Detroit Tigers rookie year review: Jake Rogers

Catcher Jake Rogers points into the crowd as he rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
Catcher Jake Rogers points into the crowd as he rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run. Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports /

Jake Rogers played in just 38 games for the Detroit Tigers in 2021, but ended up having one of the most impactful performances of any of the team’s rookies.

So let’s look at who Jake Rogers is, what he did for the 2021 Detroit Tigers, and what role he might play in the future. See also: Derek Hill

Who is Jake Rogers?

The Houston Astros selected Jake Rogers in the 3rd round (97th overall) of the 2016 draft out of Tulane University. Rogers didn’t offer much on offense during his first two seasons with the Green Wave, batting just .215 with zero home runs, but he was a quality defender who caught 54% of potential base stealers.

His offensive game first showed signs of life in the 2015 Cape Cod League, when he hit .274 with three home runs with wood bats, and he followed that up by hitting .261 with seven homers as a junior for Tulane, while still nabbing 63% of the runners who tried to steal against him.

MLB Pipeline ranked Jake Rogers as the 87th best prospect in the draft that year, with a scouting report reflecting his glove-first profile:

"His defense alone should make Rogers a big league backup, but his offensive capabilities remain very much in question. He hit a combined .215/.300/.251 in his first two years at Tulane and cooled off after an encouraging start this spring. While he has some raw power and an eye for drawing walks, he has a big leg kick that throws off his timing at the plate and a right-handed swing that gets long and produces weak contact too often."

Rogers’s profile largely stayed the same in his first taste of pro ball in 2016. He hit .233 with three home runs in 46 A-ball games, while throwing out 13 runners and adding another 7 pickoffs. But Rogers broke out in 2017, hitting .261 with 18 home runs between Low-A and High-A. That’s when the Astros sent him to the Tigers in the Justin Verlander trade.

Jake Rogers headed to Double-A Erie for the 2018 season, and he continued to shine on defense while flashing his newfound pop. He hit just .219 with 17 home runs, but he posted a 10% walk rate, and got better as the season wore on, with a .783 OPS over the season’s final 37 games.

Rogers began his 2019 season back in Erie, but he quickly hit his way to Triple-A, and after a few months in Toledo he was called up to the Big Leagues. He hit a home run in his 5th major league at-bat, but the rest of his time with the Tigers was a struggle, as he batted just .125 with a 40% strikeout rate and a surprising number of defensive miscues over 35 games.

Things looked pretty dire for Rogers in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He remained at the alternate training site all year while Austin Romine, Grayson Greiner, and Eric Haase combined to hit just .202/.234/.313 with 5 home runs.

The A.J. Hinch hiring gave Rogers another shot. But while Rogers had spent the last several years refining his swing mechanics with renowned hitting instructor Doug Latta, Hinch’s message to Rogers was simple:

"“The one thing I want Jake to know,” Hinch said on Saturday. “All eyes are on his offense, right, on whether he can be an everyday player? But the reality is, from his manager, I want him to know that he will lose playing time and lose a spot on the roster more because of what he does on defense. We have to continue to encourage and get the most out of his defense. That’s his No. 1 priority.”"

And Hinch, himself a former catcher, pulled no punches ($) about Rogers’ defense in spring training. It wasn’t good enough to win the backup job, and Rogers was optioned to Toledo.

Jake Rogers in 2021

But Jake Rogers played just one game in Toledo this year. The Detroit Tigers signed Wilson Ramos to be their primary catcher in 2021, but Ramos hit the Injured List with a back issue, and Rogers made his season debut on May 8th, going 1-for-4 with a 2-run single.

Incidentally, May 8th is often referenced as the date the Tigers turned their season around after stumbling to a 9-24 start. Obviously Rogers doesn’t deserve all the credit for that turnaround, but he became the regular catcher within the month. Rogers was very effective on offense, posting a 115 wRC+ thanks to an 8.7% walk rate and 14 extra-base hits in just 113 at-bats.

However, his defensive numbers remained a bit of a mixed bag. He was still one of the best catch-and-throw backstops in baseball, using his near-elite transfer and plus pop times to nab 8 of the 14 (57%) runners who tried to steal against him, but he earned universally negative grades for his framing.

Still, the catching tandem of Rogers and Haase was enough of an upgrade that the Tigers felt comfortable releasing Wilson Ramos. Rogers was having a terrific July, with a 1.018 OPS through 10 games, but then came news of an injury:

Soon after the prognosis became more dire, and by September it was clear Rogers would be out for the rest of the season. He had Tommy John surgery on September 8th, and will almost certainly miss all of the 2023 season as well.

Jake Rogers’ 2021 Stats

Jake Rogers’ Future

It’s too soon to know anything about Jake Rogers’ future in baseball. Tommy John surgery has a high success rate, but it’s not perfect. And for a catcher like Rogers, whose arm is his best defensive tool, it’s reasonable to wonder if he’ll still be effective when he returns to the field.

If the rehab is effective, Jake Rogers could make his return to the Tigers shortly before his 28th birthday. In the meantime, Detroit will search for a catcher this off-season, and who they land could have a huge impact on the rest of Rogers’ career with the team. We’ll all just have to wait and see.

Next. How the Detroit Tigers defied the odds in 2021. dark