By STEVE KRAH
Max Roberts wants to be a winner.
He says that’s what drives him as an athlete.
“Competing is the biggest thing. It’s the will to win,” says Max Roberts. “It’s just who I am.”
That drive was instilled by his father — long-time Washington Township Middle/High School head baseball coach and fifth grade teacher Randy Roberts and grandfather Norman Roberts — and has followed Max throughout his diamond life.
“Between the two of us, Max probably acts more like his grandfather than he acts like me,” says Randy Roberts. His father lives in Warsaw, Ind., where Randy grew up. Randy played baseball for Jim Miller (who an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame inductee) at Warsaw Community High School, graduating in 1978. From there, he played for Tom Roy at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind. “My dad gave me the love for baseball. He was an incredible worker.”
From a very young age, Max showed the ability to throw a ball where he wanted.
“When he was 2 or 3 years old and we would play catch, he had good location and good aim,” says Randy Roberts, who has won eight IHSAA Class 1A sectionals in 22 seasons at Washington Township. “He’s always been pretty good at locating his pitches. He’s never been the hardest thrower on his team. He’s always been the best at getting outs.
“He’s a strike thrower.”
His father also admires Max’s lack of fear with throwing inside to batters.
“Most kids at the lower levels — when they get two strikes — they’re looking to go away,” says Randy. “It’s humiliating to hit a batter with two strikes. He’s always been good at coming inside. He has confidence in doing that.”
Max Roberts, who turns 21 on July 23, graduated from Valparaiso (Ind.) High School in 2016, played one year at Wabash Valley College in Mount Carmel, Ill., and was selected in the seventh round of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners.
The 6-foot-6, 190-pound left-hander made 10 appearances (seven starts) in 2017 and went 1-1 with a 5.18 earned run average, 18 strikeouts and nine walks in 24 1/3 innings the rookie-level Arizona League Mariners.
In 2018, he has pitched in three games (all starts) and is 1-1 with a 4.20 ERA, 17 strikeouts and three walks in 15 innings with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox of the Short Season Class-A Northwest League.
How has he improved the last year?
“By having a feel for every pitch in any count,” says Max Roberts, who throws a four-seam fastball (consistently thrown at 87 to 89 mph and occasionally touching 91 to 92), curveball and four-seam “circle” change-up from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot.
“I definitely have some arm-side run,” says Roberts, who credits much of what he knows about pitching to his father and a relationship Randy has with Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom. “They bounce ideas of each other.”
When Max was still in grade school, Randy attended the American Baseball Coaches Association Convention in Chicago and invited Strom to extend his trip and spend a few days with Roberts in Valpo. Over the years, Randy and Max have visited Strom when he was nearby, sent video for for his analysis or texted questions. He has always been swift with his replies.
“There’s no better human being in baseball than Brent Strom,” says Randy Roberts.
Roberts was a late recruit at Wabash Valley, committing less than a month before arriving on-campus in the fall. By the third weekend of the spring, Roberts was the Friday starter for head coach Rob Fournier.
“(Fournier) was big on competing,” says Roberts. “He he didn’t care who you were — just go out and throw strikes and win games.”
Roberts went 10-1 with one save for WVC. Under the guidance of Fournier and pitching coach Jeff Bolen, he sported a 1.44 ERA, 98 strikeouts and 28 walks in 94 innings. Of his 17 appearances, 13 came as a starter. His lone loss was in relief.
Todd Evans was Roberts’ head coach at Valparaiso High.
Roberts got his formal baseball start in the Valpo Americans League before playing travel ball with the Boone Grove Wolves and then the Valpo Sting.
In high school, he was with the Indiana Chargers for four summers, working with coaches Joel Mishler, Justin Barber and Ryan Marken.
“I was in an environment with guys who wanted to play baseball,” says Max Roberts of the Chargers experience. “They cared.
“As a former college coach, (Mishler) knew what it took to compete at the next level. The biggest thing there was the winter workouts. That’s when you can see the biggest improvements in your game.”
The lanky Roberts put about 20 pounds last fall at the Mariners’ high performance training camp and has kept it on by consuming 3,000 to 4,000 calories a day.
“In the past, I had a hard time gaining and maintaining weight,” says Roberts. “This this year, it hasn’t been a problem.”
Vancouver hitters had a problem against Roberts in a June 20 game before a capacity crowd of 6,412 at Nat Bailey Stadium in British Columbia. The lefty retired the first 18 Canadians before allowing the first hit in the bottom of the seventh inning.
The next steps on the Mariners’ minor league ladder are the Low Class-A Clinton (Iowa) LumberKings, High Class-A Modesto (Calif.) Nuts, Double-A Arkansas Travelers and Triple-A Tacoma (Wash.) Rainiers.
Max is the oldest of Randy and Anne Roberts’ three children. Sophia just graduated from Indiana University-Bloomington in the spring. Baseball-playing William will enter his senior year at Washington Township in the fall.
Max Roberts, a Valparaiso (Ind.) High School graduate, played one season at Wabash Valley College and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He is now a starting pitcher with the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Everett AquaSox)
Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)
Max Roberts, who played at Valparaiso (Ind.) High School and Wabash Valley College in Illinois, looks in for the sign as a pitcher for the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox in the Seattle Mariners system. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)
Left-hander Max Roberts delivers the ball from a high three-quarter overhand arm slot. He was drafted in 2018 by the Seattle Mariners and assigned to the Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)
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