Tekoah Roby, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, pitches during a game at Hammons Field.
Tekoah Roby is part of a Springfield Cardinals pitching staff that finds all five of its starters ranked among the organization’s top 23 minor-league prospects. (Photo by P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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Now that we know the Springfield Cardinals are not going to finish 138-0 this season — they fell 13-9 on April 16 at Amarillo — it’s time to appreciate the team’s franchise-record 9-0 start.

Pitching was expected to be the team’s strength coming into the season, with five starters ranked among the organization’s top 23 prospects — No. 1 Tink Hence, No. 2 Tekoah Roby, No. 13 Max Rajcic, No. 19 Ian Bedell and No. 23 Edwin Nunez. For the most part, they’ve lived up to the billing.

The Cardinals entered the six-game series at Amarillo ranked No. 1 in the Texas League in earned run average (2.88), batting average against (.201), saves (4) and walks-plus-hits per innings pitched (1.10).

A rough start in the loss at Amarillo by Rajcic (eight earned runs in 1 ⅔ innings) will skew those glowing numbers a bit. But it’s still notable to consider that, for the first time since the Double-A franchise came to Springfield in 2005, pitching dominates the organization’s prospects list.

Right-hander Hence has lived up to his status as the No. 1 prospect and has been nearly unhittable at times through his first two starts. Hence is 2-0 with a 0.90 ERA, allowing just three hits, one walk and striking out 11 in 10 innings. Opponents are hitting .091 against Hence.

Things haven’t gone quite as smoothly for No. 2 prospect Tekoah Roby, mainly because the 22-year-old has surrendered three home runs in 10 innings. But Roby has a 2-0 record with his next start scheduled for April 18 at Amarillo and the next home appearance tentatively set for April 24 at Hammons Field against Arkansas.

Ready to work deeper into games

Roby was acquired by the Cardinals from Texas at the trade deadline last summer along with infielder Thomas Saggese for established big-league lefty Jordan Montgomery. The Rangers went on to win the World Series with Montgomery playing a key role and the Cardinals, a non-factor for the playoffs, looked toward the future.

Saggese came to Springfield, hit line drives all over the ballpark and helped the Cardinals win the Texas League North Division second-half title. He’s currently at Triple-A Memphis.

Roby is now ready to make his Double-A mark.

Springfield Cardinals pitcher Tekoah Roby
Tekoah Roby is scheduled to start on April 18 at Amarillo and tentatively would pitch again at Hammons Field on April 24 against Arkansas. (Photo by MILB)

The trade was a bit of a shocker for Roby, a third-round draft choice by the Rangers in 2020. Coming off a shoulder ailment, he was limited late last season and pitched just 12 innings for Springfield, allowing three runs with three walks and 19 strikeouts.

“That’s something I’m really looking forward to this year,” Roby said of working deeper into games. “As a starting pitcher, you want to take the ball and get as far as you can into the game. I think one of the coolest things is when you finish your night and it’s the seventh inning and people are clearing out of the game and hopefully your offense has scored a ton of runs and the game is over by that point.

“You hand it off to the guys at the back end of the bullpen. You can’t draw it up any better than that.”

Back on his feet after late-season trade from Texas

Roby said it wasn’t easy being traded for the first time — and what he hopes is the last time — even though people told him it was the best thing for his career.

“The trade happened and I felt like my feet were taken from under me,” he said. “I don’t think it took long to get my feet back under me, especially with the organization and the way everybody treated me.

“This is my first year coming back to a level that I finished at the year before. It is kind of nice coming back to somewhere that I’m familiar with and some guys I’m familiar with as well.”

He was a ‘fly on the wall' during major league spring training

Jose Leger, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, walks to the Hammons Field dugout before a game
Springfield Cardinals manager Jose Leger said Tekoah Roby and other young pitchers benefitted from being around veterans at the Cardinals’ big-league training camp this spring. (Photo by P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Attending the Cardinals’ major-league camp for a portion of spring training did a lot to affirm that he’s in a good place for his career. Even though a back issue kept him off the mound but for one appearance, he said the vibes he felt being around veteran big leaguers were invaluable.

“Spring went really well. It was a ton of fun,” Roby said. “Being a fly on the wall around those guys, just asking questions and seeing what they thought when they were in my spot, what they did to get ready. It was a very cool opportunity.”

Springfield manager Jose Leger was also on hand as some of his Double-A prospects interacted with veterans like pitchers Sonny Gray and Lance Lynn, third baseman Nolan Arenado, catcher Willson Contreras and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. If the youngsters didn’t ask questions, Leger said he and other coaches prompted them a bit.

