2020 Preseason Dirty Thirty-Five: Prospect #13

PROSPECT PREFACE

I present to you my list of the top 35 prospects within the Cardinals organization!! The list is both exhausting and ever-evolving.

I am aggressive with who I deem to be a "Graduate." You can read the post that I wrote on The Graduates by following this link. As a heads up, you won't find Lane Thomas, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo, or Edmundo Sosa on The Dirty Thirty-Five (R.I.Cardinals Prospect.P to Tampa Bay Ray Randy Arozarena and Texas Ranger Adolis "JAG" Garcia).

There is also another group of about 15 prospects that I could have written about. They are on the outside looking in, currently. I did write in-depth about five of them, and I presented those fellas in this article. I also briefly touch on a bunch of other prospects in that article.

Finally, I totally cheated and basically just copied and pasted the individual write-ups from the "Position Rankings" articles that I wrote after Black Friday. I hadn't realized how thorough those write-ups were until I started to redoing the D35. Those write-ups are the shells for these posts. I have added additional gifs and thoughts to each and I've done some MAJOR editing within each write-up, as well.


Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please tell me what you think!


RHP Griffin Roberts

Age 23

Palm Beach

1st Round, 2018


You folks know about the weed thing, right? The suspension that cost him the first 50 games of the 2019 season? We don't need to go over that again, do we?

OK, thank goodness. How about instead of going over that we touch briefly on the fact that the rule has since been changed and Roberts wouldn't have been suspended had he tested positive just one year later.


While suspended, Roberts pitched at the Cardinals extended spring training facility at Roger Dean Stadium. The reports indicated that Roberts was ready to come flying out of the gate when the suspension was over. Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way.


It was ugly for Roberts during the 2019 season, and it was like that from the get-go. You don't need to look any further than the stats to see that. You'll see that he walked 11.1% of batters while only striking out 11.4% of hitters. You'll probably assume that his command was awful. It'd be hard to argue that if you are just going off of the stats. You'll also see that he only threw strikes 60% of the time and chalk that up to command, as well. When you dig a little deeper, you'll see that he only got swinging strikes 8% of the time. That's pretty awful. It should illustrate to you that very little was good about Roberts' 2019 season.


Fortunately, there is hope for Roberts. First things first, Roberts is filthy. He has the best breaking pitch on the farm for the Cardinals; a slider that he can pretty well do whatever he wants with it. If he wants it to be more of a cutter, he'll throw it that way. If he wants it to sweep the plate, he'll sweep the plate with it. If he wants that thing to look like a frisbee, he'll sling it like he's from the Outback. There's a part of me that thinks he'd be able to have sustainable success if he just threw that pitch 70-ish% of the time. I know that I'd love to watch him throw it 100 times in a row. It's a great pitch to build a foundation of other pitches on top of (and BIG shout out to Andrew Knizner who called for it a ton in Roberts' spring training outing against the Astros, as you'll see in the gif below).

But before we move on to the rest of his repertoire, there are a couple of other things to keep in mind about Roberts' 2019 season. What his season stats won't tell you is that Roberts was hurt by two things, in particular.

First, Roberts was prone to giving up one big inning per start. The second thing that is abundantly clear is that the one big inning usually came early on in a start. In his first spring training outing, Roberts threw three straight balls to the first batter that he saw. It was at this point that Andrew Knizner came out to talk to him and calmed him down. I believe that this stopped Roberts from having a that one bad inning, and it helped to get a productive inning of work out of Roberts. Obviously, this is something that Roberts is going to have to learn to do himself, in real time.

Now, I can't speak to if this was a preparedness issue or something else, but what I know is that I watched Roberts last start of the 2019 season, and he seemed determined to make Bradenton look awful. He was mixing his sinker and his fastball exceptionally well, and he was making hitters look foolish with his amazing slider.


