Tekoah Roby stands on the field with his teammates as the national anthem is played before a Springfield Cardinals baseball game
Tekoah Roby, who came to the St. Louis organization in a trade-deadline deal for major-league pitcher Jordan Montgomery, makes his first start for the Springfield Cardinals on Saturday night at Hammons Field. (Photo: PJ Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

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Getting traded might not have shocked Tekoah Roby, because he knows it’s part of the professional baseball business. Then again, the young pitcher felt a large dose of surprise and uncertainty.

Roby came to the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization from the Texas Rangers, along with infielder and best friend Thomas Saggese, in a July 30 deal for veteran big-league pitcher Jordan Montgomery. 

In the span of a few hours, the 21-year-old Roby was packing his bags for Jupiter, Florida, where he continued injury rehab from a shoulder strain. While unsure at first, Roby had plenty of people telling him the trade was a good thing for his career.

“I had a lot of emotions toward it,” Roby said. “I was always thankful to the Rangers and the shot they gave me, but I was definitely excited for the Cardinals and making it to the big leagues here.

“My agent and other people in my life told me it was a good thing and I had a good opportunity. There were a ton of people reassuring me.”

The next chapter of Roby’s career begins Saturday when he makes his Cardinals debut at Hammons Field, as Springfield faces Corpus Christi. It’s doubly exciting for the No. 5-ranked prospect in the Cardinals’ organization according to MLB.com.

Healthy again and ready to make a good first impression

Obviously, he wants to make a good first impression with his new team and he’s happy to be healthy again.

“It hasn’t been that long in the grand scheme of things and it could have been a lot worse,” Roby said of the shoulder ailment, which has kept him sidelined since leaving a June 3 start for Frisco after one inning. “It’s felt like a long time. I’m really excited to get back out there.”

The more Roby studies the Cardinals, the more he understands how good an opportunity he has. The organization desperately needs quality starting pitching at the big-league level and he wants to be considered. A healthy, strong finish over the next few weeks puts him in the conversation for 2024.

“I’ve heard nothing but good things about how they develop their pitching and how they handle young pitchers. I’m really excited on that front,” Roby said. “They’ve had some storied arms in the past and I’m excited to carry on that legacy at some point.”

Four-pitch repertoire makes Roby more advanced than most young prospects

According to MLB.com, Roby might not be far away. The breakdown says he “can attack in any direction with his four-pitch repertoire. He can work north and south by pairing a fastball that plays better than its 92-96 mph velocity thanks to its outstanding induced vertical break and the extension in his delivery with a high-spin upper-70s curveball with downer break. He can also operate east and west with a fading low-80s changeup moving in the opposite direction from a low-80s slider that he added last summer.”

In other words, he’s more advanced than most young pitching prospects who rely on one or two pitches to get people out. It’s helped him compile 211 strikeouts in 173 minor-league innings since being drafted out of Pine Forest High School in Pensacola, Florida.

Roby said his focus is on continuing to hone the changeup and slider to enhance the fastball and curve. During the season’s final weeks, his goals are to prove his arm is sound and to grow some roots in the new organization. 

“Just kind of get my foot in the door with the Cardinals and go to spring training next year and have people I can go up to like, ‘Hey man,’” Roby said. “Also, try to help this team win. I know they’re close to the playoffs and it would be cool” to make it to the postseason. 

Tekoah Roby practices throwing the ball in the outfield at Hammons Field
Doing long toss in pre-game workouts has been the limit for Tekoah Roby since he left a start with shoulder discomfort in early June while pitching for Frisco. His first Springfield Cardinals start is scheduled for Saturday night at Hammons Field. (Photo: Kimberly Bates, Springfield Cardinals)

Reuniting with friend and roommate Saggese

Having Saggese alongside is a bonus for both. They were 2020 draft choices by the Rangers (Roby round 3 and Saggese round 4) and have advanced through the minor leagues as teammates and roommates.

“He was the first guy I met in the Rangers organization and we wound up signing together,” Roby said. “Then when the trade happened, we called each other and were like, what are the odds, you know? It’s a really cool thing.”

When Roby arrived in Springfield earlier this week, the two gave each other a hug and “it was like, ‘look where we are now.’ It’s wild,” Roby said.

Saggese said fans will enjoy watching Roby compete. 

“I really love playing behind him because of the energy he brings,” Saggese said. “He’s really a bulldog out there. That mentality is so much fun to play behind. And obviously the stuff behind it is pretty electric.”

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Saggese off to a hot start for Springfield

This could be the classic trade that is a winner for both organizations. Montgomery already has made a positive impact as the Rangers contend for an American League Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have a pair of young players that could be future pieces of the St. Louis puzzle.

Saggese has been nothing short of sensational since arriving in Springfield. In 21 games with the Cardinals, he’s hitting .354 with seven home runs and 16 RBIs.

Overall between Frisco and Springfield, Saggese’s numbers (.321, 22 home runs, 94 RBIs) put him in the conversation for Texas League MVP honors. He’s even better statistically than Jordan Waker was in 2022 at Springfield (.306, 19 home runs, 68 RBIs).

“Great hand-eye coordination and really good bat speed,” Springfield manager Jose Leger said of Saggese. “He has the ability to hit the ball everywhere on the field. It’s hard to pitch to him. Throw him inside, he turns  on it. If you hang a breaking ball, he’ll hit it a mile. You throw him a fastball. with his fast hands he gets to it. You throw him outside, he hits it the other way.”

Thomas Saggese, wearing a Springfield Cardinals uniform, rounds third base during a baseball game
Thomas Saggese is up for Texas League MVP honors with 22 home runs, seven since joining the Springfield Cardinals at the start of August. (Photo: PJ Maigi, Springfield Cardinals)

Saggese is compared by some to current Cardinal Brendan Donovan the way he hits and plays multiple defensive positions. Or perhaps former Cardinal Matt Carpenter, who, like Saggese, dislikes wearing batting gloves. The difference is that Saggese hits from the right side and, during the absurdly hot and humid weather this week, has used a batting glove a few times to help him grip the bat. 

“Keep it simple,” Saggese said of his hitting philosophy. “See the ball and hit it. And I like the no BGs (batting gloves) feel.”

Coming to a new organization has been a change, but a good one for Saggese. He’s hopeful that Roby will enjoy the same sort of transition.

“Other than the team change, it’s still baseball,” Saggese said. “It’s still the same game. Everybody was so welcoming here, they made it feel like home real fast.

“I think it was good for me to come here. A new journey, a new path to the big leagues.”

Cardinals at Hammons Field this week

Tuesday — Corpus Christi 10, Springfield 4

Wednesday — Springfield 4, Corpus Christi 2

Thursday — Springfield 12, Corpus Christi 10

Friday — 7:05 p.m. vs. Corpus Christi (Springfield Cashew Chickens jersey auction and Friday Night Fireworks)

Saturday — 6:35 p.m. vs. Corpus Christi (Paul Goldschmidt MVP bobblehead giveaway, first 2,000 fans)

Sunday — 1:35 p.m. vs. Corpus Christi (Ice Cream Sunday)

Tickets — Visit the Hammons Field box office or the Springfield Cardinals website

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 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