2017 IBI Top 75 Prospects: #62 Will Roberts

The 2017 prospect countdown continues with a familiar face who is entering his seventh season in the Indians system, but who is working his way back from a significant injury...

62. Will Roberts – Right-handed Pitcher

Born: 08/17/1990 – Height: 6’5” – 220 – Bats: Left – Throws: Right

Facts & Info: Roberts was selected in the 5th round of the 2011 Draft out of the University of Virginia, and signed for $150,000.  On March 29, 2011 he threw a perfect game for Virginia, which at the time was the eighth nine-inning perfect game in NCAA history since 1957.

Stuff: Roberts has been a remarkably consistent pitcher the past few years and is an advanced arm who throws lots of strikes, mixes in a deep assortment of pitches and shows some arm strength. His slightly above average four-seam fastball sits at 90-93 MPH and has been up to as high as 95 MPH. His fastball lacks much movement and he doesn’t get a lot of swing and miss with it, but he does have outstanding control of it and can spot it to both sides of the plate and consistently locate to the bottom of the zone. To add to the effectiveness of his four-seamer, the Indians had him add a two-seam fastball to his arsenal in 2015 so he could work his fastball in on the hands to righties and provide something that works away from lefties. His main secondary offering is a solid average slider that he commands well and shows a good feel for throwing with some good shape and movement to the outer edge of the zone. He has an average curveball that he has made some strides with and now has some decent shape to it. His changeup looks more like a split-changeup and is a potential average offering for him. He has experimented with the grip of it in order to try and create more depth, late movement, and life in the zone to generate more swing and miss.

Delivery & Intangibles: Roberts has the strong, athletic frame that allows for a lot of durability and the ability to haul big inning totals. He sets up on the first base side of the rubber and has a solid, repeatable delivery and really leverages the baseball on a good downward plane. With his long arms and legs he is able to create some incredible extension which helps play up the velocity of his fastball and the effectiveness of the rest of his arsenal. He is less about velocity and strikeouts, and more about pitching-to-contact, filling the zone up with strikes and using his intelligence and plus pitchability to outsmart hitters and generate early, weak contact. He is a very strong-willed and strong-minded competitor and maintains his composure even in the highest pressure situations. He is the consummate professional both on and off the field in the way he prepares for each outing, displays great work ethic, shows a high aptitude to make adjustments and a never ending will to improve. He’s also a very good teammate and is a student of the game in the way he watches and breaks down video and critiques his performances.

Focus: Roberts has yet to find that separator that will give him the bump in his overall stuff that puts him in line for a Major League opportunity. With the amount of contact he allows it leaves little room for error, so over the past few seasons the Indians have really worked to try and bring about an uptick in his secondary stuff. They spent a lot of time in recent seasons on his changeup to add more depth to it and even added a two-seamer to give lefties and righties a different look to his fastball. The big change last year was a transition to his delivery to shorten his arm action up a little bit to allow him to spin his breaking balls a little bit more efficiently. He put himself into a position to make that delivery change in spring training and brought it into the season where he showed some good results. Moving forward, he needs to continue to get more comfortable with the delivery alteration so he is more natural with it and less mechanical. The Indians would also like to see him work his fastball inside a little more to righties and not be so predictable in the zone by expanding the zone a little bit from time to time to maybe get some chase.

Future: Roberts actually got off to a good start at Triple-A Columbus last season with a 2.01 ERA in four April starts and a 3.96 ERA in six May starts, but then things went south after a shoulder issue cropped up and began bothering him (8.00 ERA in six June starts) before eventually landing on the disabled list and missing the rest of the season. Apparently, he came down with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome where inflammation was causing the blood to his arm to not flow the way it should, so he spent the rest of the season rehabbing from the issue and is expected to be back on the mound this spring. He has all the ingredients that teams like from a starting pitching prospect except he just lacks the stuff that teams believe will get outs consistently at the Major League level. He’s been an ordinary performer in the minors and just doesn’t have anything that distinguishes him, not to mention there are so many options ahead of him and he will turn 27 years old during this coming season. Knowing all of that, he profiles as an upper minors depth starter with a limited chance to be a fill in or back of the rotation starter in the big leagues. In order to get an opportunity and ultimately stick in the big leagues, it really comes down to finding that one secondary offering that allows him to get some swing and miss, which is why the Indians spent so much time on it last season. He will probably open the season in extended spring training to allow more time to recover from his shoulder injury and then could find his way to Double-A Akron or Triple-A Columbus later in the year.

Ranking History: #43 (2016), #33 (2015), #50 (2014), #92 (2013), #48 (2012)

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