When the San Francisco Giants selected third baseman Sean Roby in the 12th round of the 2018 draft, it was met with little fanfare at the time. Now, people are starting to take notice.
Before we go any further, it’s worth taking a closer look at draft prospects, in general, to give you an idea of what it meant to be a 12th-round pick from a junior college.
MLB draft prospects can generally be lumped into four categories:
1. Elite prospects that everyone has known about for a while. Think Joey Bart.
2. Once elite prospects whose luster has faded due to injury or recent struggles. Think Tristan Beck.
3. Players who are on the radar of a few media outlets, but don’t have long track records. Think Trevor McDonald.
4. Small high school, college, or JUCO players that have virtually no publicly available scouting reports.
When the San Francisco Giants selected Sean Roby last year, he fit firmly in that fourth category.
Outside of a barren Perfect Game page and a few highlights from his high school career, there just wasn’t much available:
What was available were the statistics from his sophomore season at Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona. He slugged 22 home runs, stole 15 bases and posted a gaudy .356/.408/.739 line in 58 games.
While those numbers are undeniably impressive, it’s always difficult to gauge JUCO stats with a sizeable gap in the level of competition relative to a major college.
His selection actually came as a surprise to Roby himself.
In an interview with Around the Foghorn, Roby mentioned that he had “never talked to the Giants before [the draft].”
A graduate of Shadow Hills High School in Indio, California, Roby had always dreamed of being a pro ballplayer. However, it took him longer than most to realize his dream might actually be attainable.
While he played in his fair share of tournaments on travel teams, his lanky 6’2″ frame had not yet developed enough to garner pro attention. He did receive some interest from four-year colleges, but “the plan was to go to a junior college” and that’s where he ended up.
Arizona Western College has historically been one of the top junior college programs in the country, producing a number of players over the past two decades, including former Giants Bengie Molina and Sergio Romo.
He produced a solid, albeit unspectacular .274/.359/.443 line as a freshman, before taking a major step forward as a sophomore.
“I kind of knew I was on MLB scout’s radar,” Roby said. “I started to realize that my dream of playing pro ball might come true.”
Indeed it did.
Despite strong play in the Giants’ lower-minor leagues, there’s still a lot of work to be done before he reaches his ultimate goal of playing Major League Baseball. It’s work he can’t wait to put it.
“I’m a guy that’s never going to give up,” Roby reiterated in his interview.
That attitude has already paid dividends.
Asked what his first big challenge was upon turning pro, Roby mentioned “trying to catch up to the fastball” and that’s not surprising. Even in the lower levels of the minors, pitchers have velocity that far outpaces what he saw in the JUCO ranks. Thus far, he’s been able to make the necessary adjustments.
He hit .288/.360/.442 with 14 extra-base hits in 186 plate appearances in rookie ball after signing last season, while also showing the defensive potential to stick at third base. With a full offseason of preparation, he’s taken another step forward in 2019.
Having just turned 21 years old on July 8, Roby would have just completed his junior season in college had he gone the four-year route. Despite being younger than the average player in the Northwest League, he has stood out enough to earn an All-Star selection with a .326/.417/.424 line in 168 plate appearances.
While he only has one home run this season, he does have 10 extra-base hits, and he put on an impressive display during the league’s Home Run Derby:
While there’s clearly plenty of raw power for Roby to tap into, he’s focused on staying within himself and becoming a more complete hitter.
“Right now I try to do a power/contact swing. If I try to do just power, bad things start to happen like more strikeouts and I’ll start rolling over a lot,” Roby said.
His strong performance and intriguing power potential earned him the No. 22 spot on Around the Foghorn’s midseason top 30 prospects update, and others are starting to take notice as well.
Jim Callis of MLB Pipeline mentioned Roby as a sleeper in the San Francisco Giants “system on the rise” while noting that he fell just outside the team’s top 30 prospects in their rankings.
In just a few short years, since his days as a solid high school player who was not on the MLB draft radar, Roby has come a long way.
“It’s hit me multiple times. Usually, when I’m on the bus and I’m just thinking to myself like ‘dang I’m actually a professional athlete.'”
There’s still a long road ahead, but if he continues on his current developmental path, it’s only a matter of time before we see Sean Roby in a San Francisco Giants uniform.