Standing in the left-handed batter’s box at 6’1, 250, Kyle Roller watches the infield defense shift to his right expecting him to pull the ball. However, a pitch that runs over the middle of the plate allows Roller to slap an opposite field line drive that splits the left fielder and center fielder and beats the shift for an easy double.
“I love when I see the teams shift on me because I know I can drive it the other way. My main focus is to get a good pitch to hit.” For Roller, his natural swing gives him the power to the opposite field. However, making it happen required work. “That’s one of the things I worked on this off-season.” He said. “It gives me a better chance to hit the ball and get a base hit”.
The Rockingham, North Carolina native has showcased his talents with the bat and his eye. Bypassing to go pro in 2009 when the Oakland Athletics drafted him in the 47th round, he decided to play collegiality at East Carolina. In his two seasons with the Pirates he clubbed 30 home runs and drove in 123 runs.
Also, he showed his keen eye at the plate drawing 61 walks which ranked third in the country and a school record in 2010. “Ever since high school I always pride myself on taking my walks. Don’t change your approach at the plate if they don’t want to give you anything. Trust that your teammates will drive you in.” With the pop in his bat and his good eye, Roller proved he is more than a pull-happy, power hitting first baseman. The New York Yankees drafted him in the eighth round of the 2010 First-Year Draft.
In 2010, at Short Season Staten Island, he hit .272/.367/.402. He began the 2011 campaign in Charleston where he cruised through the South Atlantic League earning a call-up to Advanced-A Tampa where he finished the year.
2012, he spent the entire year there hitting .266/.357/.482 while hitting 18 home runs and 85 RBI, a career high at that point. In 2013, he put together a solid campaign in Double-A Trenton but it wasn’t until this year where his numbers started to make noise.
In just 21 games, Roller feasted on fastballs in the Eastern League and crushed nine home runs with a .378 contact clip to go with and the Yankees quickly promoted him to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
With the RailRiders, he continued his success with a smooth transition from Trenton to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. “There’s always an adjustment period. In Double-A, they challenge you more. Here they try to get you out of your comfort zone. I just try to find a game plan and stick to it.”
With the trade of Peter O’Brien to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the trade deadline, Roller became the leader in home runs within the organization. However, he does not pay attention to his moonshots that make a pitcher-friendly PNC Field look otherwise.
“I’m just here to do my job,” he said. “My job is to drive in runs and hit the ball hard. Whatever happens, happens.” Along with pacing the organization in home runs, he also is top ten in batting average and RBI.
The Yankees have Mark Texiera signed through 2016. Along with Roller, Greg Bird has raised his stock this past season reaching Double-A Trenton. With Roller and Bird in the mix, it can create a problem the Yankees would not mind having a position battle for the future first base job. Right now, it’s uncertain if Roller will ever see time in New York. Yet, one thing is for certain. He can hit. He has power. He might just slug his way to the majors.