Scouting Yankees Prospect #43: Kyle Roller

The New York Yankees selected first baseman Kyle Roller in the eighth round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of East Carolina University. Long considered a 'sleeper' prospect because of his above average power potential, he has slowly and steadily become a better all-around ball player over the years and it culminated last year with a breakout season at the highest minor league levels.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Kyle Roller
Position: First Base
DOB: March 27, 1988
Height: 6'1"
Weight: 250
Bats: Left
Throws: Right

He hit a combined .300 with 26 home runs, 77 runs scored, and drew 58 walks between Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton last year, all of which were career highs for him.

"I think it went pretty good," Roller said of his 2014 campaign. "I'm my biggest critic and I'm never satisfied. I'm just trying to find a way to get better, to find a way to improve on some of my weaknesses, but overall I thought it was a pretty solid year. I'm just trying to get ready for this year and build off of that."

The progress over the years has been very steady indeed. Known more for his bat than his defense, while he believes both have gotten better it is his offensive progression in 2014 that stood out for him.

"My power numbers and contact," he listed as two areas that improved the most. "My average was up a lot last year and so were my power numbers. I'm just trying to find a way to get the sweet spot on the ball, use the whole field and not necessarily be just a pull-hitter, and take what the pitcher gives me, don't be too aggressive, not be afraid to take walks in certain situations, and I just think my whole approach last year was better at the plate."

Everyone who watched him at the lower levels knew he had some intriguing power potential and that it was just a mater of time before it began to materialize more in games. What has changed though has been his approach. No longer trying to pull everything in the name of hitting home runs, he has gotten back to using the whole field more in a hit-first mentality.

"The one bad thing about college [back then] is you got those aluminum bats and short porches," he reflected. "In high school my power was to left-center, it was 'oppo' and I could hit that pretty regularly. When you get that aluminum bat and short porches like at East Carolina you try to start turning a little bit and it kind of got me into a bad habit where all I wanted to do was [go for it].

"That approach wouldn't let me hit the outside pitch so last year I made the adjustment of going back to driving the balls the other way and that kind of opened up the whole field. If I was late I could hit it the other way and if I was early I could pull it. A lot of it was my mind set and my approach, just trying to drive the balls the other way."

He certainly did go to the opposite field with more regularity and his career-high average reflects it. But even though his hitting is trending in an overall upward trajectory lately, he says he there is still room for improvement.

"My biggest thing this [coming] year is I want to cut down on my strikeout rate," he said. "My whole career, especially in the minor leagues, my strikeouts have always been high. It's something I want to cut down on because I feel like I'm a good enough hitter where I can make the adjustments and make contact with two strikes, and that's something I really want to improve on."

The strikeouts have been a little high over the years, striking out more than 100 times per year in each of the last four seasons, including a career-high 146 strikeouts last season, but it's also a byproduct of a rather patient approach at the plate. Like most hitting prospects, he is trying to find that balance between being patient and being aggressive.

"I take pride in taking a walk. I'm not afraid to take them but I feel sometimes I'm too patient up there and get myself in bad counts which tends to lead me to striking out a lot. Trying to protect with two strikes I might expand [the zone] but talking to the hitting coaches a lot of times I'd get myself to 0-2 just like that because I wanted to make the pitcher work a little bit.

"I just found myself in bad counts. I feel the more aggressive I was the better I was. When I was getting lackadaisical though up there and being too patient and taking too good pitches to hit I'd then expand to hit pitches I really didn't want to hit."

He feels that is an aspect of his game this is getting better but yet still has room for improvement, just like his defensive game over at first base.

"I'm getting real comfortable," he said of first base. "When I first started out over there I was just a nervous wreck. I didn't really know how to play the position but I feel like I'm ten times better than when I came in [to the organization]. That's something I'm trying to do every year, just get better and better."

He has continued to get better in all phases of the game over the years and now Triple-A tested he is beginning to show the organization that this one-time 'sleeper' prospect may have what it takes to help contribute at the big league level sometime soon.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself that I could be that guy for them," he said confidently. "I kind of like being the 'sleeper' though. I like having people doubt me because it fuels my fire to go out there everyday and prove them wrong.

"I push myself everyday to be the best that I can be and do whatever I can to help a team win. I'm just trying to get better every single day, that's all I'm trying to do."

Soft spoken yet very confident, as steady as his game has developed, he believes he can do a whole lot better going forward and be one of these late-bloomers.

"I think I can get better. There's always areas to improve on. If I put half those balls in play that I strike out on my average should go up. Just little things, keeping my approach, trusting myself, trust my eyes, trust what I can hit, go out there everyday with a purpose and try to get better," he concluded.

Year

Team

AVG

AB

2B

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

SO

OBP

SLG

2014 Scranton .283 378 24 17 51 59 0 49 125 .378 .497
2014 Trenton .385 78 6 9 23 18 1 9 21 .456 .808
2013 Trenton .253 443 24 17 69 59 0 53 143 .347 .427
2012 Tampa .266 418 22 18 85 59 4 45 115 .357 .471
2011 Tampa .265 211 13 7 28 27 1 22 65 .365 .427
2011 Charleston .305 187 18 9 29 30 1 16 46 .379 .545
2010 Staten Island .272 246 11 5 31 36 3 31 65 .367 .402


Batting and Power. Roller isn't really the pronounced pull-hitter he labels himself to be. He is actually quite adept at going to the opposite field, especially for a slugger. In fact, a lot of his doubles and home runs are hit to left-center quite frequently. Built like an NFL linebacker, he has above average power to all fields and when he connects to the pull-side it can go a very, very long way. Despite the lower walk totals in his career, he actually has a very patient approach at the plate too. It's a big reason why the strikeouts have been and remain rather high; he sometimes takes a few too many good pitches in the name of making pitchers work. He is an average or better hitter with the ability to impact the baseball consistently.

Base Running and Speed. Like most slugging types he has very little impact in the running game. However, despite being so big, Roller actually has good speed for a guy his size and he won't clog up the base paths. He'll even swipe a base or two when pitchers ignore him over at first base.

Defense. Roller has unfairly received the reputation as more of a designated hitter type when in actuality his game is solid enough to be quite adequate in the field. He isn't a difference-maker with the glove but he shows decent range for a guy his size, good hands, and he makes most plays around him. He's an average defender.

Projection. With above average power, an ability to use the whole field, and respectable defensive abilities, Roller's entire game has gone underrated over the years and the Yankees' patience with him is starting to pay off as his game continues to get better with each passing year. Despite turning 27 years old in Spring Training this upcoming season, there is still some ceiling left to his game too. His older age might not endear any organization to build around him as a cornerstone player but he provides excellent insurance as Mark Teixeira's backup and it's certainly within reason that he could have a Lucas Duda-like impact as a late-blooming, slugging first baseman if given a chance.

ETA. 2015. Death, taxes, and a trip to the DL for Mark Teixeira are things you can absolutely count on these days. Roller will most likely begin the season back in Triple-A Scranton and if he has anything close to the season he had last year he will be a viable big league option should the need arise at first base or designated hitter at the big league level. He is big league ready.


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