Look at Kyle Roller’s 2014 stats combined over two levels and you would think he’s a power hitter.
The first baseman/designated hitter has tallied 16 home runs — nine with Double-A Trenton and seven with the RailRiders — giving outsiders the impression that he focuses on just hitting longballs.
But don’t tell the 26-year-old that.
“I’m a good hitter with power. I could hit home runs, I could hit for contact,” he said. “I don’t see myself going up there and looking to hit home runs.”
He’s right. In fact, he’s never been a power hitter since being drafted by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2010 draft. The most homers he’s ever hit in one season was 18 with the Tampa Yankees in 2012 in 121 games. He followed that up by clubbing 17 with Trenton in 2013 in 124 games. He already has 16 in 61 games in 2014.
Plus, he was making good contact with Trenton before getting promoted to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Roller was tearing up Double-A pitching hitting .385 with an on base percentage of .456, a slugging percentage of .808 and an out-of-this-world OPS of 1.264.
He hasn’t lost much since being up a level. He got off to a decent start with SWB on the contact part of his game. Since opening 6 for 28 (.214 average) start in his first eight games, he’s been stellar and has had his average over the .300 mark for most of his stint since then, and was as high as .311 after going 2 for 4 at Columbus on June 12.
The left-handed hitter hasn’t just been pulling all his home runs to right field either. He’s hit plenty of bombs to the opposite field, even at spacious PNC Field.
That’s something he credits to putting in long hours in the batting cage to try to adjust to pitchers constantly throwing him pitches away. He said he used to pull those pitches and roll over into a double play. But not anymore.
“I kinda made that my goal this coming year. I wanted to be able to drive a pitch the other way,” he said. “I knew that was always my power alley, but I kinda just got away from it in college with an aluminum bat. That was my whole focus this year and I was able to work a lot in the cage and master that swing.”
It helps that he’s been drawing walks and getting on base at a good clip with the RailRiders. He’s walked 16 times and has an OBP of .360 with the club, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do after moving up a level. Roller, however, said he’s taken advantage of the way veterans sometimes pitch to turn the count in his favor.
“It’s still the same game,” said Roller, who has piled up 102 career minor league doubles, 10 triples and 72 homers for a career OPS of .833. “You have veterans up here that know how to pitch and tend to pitch backwards if need be. That’s where being patient really helps out up here.”
Even in college at East Carolina University he showed good patience. He was a 2010 preseason All-American with the team and was third in the nation with a school-record 61 walks in 2010, while holding a .529 on-base percentage.
“Being selective, good discipline at the plate, knowing what you want to hit in certain situations,” Roller said. “And the biggest thing is just being patient enough to hit it, trust what you see and don’t try to do too much.”
It’s selectivity like that which eventually leads players to a lengthy career in the Major Leagues whether they prove to be a power hitter or not.