DETROIT - Jake Rogers, one of the top 10 catching prospects in all of baseball, said it "means everything" to be promoted to Triple-A Toledo and be just one step away from joining the Detroit Tigers.
"Oh, it's crazy," Rogers said. "It's great. Just climbing that ladder means everything. It's one step closer to the ultimate dream in getting to Detroit, and it means everything right now, being able to play with these guys and play at this level and play the talent that I'm going to be playing, it's going to be fun and exciting."
Rogers was promoted Tuesday after 27 games in Double-A Erie. He certainly earned the promotion, batting .302 with a .963 OPS, five home runs, three doubles and 19 walks, compared with 26 strikeouts.
His success in Double-A was a welcome sight for the Tigers after he struggled in 99 games last season, posting a .717 OPS.
"Just really seeing pitches well," Rogers said. "Swinging at good pitches, not chasing out of the zone, really focusing in on my routine and kind of getting in the swing of things and just really picking out good pitches to hit and hitting them hard."
Rogers said he didn't make any major swing changes in the offseason, just lessened the movement in his swing, which helped him see the ball better.
"Lessening that movement really helped out," Rogers said.
The 24-year-old was acquired by the Tigers in 2017 when they traded ace Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros. Rogers, Franklin Perez and Daz Cameron were the three prospects who came to Detroit in the deal.
Rogers was ranked among the top 10 catching prospects in the country at the time of the trade, but fell off the list this offseason after struggling at the plate in 2018. He was ranked No. 10 when MLB Pipeline re-ranked the league's top prospects for the first time in 2019.
He said even though last year's numbers weren't what he wanted to see, improvements late in the season helped him get off to a much better start this year.
"You want to ride every wave you can get," Rogers said. "That struggle in the first half, it always helps you to obviously get the ball rolling a little bit, and find some barrels and find a couple doubles and a couple homers and just get on base. So riding that wave into the offseason, into the spring, into this year, I'm going to ride it was long as I can."
When he does hit a bump in the road, Rogers thinks getting through last season will help him handle the slump.
"It helped me out a lot," Rogers said. "The first half of last year really humbled me, and I think going forward, it's going to make me handle adversity a little better."
Rogers was more of an all-or-nothing hitter in 2018, striking out 112 times in 99 games but crushing 15 doubles and 17 home runs.
Comparing the Astros' organization with that of the Tigers, Rogers said coaches in the Detroit organization place greater emphasis on putting the ball in play and swinging at pitches that can be hit hard.
"There's similarities and differences, for sure, in the organizations," Rogers said. "Here, they just really focus on making contact, but making hard contact. Houston did that, too, you know, just picking out your pitches to hit and hitting them hard was a big deal. Here, it was just kind of coming down and try to cut down the strikeouts, really focus on getting a good pitch to hit. I think that was a big deal, and I know that kind of focusing on the routine of things and getting into the swing really helped me excel as a hitter."
As much as the focus has been on Rogers' bat in the minor leagues, he's considered among the elite defensive catchers in the game. He has the highest fielding ranking of any top 10 catching prospect and the second-ranked arm strength.
Only Oakland A's catching prospect Sean Murphy is ranked as highly as Rogers in terms of fielding and arm talent.
While catching for the Erie SeaWolves, Rogers got to work with some of the future pieces of the Tigers' starting rotation.
"That was really fun," Rogers said. "Those guys are really talented there, and it was a blast, a blast to catch. The guys that are there, the whole staff, they're so different and so similar, and there's just a lot of things that really made me better as a catcher."
The SeaWolves have thrown a pair of no-hitters already this season. First, the organization's No. 10 prospect, Alex Faedo, threw seven innings in a combined no-hitter. Then, No. 1 prospect Casey Mize threw a no-hitter in his first Double-A appearance.
Mize was moved up to the No. 1 pitching prospect in baseball Tuesday. He's now the No. 6 prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline.
Matt Manning is also a member of Erie's starting rotation. He's the No. 2 prospect in the organization and No. 48 in baseball.
"Catching those guys -- especially, obviously, Faedo, Mize, Manning -- those guys are fun," Rogers said. "It's easy to be back there when those guys have the stuff they have. Just to be calling a game, it's really helped me out, as far as a catcher, learning how they call, what they want to throw in certain counts. It really excelled me, as well."
Manning, specifically, has grown with Rogers from last year to this year.
"He's got electric stuff," Rogers said. "That's always been there. As far as his standpoint, I think the mental game has gotten a lot better, and this year, he's grown so much. He's learning more about his stuff and learning more about hitters and really stepping into all he can do and all he has."
While Rogers is an excellent defensive catcher and an improving hitter, speed is not expected to be a big part of his game. That doesn't mean the Tigers haven't worked on his base running, though.
"We've actually been focusing really hard on it," Rogers said. "Base running is a huge part of everyone's game, as it should be, because it can make the smallest difference and it can be a really big difference in a close ballgame. So I've really been working hard and focusing on being aggressive at certain times and when to be really aggressive and when to not be so aggressive. I've been really focusing hard on that and asking a bunch of questions and trying to get better at every aspect."
Rogers is the No. 13 prospect in the Tigers' organization and an important part of the future. With Grayson Greiner struggling at the plate and John Hicks playing plenty of first base, Rogers could make a case to be the starting catcher by Opening Day 2020 if he continues to rake in Toledo.
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