Daniel Robertson: Settling In
After a whirlwind few months of fall ball, being traded, and trying to get to know his new teammates and coaches, Daniel Robertson finally got a chance to take a step back and process everything that had happened.
Unfortunately, that opportunity to clear his head didn’t come under the best circumstances.
Robertson came to the Tampa Bay Rays organization from the Oakland Athletics in a blockbuster five-player trade that centered around Ben Zobrist in January 2015. But the way that Robertson found out about the trade was unorthodox.
“I had been on vacation and got home a day before the trade,” he said. “I had lost my phone on vacation, so I had my iPad, that was the only thing that was working, and I found out through Twitter. My agent, everybody was trying to get ahold of me, and they had no way to know my phone had been lost.”
Robertson, Boog Powell and John Jaso came over to the Rays for Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, and while he was perhaps the biggest name coming back over to the Rays, Robertson didn’t feel any extra pressure.
“I was honored and humbled to be in that trade with the great Ben Zobrist, who everyone speaks highly of over here,” Robertson said. “I don’t think there was any pressure. Maybe early on it was just a change of scenery and getting to know new people. But now I’m settled in and familiar with everything, familiar with my teammates and what this organization does. I’ve settled in nicely. I can just relate this time last year to now, I’m totally more relaxed and having fun playing the game than I was.”
The 22-year-old infielder has proven himself so far in Triple-A in 2016, his first year at the highest minor league level. Robertson is hitting .267, the best batting average of any Bulls player who hadn’t played in Triple-A before, and has raised his batting average 53 points since May 1st.
He was batting similarly well in May of 2015, his first taste of Double-A, but had endured some cold streaks early on.
Then, in early June 2015, his first season in the Rays’ system was put on ice.
“It was definitely something I did not see happening,” he said. “It was a fluky thing, I fouled a pitch off and felt something go wrong.”
Robertson broke his hamate bone in his wrist, knocking him out for almost two months of play, which can be devastating to a young player who needs every at-bat to learn and develop.
“It wasn’t what I envisioned happening, but it’s all part of baseball,” Robertson said. “It was kind of a blessing in disguise to sit back, relax and take a deep breath, because I was trying to do too many things at once my first year in the organization. It gave me a chance to restart and regroup, and it’s been good ever since.”
With that revitalization, Robertson came back with 10 hits in his first 10 games back in August 2015 with Montgomery. Then he exploded for eight hits in three days.
That fall, he returned to the Arizona Fall League for a second stint in as many seasons, focused on getting in the at-bats he had lost due to injury. But he also picked up some extra reps at second base, a position he hadn’t played with any frequency in years.
“It was cool, I was out there with [Montgomery Manager] Dan DeMent, we were working every day at second base,” Robertson said. “It just kind of made me a little more valuable, a little more versatile. It actually helped me out this year because I’ve been playing a lot of third and second, and now with Motter in the big leagues I’m getting a little more time at short. I like moving around, if something happens and they need a guy somewhere, I’m comfortable playing all three spots.”
Now that he is settled in with the Rays, Robertson has returned to his baseball roots, in a way. Growing up, he played all over the field, but settled into third and shortstop in high school. He played the majority of his games at shortstop between High-A and Double-A, but played almost as much at third and second base in the early part of this season.
“It wasn’t until my High-A year I only played shortstop alongside [current Chicago Cubs shortstop] Addison Russell,” Robertson said, “I mean, I love playing short, and I can see myself playing there. I’ve put a lot of hard work in with the guys over here and when I was with Oakland to try to stay there, but like I said, I’m happy to be on the field, wherever gets me in the lineup.”
Robertson also got to know some of the other players in the Rays’ system when he was invited to big league spring training for the second time. He had played in a few games of major league spring training with Oakland, but didn’t get his first invite until he was with Tampa Bay.
Last season, that invite helped him meet some of the coaches who would be deciding his future, and the players he might end up alongside one day. This season, he got to know some of the guys who are in the majors a little better.
“You never know with a call-up or anything I won’t be a fish out of water, I’ll know some guys and be pretty comfortable,” Robertson said. “[Steven] Souza had us over at his house a couple times, he was very welcoming, [Logan] Forsythe was awesome, and obviously I talked a lot to [Evan] Longoria and stuff like that. They’re all very approachable, and even Brad Miller, in his first year over here, I met him the first day and he knew my whole history like he had known me forever. That’s just cool to see guys like that with big league experience and being able to talk to them like someone you played with for 10 years.”
Aside from learning and re-learning positions, Robertson has focused this season on being more consistent at the plate. He’s always been known for his solid batting average, but Robertson thinks he can do more.
“I’m just trying to simplify everything. I’ve been streaky a little bit,” he noted. “I don’t want to be hot for a week and then totally go MIA. I want to be that consistent player everyday who shows up.”
Now that he is settled in with the organization and at the Triple-A level, Robertson is already laying the foundation so he can quickly settle in and be ready for a big league call-up.