Detroit Tigers catching prospect Jake Rogers‘ new approach at the plate is paying dividends in 2020
Yes, all the small sample size disclaimers apply. Yes, it is only Spring Training/Summer Camp. Yes, he will likely be in Toledo when the season starts on July 24th. But after a red-hot five-game run in Spring Training, Detroit Tigers catching prospect Jake Rogers has continued his onslaught of baseballs thus far in 2020’s Summer Camp.
The 2019 season was a forgettable debut season for him. Rogers would hit just .125 over 35 games; including a .088 average against right-handed batters last season. He would also strike out 51 times for a k-percentage of nearly 40 percent. Rogers’ calling card was everything defense: the blocking, the arm strength, and the framing of pitches were all considered to be nearly major league ready when he was acquired in late-2017. His ceiling as a player would hinge on just how much he would hit. If the bat never came around, he would be a solid back up option; but if it did, he could be an everyday catcher for the Detroit Tigers for years to come.
The challenge with Rogers’ swing was a high leg kick as he went into his load. High leg kicks in batting stances are not completely obsolete; but the challenge is, as Rogers experienced, that right-handed pitchers can run the ball inside and by that time, his foot was already on its way down–only allowing some elite bat speed to save him, which he does not possess.
Take this video of Rogers from Minor League Baseball in 2017, for example. Around the 8 second mark is where his leg kick is in full force–it is so high that his left knee nearly touches his left elbow. Meanwhile, the Red Sox pitcher has nearly let go of the pitch; leaving no time for Rogers to adjust should his front foot land in the wrong spot relative to where the pitch was thrown. Luckily for him, the pitch was middle-middle and he would crush the ball in this particular clip.
Fast forward to Spring Training 2020 and Rogers’ kick morphed into more of a step:
It is hard to compare and contrast given the difference in angles in which the videos were taken, but it also appears Rogers has his hands starting more forward in 2020 and basically staying in place as his body begins to move forward in his swing; allowing him to take more time to decide on swinging without necessarily sacrificing his power.
Summer Camp has brought more of the same as Rogers continues to make hard contact; and although some of his outs would not impress by looking at the box score, many of them have been deep fly balls or balls hit on the screws that were simply caught.
If his defense remains steady behind the dish, there will be some chatter about including Jake Rogers on the Detroit Tigers’ Opening Day Roster in 2020. While Manager Ron Gardenhire is likely to carry three catchers with the rosters expanding to 30 to start the season, it is fair to ask about the value of keeping someone as hot as Rogers is on the bench for a major league club that has already committed to Austin Romine as their everyday catcher in 2020. A back-up catching position this season is only going to yield 40-50 plate appearances at most; and given the sporadic nature of those at-bats, it is hard to contest that we would learn anything about Rogers in that role.
They may be better off to send him on the taxi squad; this way Rogers will continue to get consistent professional at-bats and he will also be able to continue to build rapport with his future battery mates Casey Mize, Matt Manning, and Tarik Skubal.
Many had written off Rogers for his offensive rupture last season, but his willingness to change and adapt will pay dividends when his name indisputably gets called again.