Roberts' changeup is still a visible work in progress, but I feel like I've already seen a drastic improvement with the pitch at the onset of spring training. That pitch is going to be important for him if he is going to have more success against lefties. In 2019, left-handed hitters hit 396/481/486 in 133 plate appearances. Roberts' changeup and sinker work well together, but he didn't command either well enough to keep left-handed hitters off of either during the 2019 season. He also struggles to go inside on lefties with both pitches, which means that lefties can sit on the outside pitch. In order for Roberts' to tame left-handed hitters, he is going to have to master throwing the changeup like the gif below, and using his sinker off of that changeup:


The key for Roberts against right-handed hitters is going to be the four-seam/sinker mix. His four-seam has decent spin, and it's tough on hitters when he's using it up and in on the arm-side. When he's commanding it there, that's when he's bastardizing hitters with his slider. He's at his best when he is using his sinker to the glove side. That way, he can sneak that thing in for a strike when it's been given up on. It's a thing of beauty when his slider and his sinker are working at the same time. Think about it this way: his slider is filthy. It's always going to be Filthy. But when he's running his mid-90's fastball in on righties, and his mid-to-low 90's sinker outside on righties, that's when his slider truly reaches the pinnacle of its dominance.


I'd also go so far as to chalk some of Roberts struggles in 2019 to a clear emphasis on smoothing out his mechanics. In the gif below, you'll see the Collegiate Junior version of Roberts. You'll notice that his mechanics are wild (and that his body wasn't as filled out). You'll notice in all of the other gifs that he's done a great job of repeating and streamlining his mechanics. Roberts really loses command when he isn't stepping directly towards the catcher. Often times, he's stepping to the first base side of his planted leg, and that isn't good for him. He needs to stop doing that. To be fair, that's been a big adjustment for this former college closer. You'll also notice the fire that he pitches with in the next gif. Roberts is another pitcher that pitches his best when he's pitching with emotion. Personally, I love that.


My favorite stat from Roberts 2019 season was a bad one. It shows you how wild his command can be. Roberts led the Florida State League in hit batters with 17. He only threw 65.2 innings!!! I mean, that's just terrible. He obviously puts too many batters on base. If he can't get the command under control then his career will be over before it begins.

The place that I'd like to leave this article is on a very positive note. Roberts had a successful turn in the Arizona Fall League this offseason, and I'm hoping that becomes the springboard for bigger and better things during the 2020 season. The best part of his AFL stint was that he struck out 18 batters in 14.2 innings while only walking two. That type of improvement following a season in which he walked 35, while striking out 36, should not be overlooked. Now you just hope that it's the trend and not the outlier.



THE DEAL

There's no way to sugarcoat it; 2019 was an AWFUL season for Griffin Roberts. After spending the first 50 games of the minor league season suspended and hanging out at the Cardinals facility in Jupiter, Roberts could never put it together. He was susceptible to left-handed hitters, one big inning early in a start, and serious command issues with all of his pitches. Even more concerning, he struggled in the best environment for pitcher's in the minors. He couldn't throw strikes and he couldn't get hitter's to swing for strikes, and it was just downright AWFUL.


But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Roberts will look to build upon a very good stint at the Arizona Fall League and a couple of good appearances with the major league club at spring training. If all else fails, his slider is good enough to make him a major league bullpen option, at the very least. It's the best pitch on the farm for the Cardinals, and it's so good that it, alone, might be enough to make him a late-career Sergio Romo in a bullpen. I, however, believe that 2020 will show us the pitcher that the Cardinals drafted in the 2nd round of the 2018 draft. That won't come without command of his arsenal, and the practical application of his changeup against lefties. After last season, ranking him 13th on the D35 is definitely bullish. I'm not the type to bet against this talent, however.




The biggest of shout outs should be given to @Cardinalsgifs, FanGraphs, Twitter, and MiLB. TV for all of the work that they do that eventually gets put into these articles.

Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. The lovely and talented Mr. Gif's assisted greatly with the gifs in this article, too.


Thanks For Reading!!

Kyle Reis