Pirate on the Mound: Alex Roth is Gassing Fastballs Through the Minors

Alex Roth was sitting in his evolution class taking notes at Western Oregon University when he got the text.

“Pirates now.”

He ran out of class, perfectly disrupting everyone in it – which his professor wasn’t happy about – and found out the news.

He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the twenty-first round of the 2019 MLB Draft.

“I took phone calls from everybody barely being able to breathe from all the excitement that had taken over me,” Roth said.

Now, the 22-year-old from Aurora, Colorado is pitching for their minor league team, the Bristol Pirates.

In his first season last year, Roth posted a 3.32 ERA with four saves and 24 strikeouts in 19 innings of work.

But it might surprise you to learn that Roth wasn’t always focused on pitching.

In high school, he was a position player taking spots around the field rather than on the mound. Once he reached college, he knew that he had the most potential for growth in pitching.

Now, he’s tossing fastballs at the professional level with his family watching on.

“Watching him pitch in a professional minor league game is surreal to me,” Alex’s brother Zach Roth said. “Considering the fact that he went from a position player and rarely pitching in high school to being a professional pitcher just goes to show how incredible of a work ethic he has.”

Before watching his brother pitch in a Bristol Pirates uniform, Zach was throwing the ball with him in their backyard.

The two would play catch and pitch to each other for hours almost every day and when they wanted to stretch it out some more, they would go to the closest park and throw long toss.

Often, Zach left with a reminder of the heat Alex threw.

“He has stung my hand with plenty of fastballs and I’m becoming more and more hesitant to play catch with him as he keeps gaining velocity,” Zach Roth said.

Alex first started playing baseball when he was five years old because his parents and his friends parents wanted to get them into sports. They all played baseball, basketball and soccer together. 

Baseball of course stuck with him.

After going 5-0 with a 2.41 ERA as a senior at Mountain Ridge High School in 2016, Alex made his way to WOU.

In his first season with the Wolves, Roth finished with a 3-0 record, struck out 25 batters in 17 innings, held opponents to a .183 batting average and struck out a season-high nine batters in four innings against Central Washington to win a tournament game.

Then in his second year, Roth was named Co-GNAC (Great Northwest Athletic Conference) Pitcher of the Year and First Team All-GNAC after recording a 5-1 record and leading the conference with a 3.77 earned-run average. He also struck out a team-high 58 batters and held opponents to a .253 batting average while pitching seven shutouts in 13 appearances.

Then his third and final year rolled around.

He was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Division II Conference Commissioners Association (D2CCA) All-West Region First Team, was named the GNAC Pitcher of the Year and made First Team All-GNAC. He led the conference in ERA (2.35) by a 1.61 margin over every other qualified pitcher and finished second in the GNAC in wins (7), strikeouts (87) and first in opponent batting average, posting a .200.

His team never suffered a loss all season when he made a start. He also set the school record for strikeouts in a game during his final year.

That record came on March 30, 2019 against Saint Martin’s which also tied the GNAC all-time record.

Roth threw seven shutout innings, giving up three hits, no runs, walking one and striking out 15. He was perfect through 3.2 innings before giving up a hit. He was named the NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week and GNAC Pitcher of the Week for his efforts.

“When my coach tried to pull me because of a high pitch count I told him, ‘no way, they can’t touch me, let me have one more,'” Alex Roth said. “I got to empty the tank and leave it all out there in my last inning.”

After pulling away from being a position player and focusing on the pitching hump, Roth took notice of the weight the job holds.

“Being a pitcher is different than any other position in baseball because everybody is looking at you for every single pitch. If you make a mistake at other positions, you can usually take a while to reset without getting tested again,” Alex Roth said. “However, pitchers don’t get that luxury, so learning to embrace the fact that a lot of the game revolves around you and being able to maintain confidence no matter what happens is a huge key to success.”

Following a 15-1 record, 170 strikeouts in 135.2 innings of work and a 3.05 ERA in three years of college baseball, Roth was drafted to the Pirates.

The brother whose hand stings after playing catch was one of the people smiling when Alex got the news.

“It was a massive feeling of pride and joy for him because it has always been his dream and he has worked so hard to get here,” Zach Roth said. “He has grown so much as a player and a person over the last few years and I think he has an outstanding career ahead of him.”

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