Detroit Tigers’ Jake Rogers’ plan to work with AJ Hinch in spring: ‘I hope he gets on me’

Detroit Free Press

Evan Petzold
 
| Detroit Free Press

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Jake Rogers didn’t enjoy his time at the Detroit Tigers‘ alternate training site in Toledo last season. The 25-year-old catcher made the most of his situation — by playing daily intrasquad games — but missed the big leagues.

He watched two of his fellow prospects — Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal — make their MLB debuts in August. Rogers was “pumped” about their arrivals, but he was supposed to be the guy catching Mize’s filthy splitter and Skubal’s blazing fastball in the majors. Only, he never got the chance.

“It was tough,” Rogers said Wednesday. “I guess what I learned most was things are out of your control. You can’t control what you can’t control.”

SPRING TRAINING: Manager AJ Hinch breaks down position battles, closer, prospects

NEW CATCHER: Tigers sign catcher Wilson Ramos to one-year, $2 million contract

With new manager AJ Hinch — a former catcher — sharing advice, Rogers aims to return to the Tigers after a year-long absence and prove he belongs. Already a solid defender, his future value relies on his hitting — so far, his weakest link.

“From a defensive perspective, he’s the real deal,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said in October. “I do have worries about his offense.”

Hinch gave his take in November: “We need to bring his whole game together, whether it’s the game-calling to mixing in the attraction of being an offensive player.”

[ How AJ Hinch plans to rewrite the story on prospect Jake Rogers ]

Rogers, a key piece in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade with Houston, reached the majors in 2019, hurried along by historically bad performances by Tigers catchers. But he struggled, hitting .125 with four homers and eight RBIs in 35 games. He hasn’t returned to the majors since.

The experience, while unpleasant, should benefit Rogers in 2021. Well aware of the potential for failure, he plans to arrive in Lakeland, Florida, for spring training before the Feb. 17 report date.

This time around, Rogers knows he needs to show offensive improvements.

“I’ve always been able to trust myself up there and have a good eye,” Rogers said, adding he worked this offseason with hitting instructor Doug Latta at Ball Yard Hitting Academy in California. “As far as these swing changes, I’ve been able to see the ball a lot better, pick it up a little earlier, so I cut down on the strikeouts and get more hard contact.”

On Tuesday, the Tigers signed offense-first catcher Wilson Ramos, 33, to a one-year, $2 million contract. The Ramos signing means Rogers will compete — along with Grayson Greiner, Dustin Garneau and Eric Haase — for the backup catcher spot on the 26-man roster.

“Once I get there and, hopefully, can stay there, just try to get winning back to Detroit,” Rogers said. “I’ve had good conversations, talked to AJ on the phone. The right mentality is here. Guys want to win. Whatever I can do to help, I’m excited and want to be a part of it.”

Rogers’ conversation with Hinch lasted took up much of an hour. Before either of them picked up the phone, they were already connected by the art of catching. That was Hinch’s position during his seven-year career, from 1998-2004.

He, too, struggled to hit, finishing with a .219 batting average in 350 games.

“You have to go out there and earn your job,” Hinch told him.

Once viewed as the Tigers’ “catcher of the future,” Rogers understands nothing will be handed to him, especially with Hinch at the helm. It won’t be long before 2020 second-round draft pick Dillon Dingler gets his opportunity.

“For him being a catcher, it’s definitely going to be tougher,” Rogers said. “He’s going to be hard on me, and I wouldn’t expect anything less. I’m probably going to enjoy it a little too much. I hope he gets on me. That’s how you learn. It’s going to be good, being able to pick his brain.”

Within a week after his conversation with Hinch, Rogers got a phone call from hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh. On Tuesday, Coolbaugh, who lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, visited him.

“We talked about hitting and a little bit about philosophy,” Rogers said.

Rogers then explained his general catching philosophy: “Catching a win. When you catch a win, everything kind of went good, and that’s what you strive to do. Get a hit is definitely just a bonus on top. But it’s pretty sweet to have one in there.”

Turning 26 years old in April, Rogers is still on the Tigers’ top prospect list, ranking No. 12 in the organization, according to MLB Pipeline.

Rogers seems to be running out of time, but he isn’t concerned.

“Honestly, I feel really good and athletic as ever,” he said. “Going in there is going to be fun. I’m just enjoying it as I go, and I’m not really thinking about (my) age at all.”

Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold.

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