Bright Futures: #10 – Nate Roberts
My “Bright Futures” article will be part of a ten part series which chronologically ranks the top 10 prospects in the Minnesota Twins system through my eyes. After much research involving stat comparisons, player projections, individual make up, and success thus far, I compiled this list which features the best of the best in the Twins organization with the highest potential for making a difference on the Major League roster at some point in their careers.
Apr 9, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: A baseball from batting practice lays on the field before a game between the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
Number 10 – Nate Roberts LF (Bats L/Throws R)
When originally brain-storming my Top 10 list of Twins prospects, Nate Roberts had never been a legitimate contender. A player who was considered to be old (23) for the Midwest League, he has had to endure a multitude of injuries throughout his career which have kept him in the lower levels of the minors. Moving up through the system is next to impossible regardless of how good someone is playing if the sample size (games played) is too low. Players like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Ken Griffey Jr., and Stephen Strasburg had more than enough talent to make the jump to the majors quickly, but they are exceptions to the rule. Young talent, like Roberts, is littered throughout the low-professional ranks of baseball and those players need games and consistency to move up through the system.
At first, nothing too special made you have to notice Roberts until the 2012 Arizona Fall League. Roberts is playing with fellow Twin prospect, Kyle Gibson, for the Peoria Javelinas in the Arizona Fall League (AFL) and is making the league look like a personal game of backyard baseball. Throughout the first 30 games of the season, Roberts has played in 17 of them and leads all AFLers in every “slash” category with a .474/.592/.667 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage). What is impressive is that he is leading a league which is known for being very hitter-dominated throughout it’s 20 year history.
Some would suggest Roberts’ numbers in the AFL this year are a fluke – I sure did – but after looking up his numbers causing him to be drafted in the 5th round of the 2010 MLB Draft, his AFL season is no fluke. In his junior year at High Point University, Roberts posted a national leading .573 on-base percentage. With 87 hits, 53 walks, and 25 times being hit by a pitch, Roberts was on-base constantly and his 19 home runs proved he had a little pop in his bat as well.
The Twins drafted him in the 5th round in 2010 where he played his first pro-ball for the Elizabethton Twins (Rookie-league). With an impressive slash-line of .336/.444/.547 in 35 games, Roberts showed a glimpse of what he was capable of doing with a bat in his hands.
The next two seasons saw Roberts, once again, speaking with his bat for the Beloit Snappers (Low-A ball). Despite being riddled with nagging injuries through those seasons, he still put up very good numbers of .302/.443./.446 in 2011 and .299/.433/.427 in 2012. Roberts’ slugging percentage has gone down every season since beginning in Elizabethton, but that is to be expected with the natural progression for pitchers as they mature. He is an on-base machine that limits strikeouts, with 93 walks versus 114 strikeouts in his young, professional career. Most of those strikeouts came in his first season for Beloit (48), but he lowered that number considerably last season while playing in more games than the previous (37). His walk-to-strikeout ratio has remained consistent thus far during his AFL stint this season, accumulating 11 walks and only 6 strikeouts.
Roberts’ credentials are heavily geared towards offense, but he has a pretty decent glove out in left-field as well. He has committed only five fielding errors as a pro but in limited action. Regardless of his glove or arm, Roberts’ speed will be able to make up the difference and provide as an added boost covering Target Field’s wide-open outfield. Combine his speed with Ben Revere‘s and it would be very tough for opposing hitters to get balls into the gap.
Projection: Nate Roberts has been riddled with injuries and questions will arise if he can stay healthy for an entire season of professional ball. If he can, he will be able to answer those questions and hopefully prove that he is a top of the order kind of guy. Roberts has some good speed (41 stolen bases in three injury-shortened seasons) but not like that of a lead-off type hitter. Because he can control the bat extremely well and make solid contact, he projects out to be an excellent no. 2 hitter in the batting order as he continues on as a pro. My prediction is that this season will undoubtedly be his most important as a pro. With good, consistent numbers and games played, I can see Roberts starting in High-A Ft. Myers, based on his AFL performance this season and age, then make the jump to Double-A by the end of the year. Because he is a corner outfielder, however, he will need to develop more power than he has shown. His smooth, left-handed swing should help him add power with the proper training and coaching. If all goes well and he can stay healthy, expect to see Roberts, and his impressive mustache, making a case to be a September call-up in the 2014 or 2015 seasons.