Baseball: Jake Roberts finding niche as ThunderBolts pitcher
By Steve Millar For Sun-Times Media August 6, 2013 9:34PM
Windy City ThunderBolts pitcher Jake Roberts. | Steve Millar~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 8, 2013 6:13AM
Windy City ThunderBolts reliever Jake Roberts has had a strong start to his pro career, allowing just one earned run over 142/3 innings (0.61 ERA) in 10 outings with the team.
Those numbers would be impressive for any rookie pitcher, but they become more impressive when considering this: Roberts isn’t a pitcher.
Or at least until the T-Bolts signed him June 27 and put him in the bullpen, he never had been.
Roberts was a third baseman at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind. He pitched in four games over his collegiate career, throwing three innings.
“I hadn’t pitched since I was probably 13,” Roberts said with a laugh. “I didn’t pitch at all in high school. Not a single inning. I didn’t pitch in junior college (at Gulf Coast State in Florida), either.
“I always wanted to pitch, though. I know I have a strong arm. Rick O’Dette, my coach at St. Joe’s, finally said, ‘OK, we’ll give you a shot.’ I just never got to pitch too much because I was needed as an everyday third baseman.”
The Anderson, Ind., native hit .317 during the spring in his senior year with St. Joe’s, but it was those four relief appearances — and his ability to throw a fastball in the mid-90s (mph) — that he was banking on for his ticket to the pros.
“I didn’t see much of a future as a position player,” he said. “I knew I had the chance to play some pro ball as a pitcher. I got several looks from pro teams who knew I could throw hard.”
The T-Bolts, who’ve signed a handful of St. Joe’s alums over the years, brought in Roberts, along with some other players at whom they were taking a look.
“I came here for a workout, I threw some pitches and I signed the next day,” Roberts said.
It’s a move that’s certainly paid off for Windy City.
“Jake’s got a tremendous arm,” T-Bolts manager Ron Biga said. “He’s going to get better and better. He works hard. He’s aggressive. When you have the velocity he has, you can afford a mistake or two. I’m really proud of him for how hard he’s worked and how well he’s done.”
Roberts was accustomed to playing all nine innings every day, so he’s still getting used to sitting around waiting for his number to be called.
“The hardest part is getting a set, daily routine,” he said. “I’m still working on it. I’ve been working hard every day with Smithy (pitching coach Brian Smith). I get a lot of help from the older guys. Every day, I’m just absorbing information from them and trying to take in everything I can.”
Roberts’ strategy has been simple: challenge hitters right away.
“Aggressiveness has been the big thing for me,” he said. “I haven’t been afraid to fail. I really don’t have much to lose. I just go after guys. In my first game (June 29), the first hitter I faced hit a home run (Phil Wunderlich hit a three-run shot, all runs were unearned). That was just me being aggressive, though. I’ve learned it’s the best way to get outs.”
Roberts throws two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a changeup and a slider.
“I don’t use it too much because I mostly throw hard, but my changeup has actually been good,” he said. “My slider, sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s OK. That’s my biggest thing right now. I’m working on that pitch every day.”
As for his success so far, Roberts has a simple explanation.
“I just have a knack for pitching,” he said. “It’s just natural to me.”