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Baseball: Why Ragin’ Cajuns center fielder Tyler Robertson ‘has everything it takes’

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, April 16, 2021

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Tyler Robertson had options coming out of St. James School in Montgomery, Alabama.

A shortstop and pitcher, he could have joined Auburn’s baseball program as a preferred walk-on. A receiver and all-state defensive back, he could have gone to UAB for football.

Or he could have doubled in baseball and football at Jacksonville State, where his father, Brian, played baseball in the late 1980s before spending one season at Auburn University of Montgomery.

Robertson, now UL’s starting center fielder, wasn’t sure what to do. Then he met Bobby Sprowl.

“He said, ‘We really like you, we want you to come to Shelton State, and if you do what I tell you to do I can get you anywhere you want to (go),’” Robertson said.

The juco coach was certain.

“I’ve been in this a long time, and you see talent. Raw talent. That’s what he had,” said Sprowl, who pitched for the Boston Red Sox in 1978 and the Houston Astros from 1979-81. “It just was a matter of was he gonna be able to progress?

 “I’d ride him some and sat him some if he didn’t do what we asked. But eventually he’s gotten better and better.”

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Robertson hit .313 in two seasons at the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, community college.

He’s batting .292 with six home runs for the Ragin’ Cajuns (20-12).

“That guy’s a freak. His trajectory is straight up. … He’s a raw, just elite athlete that has a lot of toughness and fight to him,” UL coach Matt Deggs said.

“I hate to put this on him, but I had Hunter Pence at that age and man there’s a lot of similarities between those two kids.”

Houston selected Pence, coached by Deggs at Texarkana College, in the second round of the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft.

The right fielder played 14 MLB seasons through 2020.

“He’s a big piece of clay,” Deggs said of Robertson. “But, goodness gracious, all that God-given talent. He has everything it takes.”

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Laying off pitches

Every hunk of clay, though, has some imperfection.

“I’m sure he’s had some wild swings and you go, ‘Wow, what was that?’ ” said Sprowl, who’s coached 30-plus years at Shelton State. “But in between, man, he can do some damage.”

Robertson spent last fall adjusting to Division I pitching.

“The biggest thing is (velocity),” he said. “Juco you see velo, but not on a consistent basis.

“I got more used to that, just pitch selection in general, laying off pitches that will get you out. I still have that problem sometimes, but I’m still working on it.”

What Robertson does in the outfield largely mitigates any lack of discipline at the plate.

“He’s probably one of the top defensive outfielders in the country,” Sprowl said.

“He’s got a good arm. … He can save you three or four runs a game, just defensively, even if he doesn’t get a hit.”

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All the tools

Robertson, the Montgomery Advertiser’s 2018 Class 1A-4A All-Metro Player of the Year, doesn’t want to get ahead of anything.

Before junior college, he simply didn’t feel ready for NCAA sports.

“I’ve always been athletic,” said Robertson, who’s listed at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds, “but I was not as filled out then.”

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So as tempting as playing college football or acting on that Auburn walk-on opportunity was, juco baseball made more sense to him.

Even after arriving at UL, Robertson assumed nothing – especially since the Cajuns returned starting center fielder Brennan Breaux, who now plays in left.

“I was never guaranteed a position,” Robertson said.

“I knew I’d have to come in, work my butt off, have to do everything right and just go hard every day in practice. We have a bunch of great outfielders, so it wasn’t easy at all.”

Giving Robertson a shot and a promise, however, was rather easy for Sprowl.

“He’s always had the tools. It’s just a matter of putting it together,” the juco coach said. “Honestly, I still think he’s just touching the surface.”