photo: Griffin Roberts (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Since minor league baseball went on hiatus due to the ongoing threat of the coronavirus, Griffin Roberts’ journey has taken him to a familiar place.
The right-hander is back home in Midlothian, Virginia — some 876 miles away from Jupiter, Florida — where he was last seen pitching in the St. Louis Cardinals big-league spring training camp in March.
The last few months have been a “rollercoaster” for Roberts – finding gyms and facilities available where he can train and continue baseball activities to stay in shape.
That journey has also led him back to where it all started, at James River High School, playing with a group of 20 to 30 professional baseball players in the area.
“We have what we call a straight up Sandlot thing once a week,” Roberts said. “It’s a good place for us to get our work in. There’s good talent. It is good competition and we all push each other. But things have been a rollercoaster, for sure.”
Earning an invite to big-league spring training camp
Roberts was one of a talented group of Cardinals non-roster invitees to major-league camp this spring that included top prospects Dylan Carlson, Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore.
St. Louis’ 2018 first round competitive balance pick, who turned 24 last month, appeared in only one game before camp was shut down, but the biggest thing he took away was learning how to carry himself as a professional.
Roberts said in the lower levels of the minor leagues — you are around players who are just like you — fighting for an opportunity to move up the ladder and reach the big-leagues.
“And then you step into the big-league clubhouse, you are around grown men who have been in there for 10 to 15 years,” Roberts said. “I’m walking in there with Yadi (Yadier Molina) and Waino (Adam Wainwright). It’s like they deserve the immediate respect of everybody in there just because of the way they carry themselves.
“That’s kind of efficacious amongst the group. They set the standard and it’s up to us to hold that.”
At draft time, Roberts was described by Peter Gammons on MLB Network as player with the talent to pitch in the big-leagues the same year he was drafted — due in large part to his calling card slider.
Last year at High-A Palm Beach, Roberts said he struggled with his breaking ball. While he had trust in the pitch against right-handed hitters, he did not always have that same confidence against lefties.
His lefty versus righty splits back this up. Righties hit just .236 against him, but opposing left-handed batters posted a whopping .396 clip.
The Cardinal Nation’s 25th-ranked prospect improved that aspect of his game in the Arizona Fall League, but it wasn’t until he had a conversation with Jack Flaherty in spring training that embedded the use of his slider in his mind.
“One thing he told me was that he recognizes the slider as his putaway pitch,” Griffin said. “And he uses it against lefties and righties. What he does is he takes it and throws it in there against lefties just like he does against righties with confidence and the same intent.
“He gets the same results. That is something I have been trying to work on while I have the time to work on stuff is my breaking stuff against lefties and trusting it.”
Staying ready for an opportunity
2020 appeared to be a big year for Roberts.
For one, he was coming off an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League and seemed on track to open the year in the rotation at Double-A Springfield.
An uninterrupted full-season breakout could have vaulted Roberts into the Cardinals top 10 prospect conversation.
The opportunity did not come to pass, though.
“I have always been a take it day-by-day guy,” Roberts said. “During COVID, madness has been tough because you do want to look at the big picture and look at the perspective like, ‘What is going to happen two weeks from now?’ For me, every day I just want to attack it and be the best-version of myself that I can be each and every day because the Cardinals invited 60 guys and I wasn’t included on that roster.”
Roberts said the players, which are mostly playing at the Springfield satellite camp, are his “friends and brothers”, and hopes all of them do well. He added that his job is to stay ready, so if he is given an opportunity, he is prepared.
The former Wake Forest standout said he has carried on his training and workouts as usual. He has been on a full-on in-season routine, although he made it clear that it is impossible to replicate six innings against a full lineup of professional hitters with the atmosphere of baseball including fans.
“It’s just tough,” Roberts said. “Baseball puts a lot of regulations on how the major league baseball players are allowed to travel. And any minor leaguer, whether it would be Griffin Roberts or so and so from another organization, took the opportunity to travel across the country to go play, in my eyes, that kind sends a questionable motive.
“I don’t want to do anything to make the Cardinals appear negative in any light, especially with what is going on right now.”
His focus remains on cracking the Cardinals 60-man player pool.
“I pray the Cardinals call me, man,” Roberts said. “In a perfect world, everybody stays healthy and everybody gets to play, but that is not exactly how the cards are being dealt to us. I’m staying ready and hopefully I get an opportunity.”
Enjoying the deep sea
Roberts’ tentative plan is to tone back his baseball activities around September when the normal minor league season would end.
Since he has perhaps had more free time than ever in his life, Roberts has picked up a pole and gone to the deep sea to fish.
In fact, his mom, Kim Gregory, lives on the Chesapeake Bay and Roberts has spent the last few months doing a lot of salt water fishing on his bass boat in Richmond, Virginia.
“If you don’t see me in the gym or on the field, I’m probably on the water somewhere trying to catch a fish,” Roberts said.
The next story to tell for Roberts is still unwritten — like all the other minor leaguers not in camp. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be ready for what’s next.
“We don’t know when our opportunity is coming and we are not sure where it may be or when it may be, but we know at some point, we are going to get the chance to play again,” Roberts said. “And we are going to do what we can to be ready for it.”
Catch Derek Shore’s series of features catching up on former Cardinals in their post-playing lives.
232 pages, 97,000 words, over 60 player capsules, history and much more – in both PDF and spiral-bound book versions. Foreword by Dan McLaughlin. Order your copy today!
Not yet a member?
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
Follow Derek Shore on Twitter @D_Shore23.
© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.