The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

June 9, 2013

Arizona drafts Roberts

JOHNSTOWN — George Roberts spent much of Saturday waiting for the phone to ring or watching online as Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft progressed through its second day.

The Kent State first baseman from Summerhill was anxious to hear or see word of a selection that would impact his future.

“It was nerve-wracking. I’ve been waiting all day. I was kind of scared I wasn’t going to get picked,” Roberts said shortly after the Arizona Diamondbacks selected him in the 26th round. “I was waiting by the phone. I didn’t know I got picked until my adviser called me. They took a break online, so it looked like I didn’t get picked, and then I got a call from the Diamondbacks.”

The Forest Hills High School graduate and former AAABA League MVP’s next stop will be in Scottsdale, Ariz., where he will receive a physical and other evaluations in preparation for an assignment within the organization.

“I could fly out as early as (today),” said Roberts, who recently completed his career at Kent State by hitting .358 as a senior and earning a spot on the All-Mid American Conference first team. “Short season begins and all their leagues pretty much begin. They evaluate you and send you on your way.”

The Diamondbacks’ Class A teams are the Missoula (Mont.) Osprey and the Hillsboro (Ore.) Hops. There also is a Rookie League team, the AZL D-Backs, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The hard-hitting Roberts received advice and guidance from his older brother Rick Roberts, a former left-handed pitcher selected in the 10th round by the Detroit Tigers in 1997.

After a trade, Rick Roberts advanced to the high minors in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization until arm problems ended his career.

“The only advice I told him was to outwork everybody and prove that you belong,” Rick Roberts said. “George has got the talent. I think if he keeps working hard and tries to outwork everybody in the organization, he’ll play for a while. The one thing about George is he’s a good kid. He doesn't have the at-titude issues and he’s always going to give 100 percent. That’s something a lot of kids lack these days.”

On the field, George Roberts lettered four times with the Golden Flashes and was an impact player during his final two seasons. As a junior he hit .364 and was named MAC Player of the Year as Kent State won the conference and advanced to the College World Series.

This season Roberts collected 59 hits, 33 runs, 14 doubles, two triples, two homers and 41 RBI despite missing significant playing time due to a broken hamate bone in his hand suffered early in the season.

After Kent State concluded a 36-23 season, the university’s official website noted Roberts, 23, will be remembered as “one of the best to wear the blue and gold.”

He had pre-draft workouts with the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. The Diamondbacks contacted him multiple times.

“I was definitely getting worried,” Rick Roberts said of George’s wait on Saturday. “I’m glad he’s got a shot. I think Ricky Matsko, who is with the Diamondbacks, definitely helped. He followed him and knew he could play. Ricky followed me when I played. He knew our family. Rick talked to the area scout in Ohio and told him, ‘You’ve got to watch this kid play.’”

Matsko is a Conemaugh Township High graduate and former AAABA Tournament standout with Sani-Dairy in 1997. Matsko is a Diamondbacks scout responsible for covering the area including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, New Jersey and West Virginia.

He was scouting a game Kent State played against Virginia Tech, which is in his area, and noticed Roberts.

“Technically, George is not my guy because I don’t do Ohio,” said Matsko, noting that Nate Birtwell is the Ohio area scout for the Diamondbacks. “I saw George in the first weekend. Obviously you want to check out the hometown kid. I was real impressed with his batting practice.

“There were four teams there, and George took the most impressive batting practice there. He’s a really strong kid and he really impacts the ball when he hits it. I went back and told the (Diamondbacks) guys. My crosschecker was there. My crosschecker actually scouted Rick Roberts.

“We just told my area guy I liked him. He’s the one who took care of him and wrote the report on him. I’m really happy to see a Johnstown kid get a chance.”

While Matsko downplayed his role in the process, Rick Roberts appreciated the extra effort.

“Ricky is a big reason I think George got drafted,” Rick Roberts said. “That’s good. He’s a local guy who fought for a local kid.”

George Roberts is ready to head West and begin a new baseball chapter.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ever since I was little growing up and watching my brother play,” he said. “The first two years of college were a struggle and I worked a lot harder. My junior and senior years I worked that much harder and it’s paid off. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Notes: Martella’s Pharmacy left-hander Alex Haines was selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 33rd round. Haines went to Hempfield High and played at Seton Hill University.  . . . As reported in Saturday’s Tribune-Democrat, Somerset High right-handed pitcher Ian Stiffler was picked by the Atlanta Braves in the seventh round.

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