Roache, Beck Give Georgia Southern Two Potential First Rounders
The last time Georgia Southern had a first-round pick, the team's current ace, righthander Chris Beck, was still in diapers. The Eagles' All-America outfielder, Victor Roache, wasn't even born yet.
It's been 20 years since Joey Hamilton went No. 8 overall to the Padres, but the Eagles should end that streak this year, as both players project as first-round picks come June.
In addition to their lofty draft status, the two players have more in common than you might think.
At first blush, it might not seem that way. However, both players were mid-round draft picks out of high school (Roache in the 25th round to the Tigers and Beck in the 35th round to the Indians) who weren't ready for the jump to pro ball but have blossomed in college. Both players passed on the opportunity to attend big schools near their home towns in favor of Georgia Southern. Beck grew up in Jefferson, Ga., 18 miles away from Georgia's campus; Roache is from Ypsilanti, Mich., 15 minutes east of Ann Arbor, where Michigan is located.
Both players also experienced some growing pains on the way to being considered among college baseball's elite.
The key to both players' turnarounds was confidence. Roache recalls one moment that he considers the turning point for his freshman season. At the time, he was hitting just .177 (8-for-45) with two home runs, and a little pep talk changed his approach and sparked a better second half, allowing him to finish the year hitting .252/.408/.464 with eight home runs.
"I'll never forget—we were at the College of Charleston and we were about to go into the second game, and coach (Rodney) Hennon and (assistant) coach (Mike) Tidick called me down to their hotel room," Roache said. "They were like, 'When we recruited you, we didn't bring you down here to have the mentality of a leadoff hitter and take pitches and be passive at the plate. We brought you down here to swing the bat. You've got a lot of power and pop in the bat and that's what we want you to do. Who cares if you swing through some balls and strike out? We want you to continue to pick your pitch out and attack at the plate.' Ever since that moment, my mentality and my results have been different."
How different? While new bats were dragging down offensive numbers for most of college baseball—home runs were hit at the lowest rate since 1975—Roache went out and hit .326/.428/.778 with 30 home runs. It was the most home runs in college baseball since Billy Becher hit 33 in 2003 for New Mexico State and more home runs than two of the teams (Virginia and Texas) that made it to the 2011 College World Series.
Roache obviously has tremendous power. How much he hits will depend on how well he can make adjustments, especially when it comes to laying off breaking balls out of the strike zone, but the bat speed, balance and coordination are in place for him to succeed. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder moves well for his size, but will be a station-to-station runner with his fringe-average speed. He also has an average arm, so he'll likely be limited to left field and has seen some time at first base.
After the season he had last year and given his sunny prospects for the upcoming draft, the spotlight will be extra bright for Roache. But one of his earliest mentors in the game—Indians hitting coordinator Bruce Fields—helps keep him grounded and driven.
"Bruce is one of the main people who keeps me humble and keeps me focused on what the ultimate goal is," Roache said. "Coming back this winter, hitting with him, he heard about my season—30 home runs—and the first thing he said is, 'That season was nice, but you ain't done nothin' yet. So, get in the cage and get to work!' So, just by him saying stuff like that, it keeps me focused on what my main goal is and it keeps me humble."
Roache is aware that he is not a finished product. He knows he needs to get better at recognizing curveballs. He knows he's going to be pitched around this year. He takes it all in stride with a cool confidence and works hard every day to get better, even seeking unique ways to get reps.
"It's kind of hard to simulate a game curveball without seeing it in a game," Roache said. "So I asked (pitching) coach (B.J.) Green if I could stand in when pitchers are throwing their bullpens, because the more breaking balls I see leading up to the season, the quicker and better I'll be able to pick them up in games."
Despite his Southern locale, Beck wasn't a player who only focused on baseball as a prep. He played basketball all through high school and credits the change in scenery for ultimately helping on the mound.
