Position: First Baseman
Roberson entered his third professional season as a bit of an enigma, having battled through injury in 2006 to post very uninspiring numbers. As a rookie in 2005, Roberson posted a solid .284/.332/.477 line for Oneonta, displaying a full range of skills. He has exploded this season at Lakeland, driving balls all around the Florida State League, pummeling unsuspecting pitchers along the way.
Prior to joining the Tigers as a 30th round selection in the 2005 draft, Ryan spent four successful seasons at George Washington University, becoming one of the elite first basemen in the Atlantic 10 Conference. Playing nearly full-time as a freshman, Roberson notched a .271/.331/.483 line, but couldn't maintain his success in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, posting a miserable .235 average and only one home run for Concord.
As a sophomore, Ryan turned it on, garnering All-Atlantic 10 honors while leading the conference in RBI (68) and ranking third in batting average (.383). For his efforts, he was also named to the A-10's All-Tournament team as well. Roberson played for Orleans of the Cape Cod League prior to his junior season at GW, but yet again he couldn't duplicate his success with a wood bat. As a junior, Ryan led the A-10 in at-bats and hits, while posting an overall line of .326/.387/.575. Ryan's senior season was far and away his most impressive; taking home conference and tournament honors while batting .423/.487/.753.
Roberson looks a lot like several other first base prospects throughout the system. He's a big, burly guy with tons of raw power potential – at least that's the long and short of it all. Offensively, Ryan can hit the long ball with the best of them, putting on impressive batting practice displays to all fields. He has made huge strides going the other way, as evidenced by a mammoth game winning home run down the right field line earlier this season. When he is able to keep his swing short, he generates tremendous bat speed and leverage, powering balls with ease. Ryan's pitch recognition is poor, as even mediocre breaking balls can give him fits. He's largely a mistake hitter at this time, and must become more adept at identifying those pitches he wants to attack. Throughout the last year, he has started to close up a hole that had developed on the inner third of the plate, but he can still be beat inside with good fastballs.
Through diligent work, Roberson's defense is improving. He has improved his footwork around the bag to the point that he is adequate at maneuvering himself on most plays. His hands are still a bit hard, but he has shown the ability to make most plays; even if they aren't pretty. His biggest struggle in the field is instincts and judgment calls during game action. He has immense trouble with balls to his right; judging when to range off the line for a groundball or let the second baseman get it, or even when to charge a bunt or dribbler, or allow the pitcher to make the easier play. These things come with experience, but they are critical and must come quickly for Ryan to continue progressing.
Ryan can get down on himself, affecting all facets of his game negatively. When his attitude is positive, you will most likely see the results in his day-to-day performance. Ryan is still very raw, but his potential is beginning to shine through. He has a ceiling that projects to a solid 25-30 homer guy at first base, but he'll be hard pressed to achieve that without strides in pitch recognition and strike zone judgment.
Performance Level Team AB AVG 2B HR RBI SO BB OBP% SLG% A+
Ryan missed nearly three months of the 2006 season after surgery on his wrist. The key indicator in a return to health after such an injury is the re-emergence of his power and bat speed. All indications from observers and his performance point to a complete recovery at this point, with no concerns moving forward.
With Jeff Larish firmly entrenched and trying to prove himself at Erie, Roberson is likely to spend every minute of the 2007 season with Lakeland. The consistent at-bats in a good environment will be a key part of Roberson's development this season. Because he is so raw, he needs all the at-bats he can get, and without anyone stealing trips to the plate from him at Lakeland, he'll get plenty of chances this year.
He's a guy that is going to need patience and time to develop into someone that can contribute at the higher levels; unfortunately, the Tigers are in a position where they are going to need help at first base sooner rather than later. It is unlikely Roberson is the answer at first, but his presence on the farm could push some of the high ceiling first base prospects (see Larish, Jeff and Strieby, Ryan) to play to their potential over the next couple of years, just to make sure they remain on the radar.
Mark Anderson covers the Tigers' minor league system and all of minor league baseball for TigsTown.com. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.