Robertson played his first three years at Concordia College in Irvine, California helping them to the 2006 NAIA College World Series before transferring to Oregon State for his senior season where he hit .327/.419/.429.
At 5’8” and around 185 lbs. he is never going to be handed positions but his performances year in and year out, going back to his senior year of high school where he hit .563, have always demanded that he be given a chance to prove he can’t play at the next level.
So far that hasn’t happened.
After a few roster moves made some space available in Eugene during the 2008 season Robertson took the opportunity and ran with it hitting .377/.443/.497 and setting the all-time Northwest League record for hits with 114 while leading the league in average, runs and total bases.
He has put up solid numbers in his next three years with a career minor league numbers of .309/.387/.421 while playing all three outfield positions.
So the obvious question is why hasn’t he been ranked higher in prospect rankings.
The quick answer is that since Eugene he’s been playing the corner outfield spots because Blake Tekotte is simply that good in center defensively. And with Robertson’s size its hard to project him filling the traditional offensive roles associated with those positions.
However, regardless of what anyone thinks, writes or opines about a player the game is still, and always will be about performance.
When watching Robertson the standard sports cliches always come to the forefront, “he plays the game with heart”, “gets the most out of his ability” and so on but if you spend anytime around him what separates him from the pack is his understanding and passion for the game.
So Will Robertson make the big leagues?
Its hard to say but then again if you polled most people inside baseball before the 2008 draft it would be hard to find someone both inside and outside the Padres’ organization that would believe Brad Brach, who was selected in the next to last round would be a better major league prospect than their first round selection Allen Dykstra.
What is apparent is that it is impossible not to be a fan of his and hope that he can continue to prove everyone wrong.
And if you don’t understand that, then you don’t understand that this is one of the people that makes the game special.
You have been in San Antonio for the past few days. What have you been doing down there?
Daniel Robertson: I came down here last Friday to work with a project for Kinetic Kids, which is an organization that helps kids with special needs participate in sports and really any outdoor activity, told me about the project.
A friend of mine was interning for the Kinetic Kids and had worked with the Missions. Its going to occur on Saturday, February 25 and we are going to have a hitting and fielding camp, followed by a dinner and then softball game.
The guys with the Missions, Jim White and Bill Gerlt, have just been tremendous in all of the work they are doing to get this going. Also I’ve been lucky to get the Padres and several guys that have connections to the Missions, such as Brad Brach, Josh Spence have donated items for the auction.
The experience has been great. I really enjoy working with the kids.
Before we get to baseball, lets talk a little about your off-season. Tell us a little bit about your new site, “I hit you pitch”
Daniel Robertson: It was another wild idea that I had during the off-season. I was doing some work with kids this winter and one day when I was looking around the internet I thought it might be nice for kids to get a chance to get lessons from someone that is still playing.
Also being on-line really gives me an opportunity to help kids who might not have a chance to get some instruction. A personal trainer that I was working with helped me get the site set up and we launched it.
I think its really a cool informational thing and I wanted to pass on to others all of this great information that I have gotten since I’ve come into the organization from coaches like Tourny [Tom Tornincasa] and [Bob] Skube.
Right now I’m trying to live my dream to become a major league player but it also really makes me feel good to know that I am giving something back. Trying to help someone start their dream. That and working at the baseball academy this winter with kids has really been a great experience for me.
I’ve looked around your site some and its kind of a natural fit for you. After watching you play what always strikes me about you is how easy you make difficult things look. Is that a result of your strong fundamental background.
Daniel Robertson: When I look back I can’t really say that someone hammered fundamentals into me I think its more of just being around baseball and talking about hitting so much; really its about making the process simple.
Before you step into the box its really about having a plan and understanding what you need to do. For me the most important thing is having a clear path with your hands to the ball.
When I was in Lake Elsinore Bob Skube and I just had some amazing talks about hitting; how its not that hard to do but how complicated we make it. Try to pick a spot where you want to hit the ball and do it.
I’ve had some success but I think its more about my mental preparation than athleticism. Its about having an idea of what you want to do that gives you the ability to make adjustments.
We’ve been reading your Facebook page and a big part of it is about your off-season workouts. When you are a pro baseball player what type of training are you doing that is different compared to someone who is just going to the gym trying to lift as much as they can?
Daniel Robertson: I started to work out on October 1. With me being so close to the majors I really wanted to push myself as hard as I could physically. So I was going to Gold’s Gym and lifting as much as I could then going running after that. I was working out for nearly three hours.
Then a friend of mine in the Astros organization got me involved in more core training, the type of stuff that they do at the API Institute in Arizona. Now my workouts are around an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes; but I am really spent. You are constantly moving and pushing yourself to the limit everyday.
