those in attendance who were seeing it for the first time, and his sinking fastball induced a 6-4-3 double play to get him out of trouble.

 

But it was the strides made with that third pitch – his changeup – that Lawler said are the key to turning Roberts into one of the top starters in the country come next spring.

 

“It’s really good for (Roberts) because when he came in as just a closer he was focused on throwing only two pitches,” said Lawler. “Now, we try and stretch him out, and we add in that third pitch in a changeup. Overall he did a pretty good job of mixing that in there (against Orleans).”

 

Even though Roberts started back in high school he has yet to make one for the Deacon’s over his first two years in school.

 

Still, Walter has more than his fair share expectations for next season.

 

“I think he is going to by a very dynamic and dominant starter.   We have seen him throw 55 pitches back-to-back days and hold his velocity and stuff for all 110 pitches.   There is no reason to believe he won't do this in one outing as a starter.

 

Once on the verge of being turned away completely, the Wake Forest starter is on his way to being at the top of everyone’s board.

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