“Sometimes the guys are a little shy to ask questions, so we kind of ask questions for them,” Leger said with a laugh. “Just being around them and seeing how they go about their business on a daily basis … Goldy, Arenado, Contreras. And more than asking questions, just observe.”

Working on more than just mechanics

Roby said one of the main themes he hears from veterans is about mindset and belief. Beyond pitching mechanics, he said he started working on that aspect of his game during the offseason.

There’s no substitute for believing in yourself. Roby began by breaking it down with his physical ability and went from there.

“I basically had to sit down and be really honest with myself. My stuff was good enough to compete at whatever level you want me to compete at,” Roby said. “The mental side of the game wasn’t as sharp, wasn’t as consistent. I would have a lot of success and then a lot of failure.

“A lot of what I did this offseason was spent working on committing to my process and bullet-proofing myself against whatever might be thrown my way at an outing.”

Taking things pitch by pitch

Tekoah Roby, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, pitches during a game at Hammons Field.
After being traded to the Cardinals from the Texas Rangers organization last summer, Tekoah Roby said it felt like “my feet were taken from under me.” He said he now has a better mental outlook in the St. Louis organization and is ready to make his impact. (Photo by P.J. Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

With the help of a mental performance coach, Roby said he started to think about pitching in a different way.

“I used to think it was a game-to-game kind of thing,” Roby said. “I would just go out and have a really good game then have a bad one and I’d be like, ‘The whole game was bad.’ But it’s like you go back and look at it under a magnifying glass and it’s pitch to pitch.

“Every pitch is incredibly important. There were times I didn’t think of it like that. Now it’s like I’m going to commit and try to execute every pitch. Now it doesn’t unravel. Pitch to pitch, I can make adjustments and recommit to my process. It’s much better.

“I got back into the weight room to address some things that I thought were lacking and then after the new year is where I started working with (the mental performance coach). Just phone calls and talking through some things, situations of the game. It was pretty informal, which was nice. Just like he’s just a calming presence. He leads me to answers.”

When asked about his goals for this season, Roby has taken that pitch-by-pitch thought process into the overall picture of 2024.

“That’s like the interesting thing about minor-league baseball,” Roby said. “I have high expectations for myself, but a lot of that is out of my control. A lot of that looks like preparing every day like I’m in the big leagues. It’s not like preparing to be a Triple-A pitcher or preparing to be a Double-A pitcher. If I can prepare every day like I’m in the big leagues, then when that time comes I’ll be ready for it.”

Really excited to be part of a potentially dominant staff in Springfield

For now, he said he’s simply excited about being part of a potentially dominant Double-A staff. There’s a chance that several Springfield pitchers could advance to St. Louis at some point, just as position players Jordan Walker, Masyn Winn and Victor Scott II have since 2022.

“I wouldn’t say our offense is not a strength, but we do have a lot of good pitchers on this team,” Roby said. “Me and Tink had a lot of good conversations in spring training about what we wanted to get out of this year and just everything and what we want to learn, how we’re going to do it and how we’ll hold each other accountable.

“I’m really excited to pitch with these guys. Rajcic, Bedell, we’re all really excited to work with each other and hold each other accountable. We have a ton of talent. Now it’s about competing to be one of those guys. The cool thing about minor-league baseball, it’s hard not to root for these guys, too, while competing with them. We’re all trying to make it to the big leagues”

Cardinals upcoming homestand

The Springfield Cardinals return to Hammons Field for a six-game homestand next week:

April 23 — 6:05 p.m. vs. Arkansas

April 24 — 11:15 a.m. vs. Arkansas

April 25 — 6:35 p.m. vs. Arkansas

April 26 — 6:35 p.m. vs. Arkansas

April 27 — 6:05 p.m. vs. Arkansas

April 28 — 1:05 p.m. vs. Arkansas

Tickets: At the Hammons Field box office, on the Springfield Cardinals website or by calling (417) 863-2143

Lyndal Scranton

Lyndal Scranton is a Springfield native who has covered sports in the Ozarks for more than 35 years, witnessing nearly every big sports moment in the region during the last 50 years. The Missouri Sports Hall of Famer, Springfield Area Sports Hall of Famer and live-fire cooking enthusiast also serves as PR Director for Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland, Missouri and is co-host of the Tailgate Guys BBQ Podcast. Contact him at Lscranton755@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @LyndalScranton. More by Lyndal Scranton