2021-2022 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Sem Robberse is the latest guest on C’s Chat.
Robberse (pronounced ‘ROBBER-seh’, similar to ‘Robertson’) gained Toronto’s attention at a tournament in Barcelona as a 16 year-old according to FutureBlueJays.com and the Jays continued to keep tabs on him when he pitched in Honkball Hoofdklasse, the highest level of baseball in the Netherlands.
The 20 year-old Robberse from Zeist, Netherlands signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent on July 24, 2019 for $125,000. His signing scout was Andrew Tinnish, the Blue Jays Vice President of International Scouting and Baseball Operations. Robberse made his pro debut with the Gulf Coast League Jays against the Phillies East squad July 27 and pitched two perfect innings, striking out the side in his second inning of work, to earn the victory.
After spinning two more shutout innings to get the win in his next appearance against the GCL Tigers West August 3, Robberse made three starts in a row, tossing two goose eggs against the Tigers East August 8. He gave up his only run of the season in four innings of work against the Phillies West August 15.
Unfortunately, Robberse’s next outing August 22 against the GCL Yankees West would be his last and it did not last long. He struck out the first man he faced on three pitches but gave up singles on the next two. The last pitch was a line drive off the bat of Raimfer Salinas that struck Robberse and he was forced to leave the game.
Robberse had plenty of time to recover from that setback as the 2020 minor league season was cancelled because of COVID-19. According to MLB Pipeline, “he was unable to return to the Netherlands and instead stayed at a hotel near the Blue Jays’ complex along with other prospects, including a large Venezuelan group.”
The 6-foot-1, 160-pound hurler was assigned to Low-A Dunedin to begin 2021. Robberse hit some bumps in the road at first by giving up 11 runs over 9-2/3 innings, leading to an 8.38 earned run average over four appearances in May. He shaved down his ERA by over three runs after a 3.79 mark in June, striking out seven batters in back-to-back starts June 4 against Bradenton and June 10 in Lakeland. He earned his first win in the latter start with just one run allowed on a triple and a wild pitch and won against against Clearwater with 5-2/3 innings of two-run ball June 18.
Robberse continued to heat up in July with five shutout frames with eight strikeouts and two walks at Palm Beach July 1. He ended the month by winning consecutive starts, giving up just one run over five innings against Lakeland July 23 and one run over a career-high seven frames in Bradenton July 29.
The righthander convinced the Jays brass he was ready for a promotion by yielding just one hit and one walk over five shutout frames to get win in Fort Myers August 5. He ended his Dunedin tenure with a 5-4 record and a 3.90 ERA, striking out 61 batters and walking 20 over 57-2/3 innings.
Wearing number 12 for the C’s, Robberse endured two rough starts but he began to find his footing with a quality start in Hillsboro August 24. He nearly had his first High-A West victory as he gave up a pair of runs over 4-2/3 innings against the Hops August 29. His last two starts saw him give up just four earned runs over 11 innings to end the season.
Throwing strikes and keeping the ball down were two things Robberse was able to accomplish in 2021. Nearly two-thirds of his pitches were strikes at Low-A Dunedin and 62 percent of his pitches with Vancouver landed in the strike zone. His groundball rates checked in at over 47 percent with Dunedin and over 51 percent with Vancouver.
Rated MLB Pipeline‘s number seven prospect in the Toronto system and number 12 according to Baseball America, Robberse is described to be a polished and poised pitcher. He showed that poise in his first start of the 2022 season when he recovered from a three-run first inning in Spokane by holding them off the scoreboard in his final four frames.
C’s Plus Baseball spoke with Robberse during the Canadians Media Day and talked about his promotion to Vancouver August 9.
“It was cool to get up there and being able to play (at) the High-A level. It was a little different league, but I really liked it and really enjoyed it…You can make (fewer) mistakes (at Low-A Dunedin) so it was a little adjusting game by game, but I think it worked out. I’m really just adjusting, seeing hitters and being able to adjust game by game, inning-by-inning to get the hitters out and that worked out for me really well.”
One adjustment for Robberse at the start of 2021 was the automatic strike zone that was used in the Low-A Southeast League.
“It was a different experience. Sometimes it worked better than other days. I’m not a complete fan of it, but I think sometimes it does work out. Yeah, the umpire makes mistakes sometimes in their call and it’s right at that moment with the electronic strike zone, but I think for me personally, I would rather have a regular umpire behind the plate than the electronic strike zone.”
The automated ball-strike system (ABS) was not the only rule change Robberse was not thrilled with.
“”They’re trying to, of course, make offense a little bit more popular, and I can understand it in a way, but I feel like there are different changes you could make to make offense a little bit more upcoming. With the change with the bigger bases, I understand that. The step off rule, I’m not the biggest fan of it because it doesn’t really help much with speeding up the game. I don’t think so (anyway).”
The best moment of Robberse’s season was his longest career outing.
““Probably the seven innings against the Pirates in Bradenton, because they also had it on broadcast (MiLB.TV). And so all my parents and (everyone) at home were able to watch and I was able to put up a good performance so that was my biggest game of the year.”
With the Canadians home games being broadcast on MiLB.TV this season, Robberse says it will be a big deal for his family to be able to watch hm pitch.
“When I was still playing in the Netherlands, all my parents and my grandparents and everybody would come watch. And since I left, they wouldn’t be able to (see me) as much, but right now, with the broadcasting and stuff they really like to watch all those games.
A four-pitch pitcher, Robberse believes he is making progress with his repertoire.
“I throw a fastball changeup, slider and curveball, and I feel a lot more confident this year and also in spring training, I noticed that I throw a lot more of my pitches, my secondary pitches first for a strike as well.”
There was one pitch Robberse focused on over the offseason.
““Pretty much my changeup. I tried to sharpen up my command and (get) a little bit of the movement on it. Make it a little bit more consistent just so I’m have more confidence in it during the game and I can use it more often.”
Baseball America rated Robberse’s curveball as the best in the Blue Jays minor league system but it was the last pitch he added to his pitch mix.
“I developed it relatively late because my Dad (Ray) always was like, ‘You don’t need to throw curveballs. It’s better to have command first.’ And so we started late and since I was already grown ,like I was 17. So from that point on, you already know how to throw and throw strikes and have command. And then when you start throwing a curveball, it becomes easier to just spin it and throw it easy and that’s how it worked out for me.
He taught me most of pretty much all my mechanics and always still till this day, he sends me stuff and for things for me to get better. He’s the biggest influence in my pitching career so far.”
One thing Robberse appreciates about being a member of the Toronto Blue Jays organization is the team’s start-of-the-art player development complex.
“It helps a lot. I mean, of course I’m a bigger fan of the field type of thing, but if you feel it and the numbers match up, then it’s perfect. All the stuff that we have in the training facility and everything, it’s perfect for development.”
Robberse lays out the goals he has for himself for the 2022 season.
“I just want to get more consistent. Staying within myself during game and not focus too much on the result, more on the process and see where it gets me at the end of the year…I hope for the fans and everybody (they) just enjoy the games and we will be able to put up good performances and win some games for the C’s fans this year.”
Thanks a million again to Sem Robberse for taking part in this edition of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @SemRobberse and Instagram @sem_r.xiii. Special thanks to C’s play-by-play man Tyler Zickel @tyler_zickel for arranging the interview.