San Diego Padres rookie right-hander Donn Roach made his first major league start yesterday against the Colorado Rockies. It did not go particularly well: Roach went just three innings, allowing four runs on four hits and a walk in an 8-6 Rockies victory. However, it was a spot start for a guy who has spent the rest of the spring in the bullpen, and overall his rookie season has gone decently: 24 innings, 3.75 ERA overall, 2.57 ERA with 3.12 FIP in relief, 13/10 K/BB with a 3.50 GO/AO.
Will Roach get more opportunities to start? I've always found him interesting so we will take a look at him as Monday's Prospect of the Day.
Donn Roach began his college career at the University of Arizona in 2009. His freshman year did not go well: 7.84 ERA, 22/22 K/BB in 41 innings, 56 hits allowed, serious concerns about his grace under pressure, and little pitching time on the agenda for his sophomore year. Seeing the writing on the wall, he transferred to the College of Southern Nevada for 2010, making himself eligible for the draft as a junior college player. His timing was excellent: some guy named Bryce Harper was also playing for CSN, ensuring that Roach would get lots of exposure with scouts.
Roach had a great spring, going 12-3, 2.67 with a 142/26 K/BB in 111 innings. He also showed much better mound presence and was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the supplemental third round. His pro debut resulted in an ugly 6.04 ERA with Orem in the Pioneer League, but there was a lot of bad luck there and his component ratios were better than the ERA. He was more effective in the Midwest League in '11 with a 3.45 ERA for Cedar Rapids and a 68/20 K/BB in 70 innings of relief work. More importantly, the Angels made some substantial changes to smooth out his delivery and improve his command.
Roach returned to starting in 2012 and was outstanding, posting a 2.16 ERA with a 29/3 K/BB in 42 innings for High-A Inland Empire. Traded to the Padres for Ernesto Frieri in early May, he remained effective with a 1.74 ERA and a 44/11 K/BB in 47 innings for Lake Elsinore, then a 1.59 ERA in three late starts for Double-A San Antonio. He returned to the Texas League and posted a 3.53 ERA with a 77/40 K/BB in 140 innings last year, making 28 starts. He opened '14 in the big league pen, skipping Triple-A entirely.
Listed at 6-0, 195, Roach was born December 14, 1989. He is not a strikeout artist and his whiff rates have not been impressive since leaving A-ball. That said, he's remained effective due to an extreme ground ball rate: he posted a 3.55 GO/AO in '11, 3.53 in '12, 2.37 in '13. and 3.50 so far in the majors. That isn't a statistical illusion or fluke, but rather the key to his entire approach.
The sinker doesn't have terrific velocity: it tops out at 91 and is usually in the 87-88 range. He has full confidence in the pitch however. It moves well and hitters can't seem to loft it, even when they know it is coming. Roach's secondary pitches are a splitter and a curveball, neither outstanding but both pitches work well when combined with the sinker. He usually throws strikes; the mechanical changes he made a few years ago enhanced his command and reduced the effort he makes on each pitch.
With a good infield defense behind him and a little luck, Roach can be effective. Most scouts seem to think he's a middle reliever going forward, but given his background as a starter it wouldn't' surprise me to see him develop into a solid inning-eater type, his initial struggles yesterday notwithstanding.