Put it this way the first day I did a few of the exercises I had trouble keeping my food down. To me that is the big difference that I have found as opposed to just going to the gym to lift weights and get a workout. In the off-season you really have to push yourself as much as you can because the guys you are competing against are doing the same thing.
How are you going to maintain this type of workout during the season?
Daniel Robertson: I will tone down the workout a bit because of all the things we do before the game but not that much. To me the biggest thing about the season is the mental aspect as opposed to the physical part.
For example the word I really don’t like now is “grind”. I like the word “pursuit” much more because its about what I am trying to do; reach goals.
If you start using the word grind you are going to get worn down because it is a long season. A big part of the training is not only training your body to take you to the next level but to train your mind with the confidence and knowledge that you can reach your goals.
Playing the game the “right way” is really important to you. I remember last season when Bryce Harper was showboating around the bases you made a few comments. What is the right way to play the game?
Daniel Robertson: For me its just that the game has appeared to change so much from what I was brought up to understand that it was. I think there are great players in the game but I personally don’t feel that anyone is worth two hundred million dollars.
Its not about jealousy or envy but I don’t want kids deciding that they want to play the game for money. Its not about that and if you think that way its not good for anyone.
When you watch the game, or listed to someone like Ted Williams talk about hitting, that is what drives me. When a man stands on the mound and the other at the plate, respecting each other, and just competing.
Now you have guys like Harper that are getting tons of money and when I see him blowing the pitcher a kiss to me that is not about competing but about not respecting the game. I love talking to guys that played in the past, the longer the better, and you just didn’t do that.
If anything that was really pounded into my head by my dad was just watching people compete in all types of sports. The game is supposed to be played by men who earned the right to compete by how much work they put into the game. If you earned it, act like it.
Before we get to your personal numbers, in two of the past three years you have won championships in Fort Wayne and San Antonio. How did that affect your development as a player?
Daniel Robertson: The only way I can describe it is its everything you want to do as a player. When you are not on a winning team you start to feel that you have to work on personal goals to salvage something of the season. But being on a good team brings out the best of you as the player.
I remember being in Eugene in my first year and not winning and that was not fun despite the personal numbers that I put up. When the teams is winning you are so focused on doing things to help the team, moving the runner over from second with one out and things like that.
If you can understand that as a player it will make you better.
You had a big difference in your home/road splits last year .337 at home and .236 on the road. Isn’t hitting in San Antonio supposed to be more difficult?
Daniel Robertson: On the road I just got a little complacent because everyone was telling me that San Antonio was such a big challenge to hit in.
And it was like, ok, let’s see what I can do.
I think I had success in San Antonio because I did a good job of staying within myself, not trying to do too much and keeping it out of the wind. That is the approach that I really need to use to help my team win.
When I got on the road I might have gotten a little complacent and maybe tried to do too much.
With Blake Tekotte going up and down a few times you got a lot of reps in center. Because of your speed is that still the most comfortable and natural position for you?
Daniel Robertson: I never played the corner outfield positions in high school or college and was always in center. When I came to professional ball I had to learn to play both left and right and believe that I have become a legitimate player at all three outfield positions.
Ever since my high school coach moved me from shortstop to center field after he discovered that I could run, I’ve really liked it out there. Everything is in front of you and yeah, I do like being in charge [laughs].
There is no better feeling than running down a ball in the gap and taking away extra bases. I like being in center but I also want to play and I put the same effort into left and right as well.
What happened with the experiment to try second base?
Daniel Robertson: I spent about four weeks there in spring and instructs and I think played a few innings there. [laughs].
I grew up being in the middle infield and there was some concern that I might be needed there last year. My big goal was that if they needed me I wanted to be prepared because the game has a way of finding you when you are not.
You’ve always had a very good on-base percentage. Since you now have an instructional web site how did you develop that type of ability, is it just repetition?
Daniel Robertson: My approach is always based more on being selective on a pitch that I can do something with and drive it. It all comes down to getting on base and scoring runs. When I can score runs its going to give my team a better chance to win and to me that goes back to playing the game the right way, to win.
Looking back at last season what do you think you improved upon the most and what area of your game do you want to see more improvement upon next year?
Daniel Robertson: If anything its about understanding what I do best and trying to get the most out of it. As much as I might like too, I’m not going to hit thirty home runs and most other guys are not either.
What I can do is maximize my team’s opportunities to be successful; get on base more, steal more bases when the opportunities are there.
My biggest goal going into next season is to just become more aggressive on the bases and score more runs. The guys behind me are the ones that are paid to drive me in and I want to do everything I can to give them more opportunites.
Also as we’ve talked about its not only about become better physically prepared for the season but stronger mentally so when its late in the season I’m just as strong at the beginning.