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The Bradsher Beat
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

By Bethany Bradsher

Ex-mentor: Roller college baseball's best

By Bethany Bradsher
All rights reserved.

Summer collegiate baseball leagues are pretty far off the radar for all but the most ardent fans, overshadowed by preseason football and the major leagues. But this week a Pirate earned an honor that makes him, according to his former coach, the top college baseball player in the nation.

For his contributions to the Bourne Braves that included leading the league in home runs (10), RBI's (33), doubles (13), slugging percentage (.644), extra-base hits (24) and runs scored (33), East Carolina slugger Kyle Roller was named MVP of the Cape Cod League on Saturday.

Roller also helped lead the team, which includes ECU pitcher Seth Maness, to the league championship series, where the Braves thumped the Cotuit Kettleers 15-5 Tuesday night in the fog-shortened six-inning opener of the best of three series.

For the soon-to-be senior, it’s the highest achievement in the most prestigious of the summer wooden-bat leagues. Since 1885, top collegians have traveled north to develop their game in Massachusetts towns like Hyannis and Orleans.

More than 200 former Cape Cod players were listed on major league rosters in 2008, and Roller shares his MVP distinction with former Cape Cod standouts like Evan Longoria (2005) and Jason Varitek (1993).

“If you had to have a vote, he’s the best amateur player in baseball right now,” said Link Jarrett, Roller’s hitting coach for the past three years at East Carolina. “Anyone will tell you that the CC League is the best of the best. And he was the best player in that group. That’s really a rare achievement. That’s like the Heisman trophy of what’s going on in college baseball right now.”

Jarrett is no longer part of the ECU staff — he left last month to become the director of player development at Auburn — but that doesn’t diminish his pride in Roller’s accomplishments or his expectation of future greatness in the young man from Rockingham.

For his outstanding play in the Pirates’ 2009 Conference USA Championship season, Roller was named first-team All-America and first-team All-Conference USA. He batted .336 with 63 runs and 16 home runs and led the Pirates with a .429 batting average in the NCAA tournament.

On June 11, Roller was selected in the 47th round of the MLB draft by the Oakland A's, becoming the fifth Pirate to be drafted. But Roller is still unsigned, fanning hope amidst the Pirate nation that he will return to a squad that Jarrett thinks could be even deeper than the 2009 Pirates.

Leaving ECU was tough for Jarrett for many reasons, he said, but missing a front-row seat to Roller’s senior season is certainly high on the list.

““He’s always been a very dedicated player, and I think he took his game to a new level this year,” Jarrett said. “I am so proud of Kyle and what he’s done, and he’s got a great future ahead of him.”

The recipe for Roller’s weighty success in the Cape Cod League is equal parts mental toughness and physical strength, Jarrett said. Roller is a thinking player who keeps track of opposing pitchers and their patterns — “one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached,” according to Jarrett.

He has the mental fortitude to get behind in the count and wait for the ideal pitch without collapsing under pressure.

“He thinks at a very high level, and the game within the game is something that he just really has a grasp of," said Jattett.

He’s also big and strong and so dedicated that he regularly reported to the field five hours before the first pitch to go through drills that the coaches developed to help him hit with more power and consistency, Jarrett said. Roller’s strength was probably an advantage when he made the transition from aluminum bats at ECU to the heavier wooden bats in the Cape Cod League.

As the summer season comes to a close, Jarrett is expecting more honors to come Roller’s way, including a watch list mention for the Golden Spikes Award — given to the nation’s top amateur player — and the C-USA Preseason Player of the Year.

“He’s everything you can ask for in a college student,” Jarrett said. “He’s dedicated, and he does things the right way.”

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08/12/2009 03:46:59 AM

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