Written by: Adam Dubbin (@AdamDubbin)
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It was not too long ago that the Detroit Tigers had one of the worst farm systems in baseball; after a couple of seasons of ‘tear it down’ trades and drafts, that same farm system has risen to at worst middle-of-the-pack and at best lower top ten, depending on who you ask. Among the prospects hoarded by the team during that process is an often overlooked backstop who was acquired as a secondary piece in the Justin Verlander trade with the Houston Astros. His name is Jake Rogers, and he is on course to be the Tigers’ future everyday catcher.
Hailing from Canyon, TX—a small town outside of Amarillo in the Texas panhandle—Rogers played college ball at Tulane University where he was heralded as one of the best defensive catchers in all of college baseball. During his three year tenure, the backstop threw out out would-be base stealers at a 56.8% clip out of 146 chances and with nine pickoffs. His 83 runners caught stealing is the most in Tulane history, and he also claims several other top five defensive statistics; he threw out 27 of 43 attempted base stealers in 2016, as well as 15 of 21 in the Cape Cod League that same year.
Video courtesy of MiLB.com
His offense, however, left something to be desired: during his junior and final season with the Green Wave he hit .261 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 61 games, though he only averaged .233 with a .642 OPS in 169 total collegiate games.
Despite his weak on base tools, his strong performance behind the dish convinced the Houston Astros to invest their third round draft pick in 2016 on his superb glove. Since his entry into professional baseball, he has unsurprisingly been praised as one of the best defensive catchers in the entire minor league system and that reputation has followed him from the Astros’ organization to the Tigers’. According to Fangraphs, his defensive tools grade out very well, with his fielding given a 70 FV rating and his arm a 60 FV, which places him in the higher echelons of backstop prospects.
Rogers has managed to throw out 94 of 194 would-be base stealers for a 48.4% clip across his minor league career, including 50 out of 90 for an astronomical 55.6% with Double-A Erie in 2018, setting a new franchise record for total caught stealing throws in the process. The one blemish on his record is 30 passed balls during his pro tenure, with 11 of them coming just last season.
While Rogers’ defensive skills grade out very well, the key to his success will be his ability to hold his own with the bat. Even his coach at Tulane David Pierce was quoted in saying, “He has the right (defensive) tools to play in the big leagues. It’s going to come down to whether he hits enough”, and that still continues to ring true. Fangraphs’ projections are very bearish on his offensive skills however, with his hitting maxing out at a 40 FV and power numbers sitting between 50 and 55 FV for in-game and raw power, respectively.
The offensive tool grades have manifested themselves in game settings, especially lately. Rogers posted a 119 wRC+ and 128 wRC+ in 2016 and 2017 respectively, but that number dropped to 98 (which is slightly below average) in the 23-year-old’s first sample versus Double-A pitching last season.
As has become somewhat of the norm, Rogers did hit 17 home runs in 2018, albeit with a 27.5 K%. While that little bit of pop in his bat is a nice consolation—especially in the current long-ball era—his future as a major league regular would benefit from him trading some of that power for good contact.
He currently has a high leg kick in his swing that is of major concern to many in the scouting community. Committing that much inertia into every pitch puts him at risk of timing slumps, as well as susceptibility to breaking pitches and MLB-level sequencing. There has been talk of abbreviating that kick, but the image below was cut from his final 2018 home run at bat, and it’s pretty clear he’s still all-in on that approach.
So where does all of this leave us with Jake Rogers in 2019? Again alluding to Fangraphs’ numbers, his overall FV rating is a humble 45, which is not eye-popping for any prospect. But for a player at the critical position of catcher, it might be good enough to play in the majors. The recurring question is whether or not he can develop an adequate hit tool to compliment his plus fielding skills, and that is what everyone will be critiquing in 2019.
There is every indication that the Tigers plan on handling him in a manner that gives him the best chance for success, with him likely returning to Double-A Erie after the team breaks from Spring Training. For now, he’s on the outside of the top-10 catching prospects after making the top-10 last season. But with hard work and some much-needed adjustments, Rogers could very well find himself in that discussion again, with a spot on the big league club in Detroit on the near horizon.
Adam Dubbin (@AdamDubbin) has worked for Synergy Sports Technology for nearly a decade focusing on both basketball and baseball video data, is a staff writer for SBNation’s Bless You Boys, and a contributor to Prospects365. He also creates Detroit Tigers video highlights that can be found on Twitter as well as his YouTube channel.
Featured image courtesy of photographer Robin Buckson and the Detroit News
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