Name: Tanner Roark
DOB: October 5, 1986
Acquired: 2008 Amateur Draft, 25th round
In two professional seasons, Tanner Roark has pitched with the rookie-level AZL Rangers, High-A Bakersfield, and Double-A Frsico. He has also bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen at all three stops. While there has been a lot of moving around over those two seasons, Roark has had one constant–steady, outstanding production.
The 23-year-old righty was acquired as the Rangers' 25th-round selection in the 2008 MLB Draft, but he isn't a typical 25th rounder.
Roark was a standout early in his career at the University of Illinois, where he combined for a 12-2 record while working as a starting pitcher during his freshman and sophomore seasons. Unfortunately, academic troubles prematurely forced Roark off the team and out of the school.
Still looking to prepare for the 2008 draft, Roark signed a free agent contract with the Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League. Although Roark didn't have much success [he allowed 23 earned runs on 23 hits in 9.2 innings], the experience was valuable.
Even with the independent league struggles, the Rangers had seen enough of Roark to take a flier on him in the 25th round. They drafted him, signed him, and sent him to the bullpen at the rookie-level Arizona League.
Despite his issues with the Miners just a couple months prior, Roark had very little trouble dispatching of professional hitters in the Rangers' system. The prospect yielded just one earned run in 12.1 AZL innings before earning a promotion to High-A Bakersfield.
With the Blaze, Roark logged 30 innings [10 relief appearances, 2 starts] and posted a 3.60 earned-run average while walking just 13 and fanning 37.
Roark began his first full season back at Bakersfield, where he was nothing short of dominant. He posted a 10-0 record with a 2.70 ERA. In 86.2 innings, he yielded just 68 hits, walked 27, and struck out 91.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound pitcher was especially good after joining the starting rotation late in the year. Roark logged at least six innings in each of his last six starts, and he capped off his regular season with a seven-scoreless-inning, 11-strikeout performance.
Roark became one of the California League's most dominant starters after a late-season mechanical change that also led to a late-season spike in velocity.
"Danny Clark and Dave Chavarria told me that I bring my arms away from my body, and that causes me to throw across my body," said Roark. "I've been working on trying to stay straight and keep my head over the rubber and stuff."
Though Roark spent most of the 2009 season in the California League, he also got a brief taste of the Double-A Texas League. In five appearances (four starts) at Frisco, Roark went 1-1 with a 4.58 ERA.
The experience was rather brief, at 17.2 innings, but he believes he was able to hold his own.
"It has given me a lot of confidence," Roark said late last season. "I know I can pitch at the next level, so I keep that in my head all the time. I know I can get back up there. I've just got to keep working hard."
Roark figures to make the full-time jump to Frisco in 2010, although his role is certainly up in the air. The Illinois native should have an opportunity to compete for a starting spot in Spring Training, but he may continue to move between roles.
"I pretty much just go out there in whatever role they have me in," he said. "I just go out there and do what I can–do what I've always done and pitch."
Also See: Sizing up the right-handed starters (December 16, 2009)
Roark developing two-seam fastball (August 17, 2009)
Roark ready for first full season (March 22, 2009)
Repertoire: Fastball, Slider, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Roark's success as a pro has come largely due to his outstanding fastball. The right-hander throws his four-seamer anywhere between 88-93 mph, although a late-season mechanical change had him more consistently in the 90-93 mph range. Most importantly, Roark commands his fastball extremely well to both sides of the plate, allowing him to limit Cal League hitters to a .217 average last summer. He also showed progress in working on a two-seam fastball last season. Roark mostly used the two-seamer as a get-me-over pitch while behind in counts, but it could develop into more as he gets more experience with it.
Other Pitches: Once he became a full-time member of Bakersfield's rotation last season, Roark added an upper-70s slider to give him four pitches. When Roark initially joined the Rangers' system in 2008, he scrapped the slider in favor of the low-70s curveball, but he began throwing both late last year. Roark's slider appears to be a more promising pitch at the upper levels, but he currently has better command of his curveball. While he can locate the curve, it tends to get a bit loopy at times and he must tighten it up. Roark is also working with a changeup, which he threw much more often as a starting pitcher late in the season.
Projection: The 23-year-old was a starting pitcher for Bakersfield down the stretch, and he filled in as a spot-starter during his time with Double-A Frisco. Roark is a versatile pitcher, and he has had success up the ladder thus far, regardless of his role on the pitching staff. Still, he most likely profiles as a reliever down the line unless he can develop three solid pitches. Roark is a bit difficult to project not only because he has bounced around between roles, but also because his stuff is a bit of a mystery. The prospect excels with phenomenal fastball command, but his offspeed stuff must get more consistent for him to sustain the success at the upper levels. Overall, Roark appears to profile as a middle-to-long reliever in the Majors that can contribute a spot-start here and there.
2010 Outlook: Roark has been nothing short of dominant in 116.2 total innings with Bakersfield over the 2008 and 2009 seasons. He has nothing left to prove in the California League. That, plus the fact that he held his own during a short Double-A stint last season, should mean that he'll break camp with the Frisco RoughRiders. The Frisco rotation could be crowded next season–although things have a way of working themselves out–and that could push him to the bullpen. In 2010, Roark figures to play a similar role to his first two professional seasons, which is working as both a starter and reliever, depending on what his team needs.
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