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Lanky lefty Roberts displaying ‘will to win’ as Mariners minor leaguer

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

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.

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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)

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Max Roberts delivers a pitch for the 2018 Everett (Wash.) AquaSox. (Shari Sommerfeld Photo)

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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)

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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)

 

South Bend’s Haslers doing their part for White Sox pitching efforts

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By STEVE KRAH
http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Two generations.
One common purpose.
South Bend’s Curt and Drew Hasler are both in the business of getting hitters out in the Chicago White Sox organization — father Curt as the bullpen coach for the parent club and son Drew as a right-hander in the minors.
Curt Hasler, 52, is in his 30th year with the White Sox in 2017 — the first as a full-timer at the big league level.
Curt was drafted by Chicago in the 21st round of the 1987 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft out of Bradley University and made stop with the South Bend White Sox in 1988. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound right-hander pitched until 1991, making it to Triple-A Vancouver and a became pitching coach in 1992.
A roving coordinator of all White Sox minor league pitchers from the Dominican Republic through Triple-A the past few years, Curt will now serve the needs of manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Don Cooper (who was Hasler’s coach for two seasons).
“We’re family,” says Curt of the Sox organization, noting that chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, executive vice president Ken Williams and senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn are very loyal people. “You go out and do your business, do the right thing and keep your nose clean and you’ll have a job.”
Curt will be charged with many duties — from getting pitchers ready in the bullpen and creating gameplans to attack opposing hitters. He will let Sox hurlers know things like what pitch they like to swing at in certain counts and what the best put-away pitch is for a certain pitcher against a particular hitter.
“It’s a lot of little things behind the scenes,” says Curt. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to take a little of the load off of Coop.”
Having worked with many of the current big leaguers as they came up through the White Sox system, Hasler can provide insight for his MLB bosses.
“It does help to have a working knowledge of these guys from the start,” says Curt.
Drew Hasler, 23, pitched for Marian High School and Valparaiso University before being taken by the White Sox in the 34th round of the 2015 MLB draft. The 6-6, 240-pounder toed the mound at Great Falls, Mont., in 2015 and then Kannapolis and Winston-Salem in North Carolina in 2016.
“I started out wanting to be a catcher,” says Drew of his early diamond days. “Then I got older and smarter and wanted to pitch. My dad was coaching me all the way through. Recently is when he kind of backed off and let the pitching coach take it.”
Father and son went on several trips around the minors when Drew was younger and he got to meet players like Jon Rauch, Joe Crede and Aaron Rowand.
But being on the road so much, Curt did not see Drew pitch as much in Little League, high school or college as much as people would think.
“When I was there, I cherished it and I enjoyed watching him pitch,” says Curt. “Last year, I got to see him a lot. I saw him every time I was (at Kannapolis, where Brian Drahman was the pitching coach or Winston-Salem, where Jose Bautista was the pitching coach). In five days, everyone is going to pitch at least once.”
Used as both a starter and reliever at Valpo U. by head coach Brian Schmack (a former White Sox minor league pitcher), Drew has made all 55 of his professional appearances out of the bullpen.
He claims comfort in either role.
“To me, the mindset doesn’t change whether I start the game, come in halfway through the game or close the game, I want to get the guy at the plate out,” says Drew. “You might have to bear down a little more straight out of the bullpen to get your team out of a jam.”
Curt, who is planning to leave for spring training in Glendale, Ariz. Monday, Feb. 13 with Drew reporting to minor league camp in early March, says the White Sox don’t use label minor league pitchers as starters, long relievers, short relievers or closers.
“We want them to see different scenarios,” says Curt. “Roles get defined as they move up the ladder into Triple-A and the big leagues.
“You really need to develop to become big leaguers. To define someone as a closer and hold them to one inning all the time, that’s probably not to his best interest. He’s better off going two or three innings. He has to get outs. He has to use all of his pitches. He has to have command.
“Our goal is not to have a kid pitch 40 games and have 40 innings. It’s to pitch 45 games and have 75 innings. That’s better development.”
Roles at the majors are often defined by need as much as the talents of a particular arm.
“It’s constantly evolving for each individual pitcher,” says Curt, noting that Mark Buehrle and Chris Sale were used as relievers when they first came to The Show.
Both Haslers have been teaching lessons at the South Bend Cubs Performance Center, run by former White Sox minor league coach and manager and longtime friend Mark Haley.
The message given to young pitchers is the same that Curt heard from Cooper, Dewey Robinson and Kirk Champion when he was in rookie ball and it’s the same that Drew has heard from his father, college coach and professional coaches.
“Coaching and teaching is a steps process,” says Hasler. “The ABC’s of pitching, in my mind, will always be the ABC’s, whether it’s for Nate Jones or Drew Hasler or for Evan who’s 12 years old that I’m coaching at the Performance Center. Once we take care of the ABC’s, will can move on to the DEF’s.”
Those ABC’s include staying tall over the rubber and throwing first-pitch strikes and getting ahead of hitters in the count by attacking the (strike) zone. The White Sox want their pitchers throwing fastballs, breaking balls and change-ups for strikes at least 65 percent of the time and driving the ball down in the zone.
Drew is pretty good at following these tenants.
“Drew goes from the stretch only because he’s a reliever,” says Curt. “He repeats his delivery very well. He throws a ton of strikes. That’s goal No. 1.”

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South Bend’s Drew (left) and Curt Hasler are both a part of the Chicago White Sox organization.