George Roberts concluded his first professional baseball season with a bomb.
The Forest Hills graduate and former AAABA League Most Valuable Player smacked a pair of home runs in the Hillsboro Hops’ season finale on Monday.
The rookie first baseman had a solo shot in the first and a three-run blast in the third inning of Hillsboro’s 10-6 win at Boise, Idaho.
“I started getting hot toward the end of the season,” said Roberts, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ 26th-round draft pick in June. “The first half wasn’t very good. I adjusted my swing. I worked with our hitting coach, J.R. House. The coaches suggested that I stand more upright so I could see the ball a little better than being slouched over. It worked out well.”
Hillsboro’s 10th consecutive road win wasn’t enough to get the Hops into the short season Class A Northwest League division playoffs. The Oregon-based Hops went 26-17 in their final 43 games, best in the league, but finished 34-42 overall.
Roberts batted .251 with Hillsboro. His 54 hits included eight doubles, a triple, seven homers and 33 RBIs. He went 5-for-15 in his last three games – 9-for-37 in the final 10.
The numbers are even more significant because Roberts played much of the summer with a nagging injury to his surgically repaired hand, the result of two separate pitches that hit him.
“The first half of the season was a struggle and our team struggled,” said Roberts, who batted .358 as a senior at Kent State, one season after earning MAC Player of the Year and playing in the 2012 College World Series.
“The second half got a lot better. Each player as an individual got better, and the team got better. We just missed the playoffs. We fell short but we ended our season strong.”
The Summerhill native made his minor league debut in June with the AZL D-Backs, a rookie league team based in Scottsdale, Ariz. His stay was short. Roberts earned a promotion after collecting three hits in 10 at-bats, with a double, triple and two RBIs.
Former Major League star Mark Grace was his hitting coach at Scottsdale. Former Pittsburgh Pirates prospect House tutored Roberts at Hillsboro.
With his season over, Roberts plans to take a brief break.
“I’m going back to school to take some classes (at Kent State),” Roberts said. “I’ll do an internship with our team back there. I’ll take a week off and then I’ll get back to lifting and running and getting back into shape.”
Roberts said he needs three classes to complete his degree in human movement studies/physical education and sports training.
Youngsters training at ERA Sports Inc. in Richland will have an opportunity to work with Roberts again this winter. He serves as an instructor at the year-round indoor baseball facility operated by his brother Rick Roberts, a former minor league pitcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.
“I’ll be at ERA again this winter. It’s fun,” George Roberts said. “You pick up new stuff each step of the way. In college I learned a lot. In one year of pro ball I learned a whole lot more. It’s great to share it with the kids and teach them the fundamentals and how to get better.”
Mike Mastovich is a sports writer for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/masty81.