Jake Rogers is regarded as a strong defender who has issues with the stick. Ten months ago, Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel wrote that the Detroit Tigers prospect, has “a shot to approach the low offensive bar at the catcher position, [but] his glove alone makes him a high-probability big leaguer.” Not much has changed. Rogers proceeded to log a .779 OPS in Triple-A, then slash .125/.222/.259 after receiving his first-ever call-up in late July. Most alarmingly, he fanned 130 times in 431 plate appearances between three levels.
Rogers’s efforts to improve his offensive game were what I had in mind when I approached him in the Tigers clubhouse last August. And while we did we did address that, a few tangential topics turned out to be more captivating. We’ll get to those after touching on postural adjustments.
“A big thing has been that my hips are a little up, and I want to get them back to level,” Rogers told me. “That way I can get my swing more on plane and cover more pitches. Right now, when I get to toe-touch my head is back, which causes my hips to be at an upward angle. I need to get more balanced, with my hips and shoulders both level.”
The former Tulane Green Wave standout had also lowered his hands a few inches, and worked to keep to his head still. What goes on between the ears is likewise important. With that in mind, I asked the 24-year-old if he ever finds himself thinking like a catcher in the batter’s box.
“I sometimes do struggle with that,” Rogers admitted. “When I go up there, I have to tell myself to stick to my approach, and not think like a catcher. The other guy is obviously back there doing the same thing, so I need to focus on my hitting approach. If I don’t run with that, I’m probably going to find myself in a hole.”
The Canyon, Texas native knows what it’s like to have the shoe on the other foot. Rogers has squatted behind the dish and intuited that a fellow receiver was trying to think along with him.
“You can kind of see that at times,”Rogers said. “In certain counts you sense that he might be thinking like you, so you call a different pitch. Then, if he looks ridiculous on it, you can tell that he is guessing too much. You go from there.”
Which brings us to relationships and interactions among the brethren. Rogers referred to it as a matter of respect; rival backstops all recognize the day-to-day grind that comes with the position. But while he’s serious about helping his team win, he’s also willing to introduce a little levity when the moment calls for it. If he’s caught guessing at the plate and flails helplessly at a pitch, he might look back at the opposing catcher and say, “What are you trying to do to me?”
A Health and Wellness major at Tulane, Rogers recognizes just how vital rest and relaxation can be for an athlete’s sanity. During the offseason, that usually means hunting and fishing with his father. And while he doesn’t get those opportunities from spring training through September, he does find himself daydreaming on the bench, or while kicking back after leaving the ballpark.
“I actually do that a lot,” allowed Rogers. “Those are big passions of mine. I’ll call my dad, and he’ll be out hunting coyotes, or hunting pigs. He’ll call me back the next day and tell me about it.”
“Oh, yeah. Feral pigs are a nuisance to farmers back in Texas,” Rogers explained. “We help out local farmers that way. It’s always nice when you can help people out. Right?”
Andy Andres has emerged as somewhat of a guru in baseball front-office preparation. Among his bona fides is having taught Sabermetrics 101 at Tufts University. Alumni from the groundbreaking class include Tampa Bay Rays VP of Baseball Development Peter Bendix, Washington Nationals assistant GM Mike DeBartolo, and Chicago Cubs assistant director of R&D Jeremy Greenhouse. All told, a dozen Sabermetrics 101 students have taken jobs within the industry. Moreover, three others who didn’t take the class, but were mentored by Andres, also work for MLB teams.
A newly-designed course that Andres has begun teaching — this one at Boston University — is potentially another pathway to employment. Part of the school’s general education program, “The Data Game: Makings of a Great Baseball Player” is, as Andres described, “A group-project class on player development.” Twenty-five students, roughly half of whom are women, are enrolled this semester.
Ben Lindbergh and Travis Sawchik’s The MVP Machine is one of the scheduled readings, while Lindberg, and Driveline’s Kyle Boddy, are among the planned guest speakers via teleconference. Those names alone tell you a lot about what the course will focus on. Andres is aware of college coaches’ having had seminars on emerging baseball technology, “which is sort of in the same universe of a player-development course,” but to his knowledge, the class is the first of its kind.
Why is Andres championing this course of study?
“There’s been a rapid change going on within baseball,” Andres explained. “Things have flipped really quickly, and teams are trying to figure out how to beef up their own player development research, their own player development talent. A dozen [former] Tufts students currently in baseball is one story, but then there’s Driveline. Look at all of people getting hired out of there. This is a whole new revolution we’re seeing happen.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Who flies under the radar in the Minnesota Twins system? I recently asked that question to Alex Hassan, and while the club’s farm director wasn’t sure he could name just one or two, he did offer his thoughts on a pair of young internationals. The first he cited was Misael Urbina, whom Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel recently ranked 11th on our Twins Top Prospects list.
“Urbina was in the DSL last year, and he controls the strike zone extremely well for a young player,” Hassan said of the 17-year-old Venezuelan. “He plays [center field] and can really hit. He’s a name where you could look up in another year, year and a half, and see someone who’s taken a huge step forward.”
