Baseball is a complicated game and so are the paths to the Major Leagues. Pedigree is very important as a rite of passage in baseball. Every once in a while there is a player who rises above his draft status, and Tanner Roark is one of those few players.
Roark pitched two years for the University of Illinois and was never drafted. If you believe this report, he was removed from the team for academic reasons. He took a gamble and chose to go to independent ball the following year and signed with the Southern Illinois Miners of the independent Frontier League in 2008 and then declared himself eligible for the 2008 amateur draft. Twenty-four rounds went off the boards, and Roark was not picked. Finally the phone rang, the Texas Rangers chose Roark in the 25th round. There has only been one player ever chosen and signed as the 753rd player in a draft that made it as a Major Leaguer, and Tanner Roark is that man.
After his draft, Roark spent almost 2 more years in the Rangers system before he was traded on July 30, 2010 with Ryan Tatusko for Cristian Guzman.
Many thought the Guzman trade was just simply a salary dump as neither Tatusko or Roark were highly thought of. Little did they know the power of perseverance and player development in the Nationals’ minor league system.
Roark went from Double-A with Texas and left with a 4.20 ERA and was assigned to Double-A Harrisburg and pitched to an impressive 2.50 ERA. That small sample size with Harrisburg in 2010 could not be reached in 2011 with Harrisburg as Roark pitched to a 4.69 ERA for the full season. Rizzo decided to promote Roark to Triple-A Syracuse in 2012 after Roark had a promising Spring Training.
Roark had improved mechanics with a nifty two-seamer and had a 3.15 ERA for Syracuse when he got his call-up for his debut. With many skeptics weighing in, Roark pitched to a 1.51 ERA for the Nationals with 14 appearances in 2013.
“Just hard to believe that my kid’s in the Major Leagues, that’s all,” Tanner Roark’s father said. “Watching baseball growing up, with baseball all my life, and now my boy’s in the Major Leagues with the big boys. It’s kinda hard to fathom.”
In 2014, Roark pitched the Nats to a 15-10 record, and a stunning 2.85 ERA, but he got little respect in a starting rotation that featured Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez which led to a demotion the following year as Roark was the odd man out and pushed to the bullpen when the Nats acquired Max Scherzer.
Roark once again persevered and when Jordan Zimmermann headed to free agency, Roark was back in the 2016 starting rotation and had a Cy Young worthy season with a 2.83 ERA that was 6th best in the National League but only got Roark to 10th in the Cy Young voting.
Roark is now 30-years-old and while some of his contemporaries have reached the pinnacle of wealth in free agency, Roark is just reaching his first year of arbitration eligibility. MLB Trade Rumors estimates Roark should receive $6.1 million this year. Not a bad payday for a player who has made near the league minimum since he debuted with just over $1.5 million in accumulated income.
Rizzo and Roark’s agent Matt Colleran are trying to finalize Roark’s salary for 2017. We will update this information if any progress is made. The Nationals have three other arbitration eligible players with Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, and Derek Norris.
Roark settles well below MLBTR estimate.
— TALK NATS Blog (@TalkNats2) January 13, 2017