Going into the 2019 baseball season, Jake Roberts expected to serve as a leader from behind the plate.
However, the Seymour High School junior has produced more on the other side of the ball than he ever imagined this spring.
Through 11 games, Roberts has blasted six home runs for the Owls. He has 12 total hits on 33 plate appearance and has amassed 18 RBI with a batting average of .364.
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The six bombs tie him for third-most in a season for an SHS baseball player, as he is currently tied with Luke Wrenn, Jeff Smith, Shannon Schurman, Richard Pollert, Pat Hagerty, Rob Mager and Jesse Wilson.
The second-most in a season at SHS — seven — is held by Hagerty, Drew Reinhart and Jason Roeder.
Adam Zollman holds the top mark with 12 home runs in a season, set in 1999.
Two of the home runs by Roberts were of the walk-off variety. He hit a three-run homer to help beat Lowell (Michigan) and a grand slam in a win over Madison.
“He’s a big, strong kid but has some quick hands,” Owls head coach Jeremy Richey said. “When you have that power with quick hands, this is what happens. The difference of when he hits a home run is his bat path. He’s through the ball, and it doesn’t elevate enough to be a home run. He’s an athletic kid for as big as he is.”
In each of the past three games, Roberts has hit a home run.
“He’s just not missing,” Richey said. “Right now, the conversation is that he’s not going to see as many fastballs the rest of the season. Word is going to get around that he has six home runs. When that happens, he’s got to adjust. He’s going to maybe get one or two fastballs now with his at-bat, and when they come, he can’t miss it. That’s what really good hitters do. They work through progressions.”
Roberts, who played center on the offensive line for the Owls’ football team, didn’t play on a travel team in the offseason. He said he played just six league games outside of practices with the baseball team.
In the fall, Roberts was listed at 6 feet, 210 pounds.
“He’s a football guy that’s really good in the offseason,” Richey said. “He works his butt off in the offseason. He isn’t playing 50, 60 games (of travel baseball). He does his stuff with us. It’s neat to see the results he’s seeing because it’s all him putting the time in.”
Richey said Roberts has continued to progress each time out.
“Each game, he became more and more comfortable after Trinity (Lutheran),” he said. “This past week, he had the Madison walk-off, and then one against Jennings County, and then another against Corydon. That (home run) against Corydon was the longest one I have seen in a while. That and the one against Jeffersonville were absolute bombs.
“We saw it in the winter. When he’s right, it’s impressive to watch. That ball jumps when he’s on time. You see that in a facility, but you don’t know what that looks like on a field.”
Richey has moved Roberts around the diamond this spring on defense.
“He has changed his role completely,” Richey said. “Leaving last year, we thought he would be our catcher. We had Brayden (Wilson) move over (from Trinity Lutheran), and that allowed both of them to catch and give us flexibility. He’s more of a threat to pitch now that Brayden is here. He has DH’d some, played third and some first and pitched. Offensively has been the biggest surprise of production.”
Roberts said he made some adjustments to his swing this past summer, and it has paid off.
“In the summer, I didn’t hit the ball very well,” he said. “I videotaped a couple of my swings off the tee and noticed I was kind of standing up. I tried to make my stance more athletic. I had my hands really close to my body, and I extended them out. I think that’s where some of my power is coming.”
The swing may have changed, but Roberts said the biggest difference is his confidence this season.
“I remember last year with my first at-bat against Edinburgh, my legs were shaking in the batter’s box,” he said. “This year, this is no pressure. It has just come to me. Coach Richey has really helped me with my confidence. Coach (Brad) Thompson has helped me mentally knowing the hitting counts and when the pitchers are going to throw me strikes so I know when I can crush it.”
While the season record for home runs would be a tough feat, Richey said the accomplishment isn’t out of the question.
“It would have to take something crazy to beat the record,” he said. “We’re through 11 games, and hopefully, we get to play 33 or 34 games. Weather is a factor, but with him at six already, you never know. We have some fields that are typically smaller coming up. You get on a run like this, and you never know.”
Roberts intends to keep pace.
“I just need to keep the same approach. If it comes to me, I need to kill the ball,” Roberts said. “If they throw me a strike, I think I can hit it.”