"You see a lot of guys nowadays that just play year-round baseball, but I always thought it was really good to differentiate from just one sport," Beck said. "Because you see guys that get burnt out at age 14. I played basketball and baseball in high school. It kind of gives you a break from the game, and it was a key part of the conditioning element. Pitching is so explosive and you need to run a lot, so it always kept me in good shape. The arm had to catch up a little bit, but the legs were surely there and conditioning was no problem."
Beck's draft stock in high school was like a buzzer-beater for scouts in Georgia. He wasn't a big showcase player the summer before his senior year of high school. He played in some tournaments with Team Georgia, but didn't go to a lot of the major scouting events, and it actually wasn't until about a month before the draft that he started to get serious attention from scouts.
In Beck's region championship game, pitching against rival North Oconee High, Beck threw a no-hitter with 12 strikeouts, and his fastball jumped up from his usual 88-89 to touch 95 mph.
"After my region championship game, I got a call from the Boston Red Sox (scout) Tim Hyers, and my mouth just dropped," Beck said. "I didn't know if he had the wrong number or if he actually knew he called me. It was really surprising."
After that, things blew up.
"It was a little overwhelming," Beck said about the late attention. "It got a little circus-y, I guess you could say. I think I went from two scouts at one game, to the next game there was maybe 19 or 20."
Because everything came so quickly, Beck said he didn't strongly consider signing because he just wasn't ready for that jump from a maturity standpoint. After all, there's a huge difference from being the big fish in a tiny pond (Beck's graduating class at Jefferson had about 120 students) to being a 35th-round guppy in the cold ocean of professional baseball.
Beck's transition to Georgia Southern was even rockier than what Roache went through. He went 2-4, 8.31 with 23 strikeouts and 18 walks over 30 innings. Like Roache, going through that struggle early wound up helping Beck in the long run.
"It was just a really big growing experience," Beck said. "My first start was against Georgia Tech when they were preseason fourth in the nation with Derek Dietrich, (Tony) Plagman, Jeff Rowland—you know, the lineup just kept going. That was my first start and I don't think I could breathe (during) my first pitch. My next big start was against Clemson when Kyle Parker was there. I remember he hit one almost out of the stadium on me. I was really just up and down with my consistency, but it was a great experience because it definitely taught me how to pitch and what I needed to do to be successful."
Beck turned things around in 2011, going 9-5, 3.23 with 109 strikeouts and 40 walks over 103 innings, which included taking things up a notch when it mattered most. In the Southern Conference tournament, Beck beat a good College of Charleston team in game one before coming back on short rest to throw a complete-game shutout in the championship game against Samford. Over those two games, Beck went 2-0, 0.53 with 22 strikeouts and two walks over 17 innings.
"I think that did a lot for him and his psyche, his confidence," Hennon said. "He's a competitor."
The success continued throughout the summer, where Beck and Roache were teammates with Cotuit in the Cape Cod League. A 26-hour road trip this summer really solidified their friendship.
"Going to the Cape really allowed us to bond with each other," Roache said. "Driving up there from Georgia, we were talking a lot and it was the Georgia Southern boys against the whole Cape Cod, so just having that mentality really brought us a lot closer."
In the Cape, Beck posted a 2.12 ERA and ranked fifth with 41 strikeouts over 51 innings. He has a durable frame at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, fires his fastball in the 91-94 mph range and tops out at 96. He has a power slurve that needs more consistency and also knows how to use his 83-84 mph changeup, giving him a chance for three plus pitches.
"For a big man, he has a really good feel for his other pitches beyond his fastball," Cotuit head coach Mike Roberts said. "So, he not only knows how to throw with great stuff, but he understands there are other days where he has to finesse it. It's rare. Not many guys know how to do that."
In addition to his impressive stuff and feel, Beck already approaches the game like a pro.
"I don't know that I've ever had, in my Cape League days, any better pitching makeup than Chris has," Roberts said. "He goes out there and wants to stay out there the entire game. He has kind of an old-school mentality."
As two of Georgia Southern's four captains this year (voted on by their teammates), Beck and Roache also have similar goals this season: make sure the team is ready to play every day and let everything else—draft stock, personal stats and awards, even wins and losses—fall into place.