BOSTON -- Mike Roberts coached at the highest levels of college baseball, having led the University of North Carolina for 24 years. His son, Brian, is an All-Star second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles. He works for the Athletes Performance Institute, where Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Kevin Youkilis, among many pro athletes, have trained.
He still coaches baseball in the Cape League, where three of his players from the Cotuit Kettleers were taken in the first round Monday in Major League Baseball's amateur draft.
This is what Mike Roberts says about Deven Marrero, the shortstop from Arizona State University chosen 24th overall by the Red Sox.
"He's the best amateur baseball player on the defensive side I've ever seen in 35 years of coaching," he said Tuesday. "He's Omar Vizquel at 20, 21, except he'll be a better hitter and steal more bases. I've seen him do things defensively I've never seen another infielder do."
Roberts coached Marrero two summers at Cotuit. There's a special bond there.
"I absolutely cherish the young man," said Roberts, a sentiment evidently shared by others in Cotuit, given that the family that hosted Marrero while he played for the Kettleers flew to south Florida to be with him on draft day.
"I'm thrilled beyond words. I feel as happy as the day my own son was drafted," said Roberts.
Still, his judgment of Marrero's skills is not dictated by his affection for the 21-year-old player, who endured a horrific experience in high school (his father was convicted of sexual battery and molestation of two teenage girls) and thrived at Arizona State, where his mother encouraged him to go despite his offer to attend school closer to home.
Roberts, who coached longtime star shortstop Walt Weiss in college -- Weiss was AL Rookie of the Year for Oakland -- and has worked with Carl Crawford as a base-stealing coach, said he delivered the exact assessment to two big-league teams who called him before the draft and were picking ahead of the Red Sox. He said he was shocked that Marrero was still available when the Sox made their pick.
"To me, he should have been in the top five," Roberts said.
Marrero wasn't even the top shortstop drafted Monday. Carlos Correa was taken first overall by the Houston Astros, who made the 17-year-old the highest-drafted player ever out of Puerto Rico. With the 12th pick, the New York Mets selected another high school shortstop, Gavin Cecchini, whose brother, Garin, is a 21-year-old third baseman for Class A Greenville and rated the 11th-best prospect in the Sox organization by SoxProspects.com.
While the respected Baseball America also rated Marrero's defense highly, it raised questions about Marrero's bat -- he hit just .284 this season for ASU, in part because of a sprained ankle -- and his attitude.
"Marrero has been frustrating for scouts this spring, not just because he has underperformed but because he has looked so nonchalant doing it," the publication wrote in its pre-draft rankings. "Scouts say Marrero has played without energy this year and has shown off his above-average arm strength only when he needs to. He has above-average raw speed but doesn't always go at full speed on the bases."
Roberts read those comments.
"Crap," he said. "That's not the young man I know. Whoever bypassed him in the draft, I hope he beats them for the next 10 to 15 years because that's how long I expect he'll be in the big leagues. To me, the Red Sox got the gem of the draft, another (Dustin) Pedroia, another (Jacoby) Ellsbury, a real hidden gem who will get to the big leagues quickest.
"When I first met him in 2010, I thought he was Ty Cobb tough. I'm an old-school, Southern guy and Deven came to me right after the College World Series. I played him 10, 12 days in a row, and while I rarely ask a guy if he wants a day off, he'd played so much I asked him.
"He looked at me with the most sincere look and said, 'Coach, I don't take days off.'"
The easy comparison, of course, is to Pedroia, who like Marrero was an ASU shortstop when the Sox drafted him in the second round in 2004 (65th overall, their first pick in the draft). Different types, Roberts said.
"Deven is more Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente in terms of being a gifted, rhythmic athlete," he said. "Dustin Pedroia and Brian Roberts put out a lot more energy -- 5-foot-7, 5-8 guys that people have to see it, diving for balls all over the field.
"Devin understands the game, but doesn't flaunt the game. He makes plays like a Robinson Cano. He's a different mentality than Dustin. A much quieter, laidback, reserved young man."
It didn't escape Pedroia that the Red Sox went for another Arizona guy. Tuesday before Boston's game against the Orioles, Pedroia acknowledged the selection of Marrero. "Yeah, I sent him a text message last night," he said.