Yankees prospect Roller eyes the show as hometown watches

Raiders faithful continue following career of Rockingham native 

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

* Video interview with Kyle Roller
* Previous coverage
Photo gallery

CHARLOTTE — The life of a Minor League Baseball player doesn’t allow an athlete to focus on any one play or game for too long — good or bad.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Former Richmond Raider Kyle Roller circles the bases after launching his 10th home run of the season with Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a Sunday game against the Charlotte Knights at BB&T Ballpark.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Former Richmond Raider Kyle Roller circles the bases after launching his 10th home run of the season with Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in a Sunday game against the Charlotte Knights at BB&T Ballpark.

That’s because there’s always something to do to get ready for the next game. Make curfew. Catch the bus. In the aftermath of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) RailRiders’ 16-5 win over the Charlotte Knights Sunday at BB&T Ballpark in Charlotte, Kyle Roller had about 60 minutes before the team bus began its 213-mile journey southwest to Lawrenceville, Ga., where the RailRiders are set to open up a four-game series against the Braves.

Getting caught up in a double play in the third inning? Forget about it. A long fly ball that could have been a home run but wasn’t? Don’t dwell on it. The two-run home run in the fifth? Don’t think about that too much, either.

The biggest adjustment, Roller said in a post-game interview, at the Triple A level is simply sticking to an approach that has worked well so far. In a slump, players tend to try new things to break out of it but often that can lead to the development of new, bad habits.

Roller, the former Richmond Raiders standout and East Carolina University graduate, was selected by the Yankees in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of East Carolina University. He was a two-year starter for the Pirates and earned 2010 preseason All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball. He was selected by the Oakland Athletics in the 2009 draft but did not sign.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kyle Roller comes oh-so-close to breaking up this double play in the top of the third inning.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kyle Roller comes oh-so-close to breaking up this double play in the top of the third inning.

Roller, 26, began the year with Double A Trenton in the Eastern League. There, the first baseman/designated hitter feasted on “fastball pitching.” in 21 games, Roller posted a .385 batting average with nine home runs in 78 at-bats. The Yankees couldn’t help but promote him to Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

Since then, Roller’s numbers have been much more human but no less impressive. And when the power hitter gets hold of one — like he did a Daniel McCutchen fastball in the top of the fifth-inning Sunday night for a two-run blast, his 19th bomb of the year and 10th at Triple A — there’s no telling how far the ball, or his career, will go.

The Bronx Baseball Daily projected the Yankees’ top five prospects at first base last year. Roller was on the list, but at No. 6. The BBD’s take: “I had to add a sixth man to this list because Kyle Roller deserves to be on it. He may be better than the two guys ahead of him too. He’s older, so his prospect status is dwindling with each year, but he’s got solid power and patience at the plate.”

Photo by Sandy Roller Bryson Lampley, a Rockingham Bronco 12U All-Star, meets living Richmond County legend Kyle Roller, who is living the dream by playing Triple A baseball for the New York Yankees.

Photo by Sandy Roller
Bryson Lampley, a Rockingham Bronco 12U All-Star, meets living Richmond County legend Kyle Roller, who is living the dream by playing Triple A baseball for the New York Yankees.

Another online outlet, The LoHud Yankees Blog, called Roller the organization’s “most advanced first baseman” and with no clear succession plan on replacing Mark Texiera at first in New York, why not Roller in 2015 or beyond? Texiera, 34, is signed through 2016.

No publication can write anything Kenny Roller didn’t already know some two decades ago. As the dad played catch with his son, something was different, Kenny said as he watched his son Sunday night in Charlotte.

“I knew when he was 3 or 4 years old,” the elder Roller said when playing catch and tossing him balls to hit.

Even at that age, Roller said, the son “wouldn’t swing unless it was a strike.”

“I knew then there was something special about him,” Roller said.

As the years passed and his son moved up the ranks through local youth rec leagues and then high school, it became a scene somewhat familiar to the dad. Roller said he was an All-Star and conference Most Value Player when he played, as a pitcher, in high school.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kyle Roller and former Raiders baseball coach Trent Mangero meet before Sunday's game in Charlotte.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kyle Roller and former Raiders baseball coach Trent Mangero meet before Sunday’s game in Charlotte.

“I played high school ball,” Roller said. “I had opportunities to go on (to play in college). I just didn’t pursue it. I think being a pitcher in high school, it helped me help him bat.”

And as the prognosticators, both professional and amateur, all hazard guesses as to what Roller’s future holds, his father figures something will happen, and sooner rather than later.

“He just keeps hitting those 450-foot shots and somebody’s got to pick him up,” said the elder Roller. For now, though, “it’s all business. We don’t know. Day in, day out, go play ball. Just keep doing what he’s doing.”

Kenny Roller is a Yankees fan. What some people might not be able to understand, given the bitter American League East rivalry between New York and Boston, is that he also is a Red Sox fan. But if his son is wearing pinstripes, such split loyalties will disappear immediately.

“Boston who?” Roller quips.

* * * 

As the host Knights face a 12-3 deficit late Sunday’s game and risk their season-high five-game win streak, the Charlotte crowd does the wave. Not a one of the Raider faithful, loyal to Roller, participates. Throughout the four-game series in the Queen City, Roller has had legions of fans show up for support.

Sunday night was no different. There was dad Kenny, with wife Sandy. There was mom Lisa Campbell, with husband Ricky. There was Trent Mongero, the former Raiders baseball coach. There was Rockingham City Manager Monty Crump.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kyle Roller has a shot at being the first baseman for the New York Yankees - or, as his father says, any other team looking for someone who can launch 'em 450 feet.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kyle Roller has a shot at being the first baseman for the New York Yankees – or, as his father says, any other team looking for someone who can launch ’em 450 feet.

There was Bryson Lampley, who excelled as a pitcher for the Rockingham Bronco 12U All-Stars. Being on the road for seven months a year, Roller said it meant the world to have so many friends and family members travel to Charlotte to support him.

“It’s uplifting,” Roller said. “It is awesome. It’s about as close as I’ve been to home” during the season.

“Family,” he said, “means a lot to me.”

It was the RailRiders’ only visit of the season to Charlotte, and Roller and his teammates thanked them for their support. The RailRiders snapped a four-game losing streak, including a 7-0 shutout Saturday to the Knights — in a 16-5 victory over Charlotte. Roller upped his batting average to .274 with a 2-for-5 performance, including a two-run home run in the top of the fifth inning.

It was his 10th homer of the season for the RailRiders and second of the series. Roller also walked and singled. And it seemed all of Richmond County was with Roller every step of the way.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Kyle Roller in the batter's box at BB&T Ballpark, home of the Charlotte Knights.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Kyle Roller in the batter’s box at BB&T Ballpark, home of the Charlotte Knights.

 

 

 

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  • Kenny Roller

    I truly appreciate this great article and all the photo’s on Kyle. I also want to thank the community for supporting him. To clarify one thing, I had a chance to go play in college and not the minor league. Just a miscommunication. Thanks again for all of your hard work Kevin. It was a honor to meet you.

    Kenny Roller

  • peedeepost

    We’ve fixed that part of the report, Mr. Roller. Thanks for bringing that to our attention.

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