by Eric Garfield

Despite the lack of games, progress is being made on the farm with the Orioles and their prospects.  No competitive baseball means less opportunities for the players to prove themselves in the field and player development has had to take slightly newer and less comfortable forms in order to keep moving in a positive direction.  As with any other measurable, the teams who can adapt and stay ready are the ones who will be in a position to succeed when the sport resumes. While my job is to alert fans to what’s happening throughout the system, the zero games thing presents a legitimate obstacle.  I’ll have to adjust to and talk about progress in a different way…..I’m thinking it might be fun.  

This time around I got a chance to communicate with a pitcher who made an impression on me, now I can share some of his thoughts, and mine.  

   Nick Roth was drafted by the O’s out of Randolph-Macon College in 2019 after an outstanding college career as a right handed pitcher. He was part of a team that reached the Division III World Series in 2018 and put together a 26-2 record with a 2.74 ERA, 1 save, 221 K’s and a WHIP of 1.03 in his 230 innings as a Yellow Jacket.  There’s video available of Roth both on the mound and at the microphone post-game as he was a crucial part of that team’s rotation. Watch and you’ll see a focused performer who talks about how being part of a good team can build enough confidence to help get through a tough inning or how to come back after giving up a few runs.  When I asked him about his college experience Roth showed a team first outlook. 

 “Colin Selby was drafted our junior year after the World Series run.  He pitched really well and I think that helped me get drafted the following year”.

Currently, Selby is in the Pirates organization and is off to an excellent start.  Similar to Nick, he’s a righty who same-handed hitters can’t seem to square up. Selby’s got a year on Nick in both age and pro experience and he gave up only 71 hits in his 88 innings in 2019.  It’s obvious from earlier conversations that being a Yellow Jacket is a great source of pride for Roth.

 “Randolph-Macon provided me with all the resources I needed to develop.  Coach Hedrick has a special place in my heart”.

 I’ll take this as someone who doesn’t take his high-level team experience for granted.  

“In college, my program at Macon was very demanding”.

So far so good, as the program enhanced both his skills and his profile.

   My first time talking with Nick, during the GCL season he made a comment that opened my eyes to the full scope of the newness in the minor leagues under GM Mike Elias and his staff.  Roth talked about his audition at Camden Yards but went more into the fact that the team seemed like a powerful company poised to expand. His interviews and discussions with team officials left him feeling like he could be part of a larger plan for future success.  

“Pre draft an O’s scout came and watched me pitch.  We spoke after the game and he was extremely honest and put a lot of faith in me.  I was then invited to Camden Yards for a tryout. Pitching on the big boy mound there was a humbling but also motivational moment.  The first major league game I ever saw was at Camden Yards”. 

A pro baseball tryout at the stadium where he started to watch the game can only be viewed as significant. 

   The impression was made on both sides and the Orioles drafted him in 2019.

“Being a 26th round pick…I was treated well because they sensed I was going to do my part in developing to the best of my ability and I’m not afraid to be my own coach, but also ask questions”.

   Right here is where I start to understand how different the Elias run Orioles are compared to different regimes.  A late round draft pick having a highly specified plan and opportunity for progression is a sign that development is aimed in a new direction and that coaches have individual players’ maximization at heart.  That works for the young Orioles of today and just as much for the future. 

“I learned a lot about spin and slow motion cameras when I got to the O’s’. 

Inspiring a follow-up question, I asked Roth about his experiences with the coaches in the organization.

 “All the pitching coaches are on board and understand what I’m working on which is awesome. Adam Bleday and Alan Mills stand out the most.  Millsy brought so much energy every day…he asked me what he could do…and we had some cool life talks. Professional coaching is all about your development”.

After I highlighted some Millsy moments of my own from growing up an Orioles fan in the 80’s and 90’s, Nick reminded me of his own; that he punched Daryl Strawberry in the face!  If you evaluate prospects based on their ability to quickly recall O’s history, there you go.  

   Despite the lack of time at minor league camp, the pitcher and his GCL manager got to ‘rekindle’ their relationship and communicate.  I’ve watched Mills in the dugout and at the fence with Nick on the mound and he’s a vocal supporter. Mills and his teaching/encouraging personality are such a unique asset for the younger players, that should never be passed over. Bleday is an uber-attentive pitching coach who takes notes all game long and misses nothing from his corner dugout perch.  I see a significant future for him and the Orioles are fortunate to have his detailed level of teaching. At 25, he’s beginning his coaching career and has a chance to implement his own growth mentality at the organization’s foundation. The fact that Bleday represents a group of future baseball leaders was not lost on Roth, he and I observed it similarly.  

“There are a lot of young bright coaches walking around the minor league camp. They emphasize knowing your strength and always being true to that, but also developing your weaknesses over time”.

I cannot express enough how this class of new coaches will and already has begun to influence the players and how this is almost as important as game action.  It’s refreshing to hear the confirmation from a player, especially one who started well and relies on this staff for growth.

