Michael Roth is one of only four pitchers to play for Great Britain in both of its World Baseball Classic appearances, and the only one to merit a start in each tournament. Roth, a 6-1, 210 left-handed hurler, made his major league debut in 2013 with the Los Angeles Angels, his first full professional season, earning a win in the process. He received his third callup last summer with the Texas Rangers after a stellar season in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (PCL).
Roth, who turned 27 recently, had a career year last season, finishing second in the PCL in ERA (2.97) and fifth in WHIP (1.22) for the Round Rock Express. He compiled an 11-5 record, placing in the top-10 in victories. Capping off his efforts was a memorable performance for Great Britain against 15-year big league veteran Jason Marquis. Roth hurled six innings, scattering one run on six hits and no walks, striking out four, and left with the game knotted at one. He exited due to WBC pitch counts, memorably discussing them in post-game press conference.
Britain’s star southpaw signed with the San Francisco Giants on November 14, and will look to crack a big league rotation during the season. While San Francisco has a dominant front four of Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Matt Moore, it has some question marks after that, though Matt Cain has been serviceable as a $20m fifth starter.
Roth took some time to talk to me about his offseason and preparations for the upcoming campaign.
Gabriel Fidler: How hard was it to end your season getting pulled in such a close game in Brooklyn?
Michael Roth: It was a bit frustrating not being able to go back out for the 7th inning. I have always prided myself on pitching deep into ball games as a starter. It felt like something was being taken away too soon. I understand the intention for the pitch count rules but it also causes frustration from the competitor’s viewpoint.
GF: How do you feel like the GB programme has changed since the last World Baseball Classic?
MT: I think the product we were able to put out on the field speaks volumes to the amount of change the GB program has experienced the last four years. In Germany, we weren’t very competitive at all. In Brooklyn, we were in every game. The culture of the team was also different. We expected to go out there, compete, and win pitches, at bats, and eventually the ball game.
GF: What did it mean to you wearing the GB uniform?
MT: It is always an honor to wear the GB uniform. While I was born in the US, it is a great honor to represent my heritage and will never take that for granted. My mother was born in Kettering and moved to the US when she was 12. My grandfather and grandmother both served in the RAF where they met.
GF: Why no winter ball this offseason?
MT: Quite simply, I needed a break. My arm needed a break, but also my mind. Not to mention I was getting married in December!
GF: Seems like things really clicked for you last year. Why do you think that was?
MT: I attribute my success to a variety of things. First, winter ball was the first time that I was really all on my own with no pitching coach offering up advice or adjustments. Also, my time down in the Dominican Republic reminded me why I started playing baseball when I was young. It was fun! Sometimes the fun of the game gets lost in the business of baseball. Next, I was able to make some minor adjustments which has really helped me repeat my arm slot. I’m looking forward to building off of last year’s success.
NB: Roth had an excellent campaign over the winter of 2015-16 for the Aguilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League. He had a 3.38 ERA in seven starts, walking only four and striking out 23 in 32 innings.
GF: Talk us through signing with the Giants.
MT: When I hit the free agent market, I was looking for a home with an opportunity to be in the [Big] Leagues. I felt like the Giants were the best fit. Now it is up to me to go make the most of it.
GF: How did you prepare for this season over the winter?
MT: This offseason was not much different from others. After taking a week or two off from the last day of the season, I train five days a week in the weight room. I begin throwing right after Thanksgiving. There are usually small tweaks here and there depending on improvements I am seeking or an area I may be lacking. Really the only big changes this spring are having my wife with me. That makes the life away from the field a lot better.
GF: With all that training, what did you do for fun this past offseason?
MT: I got married. I traveled. Also, I started working in commercial real estate brokerage. I have always been interested in real estate and felt like getting involved was the best way to learn. It was also nice to just be home and be with family.
GF: What are big differences between big league and minor league spring training?
MT: For starters, money. Almost everything is different. Big League Spring Training is more laid back. You are expected to take care of your work because if not it will show. And obviously, the amenities are better. It’s the big leagues!
GF: What part of your game do you currently feel is the strongest?
MT: Competing. When it comes down to it, you have to get outs. And whether I feel terribly or great, I am going out there to get people out.
GF: Any new teammates that especially impress you?
MT: All the guys have been great. Sometimes it is hard to walk into a clubhouse with faces you have never seen before but everyone has been really cool and I’m looking forward to getting to know them better.
GF: Is there a certain player you model your game after?
MT: Andy Pettitte was my favorite pitcher growing up because he was left handed and played on the Yankees. I’ve always wanted to pitch like him and would take his career any day. But I’ve learned that the only guy I can be is myself and I try to go out and be the best player I can possibly be.
GF: You’ve been assigned to Sacramento. Has your organisation discussed expectations/plans for this season with you?
MT: They want me to…compete for a job with the Giants.
NB: Roth started the year as a swingman in Triple-A, where he is 2-1 with a 5.62 ERA in four games and one start.
GF: Do your teammates talk to you about your time with GB Baseball? If so, what sorts of things do you talk about?
MT: I’ve definitely shared stories about my time with GB. And as usual, the best times come outside of the baseball field and with the fun group of guys we have had.
GF: Do you have any advice for new players learning the game in Great Britain?
MT: Keep practicing and having fun. Play with you friends as much as possible. It makes the game fun and you get better the more you do so.
GF: What are your goals for this year?
GF: Thanks again for taking the time to speak with us.
MT: No problem and thank you!
We’ll have more season previews in the next week, featuring Mets’ prospect Blake Taylor and Jake Esch, who made his major league debut last year. If you enjoyed hearing more from players a the national level, be sure to read our ongoing series of World Baseball Classic Retrospectives with players like Kenley Jansen and Andrelton Simmons (Netherlands), Robinsón Canó (Dominican Republic), and many more. Be sure to bookmark the official site of GB Baseball for more news on the team as it ramps up for the 2020 Olympics.