BRISTOL - There arenâ€™t many players in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League that are batting better than Bristol Blues shortstop Tyler Roberts with as many at-bats as heâ€™s had this summer.
The infielder from Augusta University is in his second season with the Blues and has already shown growth since last summer.
â€śHeâ€™s obviously our top, quality shortstop,â€ť Blues manager Pat Riley said. â€śHeâ€™s a returning guy. Offensively, heâ€™s shown so much improvement from last year.â€ť
Through his first 13 games this season, Roberts has racked up 17 hits in 49 at-bats, giving him a batting average of .347.
The FCBL generates batting leaders for players who have averaged at least 2.7 plate appearances per game and Roberts is the highest ranked Blues player. Ahead of Wednesdayâ€™s games, Roberts sat in ninth place in the entire Futures League and fourth among infielders.
Despite being statistically one of the best hitters in the league, Roberts is not paying the success too much mind.
â€śIâ€™m not really focusing on the statistical part of it,â€ť he said. â€ś[Iâ€™m] trying to get on base as many times as I can per night. I try to produce at the plate [and] bring in runs. I want to get in scoring position, pass the torch to my teammates and keep working at it and just keep swinging it.â€ť
Robertâ€™s hits have not just been singles either. He has two doubles and a triple on the season and, according to Riley, even his singles have been well-hit.
â€śHeâ€™s not hitting a cheap .360,â€ť he said, estimating Robertsâ€™ average. â€śHeâ€™s hitting a quality .360. Itâ€™s not dinky hits [and] infield squibbers. Itâ€™s a pretty solid .360.â€ť
Last season, Roberts batted just over .200 through the regular season but did not record a hit in 16 at-bats in the postseason. But, this past college season, Roberts put up a .312 batting average and has continued the success into the summer.
â€śWhen he got his opportunity last year, he did a good job with it,â€ť Riley said. â€śHe really did, defensively and offensively. But this year, heâ€™s really blossomed and heâ€™s much more comfortable. He looks for his pitch and he makes solid contact.
â€śThe creditâ€™s to him. Heâ€™s worked his way to get there. Weâ€™re going to need him because, as you can see, we need all the hits we can get. Hopefully, he can continue to do that for us.â€ť
The Blues have recently had trouble scoring runs to support the teamâ€™s incredible pitching. The lack of runs has resulted in a bit of a skid that has seen Bristol fall out of first place in the West Division. Roberts hopes his hitting can help kick-start the Bluesâ€™ offense and get some more wins.
â€śThe hitting is the main component right now weâ€™re focusing on,â€ť Roberts said. â€śWeâ€™ve been throwing some gems lately. Weâ€™ve got a low ERA [and] our pitchers are doing their job. Weâ€™re taking quality swings and weâ€™re hitting the ball well. [Weâ€™ve] just got to find the holes. [If] we get a couple of balls to roll our way, weâ€™ll turn this thing around.
In the early part of this season, Roberts has made himself indispensible for the Blues, both on offense and defense. He gives Riley and the Blues comfort when he is at shortstop and his bat provides some much needed pop to the lineup.
â€śYou always try to be strong up the middle: catcher, middle infielders, center fielder. When we have him at shortstop, from that standpoint, [we] donâ€™t have to worry about it. Weâ€™re strong up the middle automatically,â€ť Riley said. â€śWith his bat, heâ€™s a great addition and heâ€™s a guy thatâ€™s been in the league, knows what itâ€™s about [and] knows about the grind.â€ť
Possibly Robertsâ€™ most valuable asset to the Blues is his leadership. He was on the Bristol team that reached at FCBL championship series last season and he has gone through a full season and playoff run. Robertsâ€™ role in the locker room is that of a veteran leader and that role will be vital if the Blues are to get out of their slump before itâ€™s too late.
â€śHe experienced a championship series last year. Guys are going to look to him, ask him questions and heâ€™s going to give them advice,â€ť Riley said. â€śWe have a long way to go and he knows that so Iâ€™m counting on him to let those guys know.â€ť
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org