   Upon being drafted, Roth was assigned to Sarasota for his debut season.  His team was an excellent one and won their league. I asked about being part of such a solid squad.

“We had such a loaded lineup we didn’t rely on 2 or 3 guys.  You knew everyone was going to pull their weight. Other GCL teams were younger and inexperienced”.

He’s a player so he can’t say it, but these guys kicked ass.  They were supposed to win a fair percentage and they did. A couple of high profile draft picks joined in and I noticed that they bounced out of slumps and were able to help the team.  Infielders Gunnar Henderson, Darrel Hernaiz, and outfielder Mason Janvrin are good examples of guys who didn’t let a few 0-fers influence their attitude or defense.  

   I noticed a connection between several pitcher/catcher combos and asked about backstop Chris Burgess who stood out as a leader who played with serious focus.  Looking for chemistry, the battery is always where I start. Nick agreed with me that Burgess 

“carries himself extremely well on the field”.

He had a bit more experience with another power hitting young catcher.

“I threw more often to [Harris] Yett, especially on the road.  Between the two of them I was really comfortable. They knew my best pitches and had confidence in me.  They are also both large guys. It’s nice throwing to dudes with big frames behind the dish”.

From being an observer of the team’s organizational roster, I feel that catcher is a position of serious depth and skill from top to bottom and Nick knows the names at different levels.  We agree that the group is loaded, and the future of run prevention looks solid.  

   Roth’s role as I saw it was one of a couple of high-leverage relievers, he was 3-3 in saves and 11 of his 13 appearances came from the pen.  21 innings doesn’t seem like a lot, but he had just come off his senior season at college and really, there’s instruction all day long; the mound is the chance to practice in a different setting.  Roth made the most of his appearances and some stats that showed he was giving hitters fits were his 10.6 K’s/9 and an even better 12.5 K’s/ BB.  

“I have 4 seam, 2 seam, change, cb and a cutter”.

What I saw as most effective was location as his high velocity stuff displayed rise but always started from a low slot so the bottom half of the strike zone was where the action was.  The sign that made me want to look for more was the relative ease that he pitched with late in games. Closing out a win didn’t seem like a big deal to him, especially after not performing in that role in college.  

“I like the closing role or coming in with runners on.  I like those situations……and I like shutting the door”.

Nick was awarded with an opportunity to join Delmarva late in their drive to a first place finish and had one chance to get on an A-level mound, quite a cap on a 2019 filled with progress.  Wondering about a defined role for 2020, adjusted for Covid-19 the staff had some general things for him to work on.  

“Throw strikes, don’t beat myself. No real plan for MILB yet…I know they’ll give us time to build our arms.  We won’t get thrown into the fire”.

   Something I’ve been curious about is how these young players fill their time constructively with baseball themed exercises or activities.  How can progress still be made individually despite the lack of field time? The first answer is the staff. Director of Player Development, Matt Blood, has made comments to the effect that these players will be just as prepared to move forward as they would be in a normal situation, but maintaining baseball movements and health on their own is something they should embrace.  

   Roth and another righty out of Virginia, Connor Gillespie, have built a gym in Richmond.  He told me that he’s been playing against Connor for years and their high schools were in the same district. I love Virginia baseball and the O’s have some standouts from the Commonwealth including pitchers Brenan Hanifee, Shelton Perkins and Zach Peek.  

“It was crazy competitive in high school.  Especially in the private ranks. We played CG at Miller.  His coach is Billy Wagner”.

   Back to the part about making adjustments, Roth and Connor have each other to confide in as much as throw to and now they have to be teammates in a different way.  

CG and I have tried to stay positive and calm.  Taking the opportunity to live in the moment for the first time since we were young.  Baseball has always run our lives and we get our work in but also still have fun”.

Definitely an intelligent perspective as far as crisis management.  Gillespie added to their crew recently.  

“He got a dog named Maverick two weeks ago….a 9 week old chocolate lab who chases the bat, when we throw and hangs in the garage when we lift”.

I can only imagine the curveballs and cutters that Maverick gets to see up close.

   With no concrete schedule for the near future, the baseball lifer admitted to being a slightly out of sorts.  

“It’s a really weird time and I’m trying to go with the flow.  CG and I are treating this like the off-season. We are putting on muscle and focusing on weaknesses in our arsenal.  We throw a bullpen once a week….keep the mood light but get after it with the weights. CG is a horse. He’s got a big arm”.

Aside from baseball, Nick plays golf, does yoga and gets outside to fish, bike and hike.  He and Connor are a fitting pair as I saw Gillispie throw a weighted baseball and use resistance just about every morning so they can share a “no days off” mentality.  

   Just like any roster, there are lots of differences and ways to handle circumstances.  This strange time is not a net negative for Nick Roth and it gave me an opportunity to introduce him to you in his words.     Now, when you see him back on the mound in O’s colors you’ll know a bit more about him and how he got there.