The other player Hassan mentioned was Emmanuel Rodriguez. A left-handed-hitting outfielder out of the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez ranks 32nd on our Twins’ Top Prospects list.
“He was our top international sign last summer,” said Hassan. “He hasn’t played professionally yet, but when I saw him in our instructional league, his tools were really evident. He has a beautiful swing — the ball comes off his bat really well, at really good angles. He’s also got a feel for the game. There’s an ease to the way he does things.”
The Twins have Rodriguez listed at 6’, 195 lbs. He’s slated to play in the Dominican Summer League this coming season.
The Tampa Bay Rays have promoted George Pappas to Manager, Minor League and International Operations. Pappas’s previous roles in the organization include Senior Communications Coordinator and Spanish translator.
Tony Barnette, who appeared in 127 games for the Texas Rangers and the Chicago Cubs over the past four seasons, has hung up his spikes and will work in an advisory capacity for NPB’s Yakult Swallows. The Anchorage-born Barnette pitched in Japan from 2010-2015.
Elliot Johnstone logged a 1.19 ERA in 12 relief outings covering 24.2 innings for the Australian Baseball League’s Auckland Tuatara. The 21-year-old right-hander is a native of New Zealand.
Ramón Aviles, who played one game for the Boston Red Sox in 1977, and then parts of the 1979, 1980, and 1981 seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies, died earlier this week at age 68. The native of Puerto Rico was the uncle of former big-league infielder Mike Aviles.
Matt Capps, Michael McKenry, and Kevin Young will reportedly rotate as color analysts on Pittsburgh Pirates broadcasts this season. The trio of former players replace Steve Blass, who retired after 30-plus seasons behind the mic.
Zack Bayrouty has been hired as the play-by-play voice of the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Bayrouty has spent the last 14 years behind the mic with the California League’s Stockton Ports.
The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will be announcing their 2020 inductees on Tuesday morning. The induction ceremony will be held in St. Marys, Ontario on Saturday, June 11.
Left on the cutting room floor from last Sunday’s lead segment were Jerry Dipoto’s comments regarding trade overtures for the team’s top prospect. According to the Seattle Mariners GM, a pair of rival clubs have been coveting now-19-year-old Julio Rodriquez ever since he was inked to a contract in July 2017.
“There are a couple of teams I have to give credit to for recognizing just how talented he is,” Dipoto told me. “Almost from the moment we signed Julio, knowing the propensity we’ve had for making trades, two teams that I won’t name probably called about him 50 times. They finally realized we’re not trading him.”
I mentioned this in a Sunday column a few years ago, but it’s worth repeating on the heels of Curtis Granderson announcing his retirement.
The first time I met Granderson was in 2004, when he was playing for Detroit’s Double-A affiliate. I interviewed him prior to a game in Portland, Maine, and a few hours later he collided violently with the centerfield wall while making a spectacular diving catch. Granderson lay prone on the warning track for several minutes, and while the injury wasn’t as bad as it first appeared, he was out of action for a few weeks. A full decade and a half later, his body convinced him that it was time to hang up the spikes.
Granderson had a fantastic career.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
A broker and a pair of White Sox employees have been charged in an alleged scheme to fraudulently sell thousands of tickets. Jon Seidel has the story at The Chicago Sun Times.
The Rays have implemented an extensive makeover of their minor-league coaching and training personnel. Marc Topkin has the details at The Tampa Bay Times.
Scottsdale Stadium, the spring training home of the San Francisco Giants, is undergoing a two-year renovation. Kevin Reichard has the specifics at Ballpark Digest.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
John Duffield Curtis, a left-handed pitcher with a .175 career batting average, went 4 for 4 with a triple against Jonathan Trumpbour Matlack. The latter was elected to the New York Mets Hall of Fame earlier this week, along with Edgardo Alfonso and Ron Darling.
Xander Bogaerts went to a two-strike count 400 times last year, the most in the majors. The X-Man’s 91 two-strike hits likewise led all players.
Pablo Sandoval has made two pitching appearances and has a 0.00 WHIP and an 80% ground ball rate. The Kung Fu Panda has retired five of six batters, registered a HBP, and induced a double play.
Harry “The Cat” Brecheen appeared in seven World Series games with the St. Louis Cardinals and had an 0.83 and an .083/.083/.083 slash line.
Lefty Gomez was elected to the Hall of Fame by the veterans committee on this date in 1972. The erstwhile New York Yankees southpaw went 6-0, 2.86 in seven World Series starts.
Players born on this date include George Halas, who logged two hits in 22 at bats while appearing in 12 games for the Yankees in 1919. Halas is better known for having coached the Chicago Bears for four-plus decades. “Papa Bear” is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Wilbur Good, one of seven players in MLB history to have been born in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, was purchased by the Philadelphia Phillies from the Chicago Cubs on February 3, 1916.
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