Roberts a Ray of Light in Thunderstorm Shortened Game in Erie

It was night built for a team named the RubberDucks last evening in Erie. Akron scored in each inning between the second and the fifth to jump out to a 9-1 lead in the middle of the fourth before thunderstorms postponed the completion of the game.

Akron and Erie will resume the contest this afternoon before playing their regularly scheduled contest this evening. While it looks like Akron should coast to an easy win in the postponed game from last night, one person who won’t receive the credit they deserve will be Will Roberts.

After a tough start to the season, Roberts pitched very well Monday evening. The 24-year old right-hander tossed four innings, allowing just one run on five hits. He did not allow a walk and struck out four. Roberts’ only mistake was a solo home run by Wade Gaynor of the Seawolves in the bottom of the second inning. Roberts tossed 56 pitches, throwing 40 for strikes. The work is enough that it will shut Roberts down until his next scheduled start later this week and he will not receive credit for the win in last night’s weather-induced game.

Roberts was drafted in the fifth round of the 2011 First Year Player Draft, and after playing the end of that season at Short Season-A Mahoning Valley, he opened 2012 at High-A Carolina. Having played three years of college baseball at the University of Virginia, this jump is not uncommon. However Roberts, the high draft pick, has seen his development slow since that initial jump in the system.

In 2013, he split time pitching between Carolina and Double-A Akron, compiling a 8-12 record, with a 4.77 ERA. Last season Roberts spent his entire year at Akron, but went just 12-12 with 4.07 ERA in 27 starts. Still just 24-years old, Roberts is not beginning his third season with Akron. Soon, he needs to develop and progress to the next level. A strong first half of the season could result in a mid-season promotion to Triple-A Columbus. Roberts did see limited action with the Indians in spring training exhibition games, so the hope is that he can still provide big league innings in the next season or two.

“He’s a guy that’s just working his tail off every day, every week, every month, every year and he’s getting better,” RubberDucks manager Dave Wallace told DTTWLN’s Danny Madden earlier in the season. “From what I’ve watched so far, and in spring training, he’s taken on a leadership role with some of the pitchers.”

So far this season, Roberts has not seen the results he would like. He’s 2-1, but with a 5.50 ERA, allowing just nine walks and 20 strikeouts. Roberts does not have overpowering stuff or a plus-fastball and is forced to pitch to contact. This season that contact has resulted in 42 hits in just 37 innings. His four strikeouts last night equaled a season-high, tied with three other contests. Roberts improvements are an attempt to get more strikeouts and have a little more control of the game himself.

“He’s got a changeup that really developed at the end of last year,” Wallace said. “He’s added that as a weapon that’s really going to help him. He’s a guy that’s just working his tail off every day, every week, every month, every year and he’s getting better. He’s got that frame, and his pitch ability and the strikeouts are gonna happen.”

Roberts must continue that development and growth both in the short term and long term. The next couple months are key to his progression as the Indians like to promote minor league players in mid to late June for the second half of the season. With the Indians pitching staff already thing, Columbus may be ready to welcome Roberts if he earns a promotion. Long term, Roberts needs to progress because 24-years old is young, but can quickly turn to 26 or 27-years old and the prospect label quickly disappears.

But despite the dark skies and rain drops last night in Erie, Roberts shined quite brightly. Albeit, a short outing, it was probably his best of the first six weeks of this season. He’ll need some more like it to help the RubberDucks improve upon their 13-17 record. They trail the Western Division leading Altoona Curve by 5.5 games.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer

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