Live From the AFL: Ryan Roberts

They say a baseball player's memory has to be short. If you're a pitcher you can't be thinking about the guy you just pitched to, if you're at the plate you can't be thinking about the last at bat, and if you're in the field you can't be worried about the last play. For Blue Jays infielder Ryan Roberts that means as far as he's concerned he's been a hot hitting second baseman with some pop his entire career.

Which is not to say Ryan Roberts has actually been a hot hitting second baseman his entire career. Taken by the Blue Jays in the 18th round of the 2003 draft out of the University of Texas at Arlington the Blue Jays liked his make up. Scrappy, hard nosed, one of those guys who makes hustle plays, puts pressure on the defense, and takes advantage of mistakes, Roberts was a third baseman coming out of college, and remained at the hot corner for most of the first two years of his pro career.

"I've just really started at second base, I played there some in 2004, but I'm pretty comfortable now that I've had a full year at the position," Roberts says.

He takes extra balls at second, fungos and batting practice grounders. While many of he infielders take a few and then start messing around, Roberts fields every single ball like it could clinch a playoff spot. He's been working on the mechanics of turning the double play, setting his feet early, spinning and rotating to get the throw to second. That's not 'why' he's in the Arizona Fall League, it's just something he's working on.

The 'why' is his bat, one which exploded this past season between Hi-A and Double-A. In 2004 at Lo-A Charleston Roberts showed some of the pop that had the Blue Jays toying with the idea of leaving him at third, hitting 13 homers in just 226 at bats. He doesn't look like the prototypical third basemen, he's not the hulking 6'3" 240lb monster you'd expect, but there is pop in the bat.

"Nothing really 'clicked' this year," Roberts says of his '05, a year in which he jumped from Hi-A to Double-A and impressed at both levels. He started with nine dingers in 164 at bats in Hi-A, then after the promotion he hit 15 more in 338 at bats.

"I think the reason I had success was because I was consistent. I was making the right kind of swing. My coaches have told me I have all the tools, but it isn't like a light went on, this kind of thing doesn't all come at once."

Still, '04 was the season when the Blue Jays decided to move him around, some time at third, some at shortstop, and some at second base. Could that have helped him in the long run?

"I think it did help, because I wasn't thinking about the power as much," Roberts says, "the biggest thing I'm down here to work on is my swing--keeping it consistent--when I came out of college I was hitting a lot of home runs, and when you make the switch from aluminum to wood some of that power is gone."

It might seem obvious to someone who's never made the adjustment, but for an 'undersized' (Roberts goes 5'11" 190lbs) third baseman in pro ball, when the power goes the immediate reaction has got to be 'something's wrong.'

"The swing I've had the most success with, the one that I've been trying to stick with, is a soft, quick swing. When you're swinging with aluminum you don't have to catch the ball on the sweet spot, you can be a little off and it'll still go, and I had a 'metal bat swing' coming out of college. When you're swinging wood, you just immediately think you've got to swing harder, and that gets you in trouble. This past season I worked a lot on my swing, and I got it to where I had that short quick swing, which is a lot more effective, but I'm trying to be more consistent with that."

It's paying off. In 13 AFL games Roberts is hitting .321, and in the last week the power has started to come, he's hit three homers in his last six games. Watching Roberts in batting practice you can see the plan in action. He steps into the box and the right handed hitter peppers right field with line drives.

"I try to go the other way in batting practice with my first seven swings every time," Roberts says, "Just letting the ball get as deep in the hitting zone as I can before I swing. It helps keep me swinging the right way. Short, soft, quick. If I do that in batting practice I do it in the game, and then if I catch one right I know it'll go, it'll travel."

Watching Roberts you see the plan in action, and you see how strictly he plays this philosophy. A few days after he's interviewed he steps into the cage for BP and like clockwork the first four swings produce frozen ropes to right center field. The fifth is a rocket that dents the wall in left center. It's a double in any park, gone in a few, but Roberts is unhappy, shaking his head. He takes a second and collects himself before stepping back in the box. Refocused, the next seven swings are all headed back toward right field.

"Consistency is the key, if you don't try to put the same swing on the ball every time, you develop bad habits, even if you hit the ball well that one at bat, it's not good."

So much for Ryan Roberts' short memory.


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