photo: Griffin Roberts (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Born: 6/13/1996 (24)
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: 2018 Draft – Competitive Balance Round A (43rd overall)
Rule 5 Eligible: 2021
Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #25, Matt Thompson #16
Prior top 50 rankings –2019 #13, 2020 #23
Matt Thompson’s scouting report
Physical Description: Looks much shorter and smaller than listed height and weight. Thin, long legs. Has frame that needs to add mass, looked more chiseled while at Wake Forest. Doesn’t look like the same guy physically. Would attack hitters, now he has the look of someone that thinks too much on the mound. Worried about the next pitch before he throws this one. Missed some time with drug suspension.
Mechanics: High effort delivery with an arm slot that has dropped some since Wake Forest days, now has unique 3/4 arm slot. Delivery was tighter in college as well. Front half opens up much sooner now, gives hitters longer look at baseball. I can’t think of a big league starter with an arm slot like this.
Fastball: Was around 93 and touching 96 at Wake Forest. Hasn’t been around there since entering Cardinals organization. Fastball sits around 90 with some sink and run, does have decent movement, but arm slot combined with movement make it tough for him to command the pitch as it will get away from him arm side. He’s not getting this fastball past big league hitters. Was sitting upper 80s in AFL. Grade: 40.
Slider: Roberts had the best breaking ball coming out of the 2018 draft, and the slider features two-plane depth with an insane 15” inches of horizontal break. I just worry about how it plays with a fastball like this. The pitches don’t play very well off each other for tunneling purposes as they both have differing movement profiles. Fastball is arm-side break, slider is glove side. It’s a plus pitch metrically, but I’m bumping it down because of my concerns with how it will translate in game. Grade: 55.
Changeup: Sits around 85, the pitch has good traits. Moves well with some depth, but he lacks the ability to throw it for strikes consistently. It’s a chase pitch right now that doesn’t get many swings and misses. Grade: 45.
Control/Command: Roberts has had a difficult time throwing strikes, and you can pull up the disappointing numbers and see for yourself. He has poor feel for putting the fastball where he wants, and actually has better command of his slider. 40 Control 30 Command
Overall: I was somewhat more optimistic on Roberts as we were constructing this list for The Cardinal Nation, but after some conversations with a few trusted sources I’ve gone the other way. I saw him in the AFL and while he was throwing strikes more consistently, he wasn’t missing bats and the velocity was well below average. I think his only path to the big leagues is leaning heavily on the slider, and working as a reliever. That’s obviously not his call, but he did have success as a reliever in college. The arm slot should play in that role, and the team needs to find a way to get the fastball to jump. I’m not the first person to make the comp, but Roberts could be a Luke Gregerson-type slider monster out of a big league bullpen. If he wasn’t a top pick with some dollars invested in him he might not be in the organization with how poorly it’s gone to this point.
Future Value: 35
Role: Spot Starter/Low Leverage Reliever
Video from Prospects Live
Brian Walton’s environmental impact report
To open 2019, Roberts served a 50-game suspension due to failed tests for marijuana use, though he was still able to throw in extended spring training camp. Against much-younger competition, I watched him dominate. When activated at High-A Palm Beach, however, it was a different story, as he delivered mostly unimpressive results with his wildness standing out.
With the Beach Birds, Roberts logged a 6.44 ERA in 15 appearances, 13 starts, totaling 65 2/3 innings pitched. Walks and strikeouts were almost equal at 35 and 36, respectively. He also hit 17 batters.
But it wasn’t just wildness and free passes that did him in, as Florida State League hitters batted .305 against him.
Still because of his time missed, the Cardinals invited Roberts to pitch against the advanced competition in the 2019 Arizona Fall League. There, he was arguably the most pleasant surprise among the eight prospects from the organization competing in the desert. Roberts logged a 3.07 ERA to go with 18 strikeouts and just two walks issued in 14 2/3 innings, four starts.
Even that came with concern embedded, however. I saw Roberts’ fourth AFL start on October 10, during which he yielded a solo home over four innings. What drew my attention was his fastball velocity of just 86-88 mph. That turned out to be his final Arizona Fall League appearance, leading me to wonder how healthy he was heading into his offseason.
2020 recap – Assignments
- January instructional camp – yes (repeat)
- St. Louis’ spring training camp – no
- St. Louis Summer Camp – no
- Springfield alternate camp – no
- St. Louis – no
For the second consecutive January, the right-hander was among the pitchers invited to the organization’s instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida. That was especially positive from my perspective since Roberts’ Arizona Fall League stint apparently ended prematurely.
Roberts was not given a non-roster invitation to St. Louis’ spring training camp, however. This was not a huge disappointment given he has no Double-A time. Still, two other pitchers with even less experience were there, but Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore are the most promising arms in the organization.
The two lefties were among the top prospect pitchers in the 60-man player pool, along with Angel Rondon and Johan Oviedo. Again, Roberts missed the cut, excluding him from an important summer of development.
It is surprising to me that Roberts has improved his overall ranking here coming off a year in which he did not play. But with a different voice this year, changes should be expected. Matt was initially strong on Roberts, but if there was a re-vote, I think the results would be different for the reasons he explained.
Based on the number of potential competitors, the level of competition to make the Springfield starting five out of spring camp should be extremely high. The aforementioned lefty duo should be at the top of the list, but I see no reason why a healthy Roberts should not be able to earn a Double-A rotation spot as well.
Given the year off on top of the fact he has never thrown more than 100 innings in any season as a college or professional sets up Roberts’ 2021 as crucial to his (presumed) long-term hopes of remaining a starter into the major leagues. Despite relatively high pitch counts, he has not pitched deeply enough into games to get through a lineup a third time on a regular basis. So there is a lot of work still ahead.
My late 2022 projection for Roberts reaching St. Louis assumes a season each starting at Double-A and Triple-A, with a late season arrival in St. Louis the second year.
However, his 2021 really needs to be strong for the Cardinals to use a 40-man roster spot to protect him from that December’s Rule 5 draft. Even if the Cardinals do not make him a reliever this coming season, another organization could decide to snag him and make that change in the bigs.
A quicker move to the bullpen could both accelerate his arrival in the majors and help him earn that coveted roster spot. But the consistency has to come first.
MLB debut: 2022
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