Interviews are a tricky thing. Sometimes you go into one with a prospect thinking that you’re going to talk about topics A, B, and C. But once you get going, you sometimes find that the best questions are the ones you didn’t plan. Such was the case with Ethan Roberts, a relief pitcher with the South Bend Cubs.
I got to see him in action earlier this month and came away really impressed with the shape of his pitches and the swings he got. My initial plan was to spend most of the time talking with him about his repertoire, specifically his developing curveball, and about his run to the College World Series last summer.
Once we started talking, however, different topics emerged that helped to show just exactly who he is, where he comes from, and where he’s going.
School: Tennessee Tech
4th Round Pick in 2018
Todd Johnson: What kind of ajustments have you had to make to playing in the Midwest League?
Ethan Roberts: When I got to the Northwest League [home of the short-season Eugene Emeralds], it was pretty warm. It felt pretty good. Here, it’s obviously pretty cold. There’s definitely more talent here but most of all, it’s the weather.
TJ: You have a newborn son, how’s that going?
ER: Good, good. My wife is in South Bend. We trade off nights taking care of him when I don’t pitch. So, I don’t get much sleep.
TJ: Can you tell me about some of your tattoos?
ER: Yeah, they all mean something. My wife wrote this one for me. It keeps me grounded and says “Love is Patient.” My eagle is for Tennessee Tech. My cow’s skull is for my grandpa. We had a farm together in a small town. It’s called Quebeck, part of White County where I am from. It’s a little town down there, probably over a 1000 people.
This is my grandfather’s pocket watch with the time that I got drafted to the Cubs when they called. And the two tiger lilies are for my great-grandmother. They were her favorite flower. The sword is for my high school, the warriors. And the mustang is for my wife’s step-grandpa, who passed away with cancer. I spent about two years with him and we made a really good connection and he meant a lot to me.
He kept going, describing how each detail of his sleeve explained who he is as a person and what keeps him focused on the mound. They also tell of where he’s been. One of the tattoos that is really special to Roberts is a quote by Marcus Stroman that sums up Stroman’s view of life: “Height doesn’t measure heart.”
When Roberts graduated high school, he was 5-foot-8 and 130 lbs. He’s grown a bit since then but is still somewhat undersized, so Stroman gives him the inspiration to strive to achieve his goals.
Roberts is doing fine at South Bend so far, posting a 2.51 ERA with 11 strikeouts and five walks through nine appearances (14.1 IP). What I like most about his game is that curve with vicious 12-6 bite, a pitch the Cubs love because of its 3100 rpm spin rate. He used to go mainly with a slider and a cutter in college but has switched to a fastball-curve combo in the pros.
The young righty is still getting the hang of it, though, and he’s throwing it with significantly more velocity than before. While it used to clock in around 70 mph, Roberts is getting it up to 76-77 now. He knows he’s still developing, but having some success while doing it makes that process a little easier.
I came away from our conversation with a realization that Roberts never takes anything for granted. He is striving to get better each game and is grounded by both where he comes from and where he still wants to go.