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Michael Roth pitching for Great Britain

GB veteran signs for the San Francisco Giants

11/21/2016, 12:45pm GMT
By Tom Flack

Michael Roth eyes return to the Big Leagues after stellar 2016 campaign

The San Francisco Giants have signed Great Britain pitcher Michael Roth to a minor league contract. He is expected to start next season in the starting rotation at AAA Sacramento. However, with an invitation to Spring Training, and pitching staff in flux, Roth is in the frame for a place on the Major League roster.

Michael Roth pitching for Great Britain

Left-hander Roth is the ace of the GB staff

Roth, 26, is already a stalwart of the GB team, having represented them at the last two World Baseball Classic Qualifiers. In the most recent tournament in New York, he pitched six innings of one-run ball against the eventual tournament winners, Israel [see video, below]. 

Roth made his name for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the College World Series (CWS), leading them to back-to-back titles in 2010 and 2011. He holds a 4-0 record with a 1.49 ERA in five CWS starts. He made his Major League debut for the Los Angeles Angels in 2012 — just 10 months after he was drafted.

Michael Roth pitching for Round Rock

Roth pitching for AAA Round Rock. Credit: Jamie Harms

Starting Something

The Giants won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014, and boast one of the most formidable starting rotations in the major leagues, fronted by the elite Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto. Jeff Samaardzija and Matt Moore provide a solid 3-4 punch, but the decline of veterans Matt Cain and Jake Peavy means the final spot in the rotation is there for the taking. 

“I wanted to be able to go into Spring Training to compete for a spot on a Big League roster," Roth, who received the call from Giants' GM Bobby Evans, said.

"I think the Giants have that opportunity.

“If I throw the ball well but I’m not chosen to start, there are bullpen slots open as well. I think I provide some versatility. Ultimately, I'm looking forward to competing."

Overhauling the bullpen

Following the departure of veterans Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla and Javier Lopez, extensive retooling of the Giants' relief corps is planned. This includes a slot for a left-handed specialist to replace Lopez, although the club already have three southpaw relievers in Will Smith, Josh Osich and Steven Okert — and a fourth if sophomore Ty Blach does not make the rotation. From the remaining pool of candidates, Roth has the edge both in experience (36 innings in the bigs, and 600 overall) and form. At AAA Round Rock in 2016, he posted a 2.97 ERA in 145 innings — the second best mark in the Pacific Coast League — enough to make the All-Star team.

VIDEO: Roth shuts down Israel

Roth has appeared in three seasons in the Majors: With the Los Angeles Angels in 2013 and 2014, before joining the Texas Rangers via Cleveland. A dominant first half in 2016 culminated in late June, when he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning. Two weeks later, he had been called up to face the best offense in baseball — the Boston Redsox. 

Scouting Report: Command and conquer

Roth has five pitches at his disposal. His bread and butter is a sinking fastball that tops out in the high 80s (86-90mph). This he compliments with a cut fastball (deployed most effectively against other left-handers), a curve, a slider and a changeup (80-83mph). He adds deception and keeps hitters off balance by varying his arm slot, dropping below is usual three-quarters delivery. In college, scouts and opposing coaches remarked that his off-speed pitch was his most potent weapon.

"I still use my changeup a good bit," Roth said. "[But] I've found out that in order for it to be most effective, I need to set it up using my sinker and cutter. If I try to live off of my change, it's probably not my best day."

"[His changeup] has late action," a Major League scout told ESPN in 2012. 
"Hitters try to do too much with it and pull it. If he's hitting spots [with his fastball] and the change is going, I don't think he thinks he can be beat."

The change in approach has paid dividends. Roth’s command in the minors has improved for five successive seasons, with his walks per 9 innings dropping from 4.5 to 2.6, and his strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) rising from 1.33 to 2.24 since 2013. He also posted career lows in home runs per nine (0.6) and WHIP (1.225) in 2016. Insiders suggest this also relates to his being more aggressive with hitters and, as his former coach at Round Rock says, ‘trusting his stuff’.

Roth said he had spent the off-season correcting any mobility issues that may have crept up over the course of the season. More recently, he has begun strengthening and conditioning. 

"I will start throwing again this coming Monday," he added. "Command of all of my pitches is vitally important. I want to continue to fine tune my curveball and cutter. I really made some strides with them last year. 

"I think what's also helped is finding a good arm slot that allowed me to have the natural whip of my arm in all of my pitches. It helped my command and the sharpness of every pitch." 

Roth’s final performance of the season provided emphatic evidence of this progress. Pitching in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier, Roth methodically mowed down a formidable Israel lineup, exhibiting poise, patience and command of all his pitches.

He threw 23 of 30 first pitches for strikes, and issued no walks. But for a pitch count limit, there is little doubt he would have gone the distance.

Michael Roth pitching for Great Britain

Roth has appeared in three Big League seaasons

And now — or rather next spring — he’ll get the chance to go at least one step further with San Francisco. 

Michael Roth: Key Facts

  • 41-29 with a 3.88 ERA in 600 pro career innings (511 minor, 36 MLB, 63 fall/winter), including 102 starts
  • 26-6 with a 1.91 ERA in 94 career appearances (44 starts) for South Carolina University
    • 8-0 in the College postseason with a 1.32 ERA in 88 1/3 innings
    • 4-0 in the CWS with a 1.34 ERA in a record 53 2/3 innings 
    • One of only two pitchers in CWS history to start two deciding games, winning both (vs. UCLA 2010; Florida 2011)
  • 9.1 innings, 4.82 ERA, 1 walk and 9 strikeouts in two starts for Great Britain in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier (2012, 2016)
  • 2011 All-American (with SC) 
  • Led NCAA Division I starting pitchers with a 1.06 ERA
  • 2016 All-Star (Pacific Coast League)
  • Drafted in the ninth round (297th overall) by the Los Angeles Angels in 2012

Follow Michael on Twitter at @mtroth29

Tag(s): Team GB  News