Jake Rogers emerged on the field Friday at Comerica Park for the national anthem. Only hours earlier, he made the journey from Toledo, where he was with the Triple-A squad, to rejoin the Detroit Tigers for the first time since 2019.
The 26-year-old catcher is still considered a prospect by industry standards. But manager AJ Hinch gave a different assessment: “He’s not a young kid anymore. He’s maturing, and he should be able to handle this.”
There’s a lot of pressure on Rogers — the name of a future Hall of Famer is attached to his baseball biography. He was acquired from the Houston Astros in the 2017 Justin Verlander trade. And when he arrived to the big leagues in 2019, the results were discouraging.
Nearly two years — 588 days, to be exact — after his last appearance for the Tigers, Rogers gets another chance to prove his value. He was called up because starting catcher Wilson Ramos went to the 10-day injured list with a lumbar spine strain. If he plays well, especially on offense, he could stick around as the backup.
“There’s an opportunity here,” Rogers said Saturday, ahead of his first game. “I want to make the most of it. I’m going to run with it. Hopefully, I do pretty well up here and make a name for myself. If I stay up here, I do. If I don’t, I’m going to go back down, serve my time and wait. I’m just trying to help the team win.”
VERLANDER TRADE: Where do prospects from Justin Verlander trade fit in future?
In 2019, Rogers went 14-for-112 (.125) with four home runs, eight RBIs, 13 walks and 51 strikeouts. Already an above-average defensive catcher, he has refined his swing over the past three years with hitting instructor Doug Latta at Ball Yard Hitting Academy in Northridge, California.
He knows improving his offense is how he’ll stick in Detroit.
“I think that little stint in ’19 helped me get my feet wet,” Rogers said. “Now it’s just trying to earn a job, stuck up here and help the team win. That’s what the big thing is: Get up here, catch a W, help the pitcher out there and get a few hits and drive some runs in.”
Yet Rogers did not return to the majors in 2020. With the minors canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he spent his time at the alternate training site in Toledo. He admits missing out on a call-up made him “a little angry,” but he tried to stay positive.
At the alternate site, he faced his teammates in intrasquad games at Fifth Third Field. This allowed him get comfortable with his simplified swing. He has ditched the leg kick and extra head movement he had a few years ago.
“I feel like it’s there,” Rogers said about his swing. “It’s close. Just trying to get that thing honed in to where we don’t have to worry about it when it comes game time. … I’m there. I believe I’m there, and I think we’re pretty close.”
In spring training, Rogers went 3-for-22 (.136) with one double, one RBI, one walk and 10 strikeouts. The Tigers gave him many opportunities to make the big-league squad, but his lack of offensive production made them hesitate.
So, the organization sent him to Triple-A.
He started at catcher for Toledo’s Opening Day on Tuesday, but he struck out three times and walked once in his four plate appearances. Now that Rogers is back in the majors, Hinch is going to split his in-game reps with fellow catcher Grayson Greiner. (Greiner, 28, will continue to catch rookie Casey Mize because Hinch “likes how that’s evolved.”)
“It’s an opportunity for him,” Hinch said. “I know he’s going to handle the catching fine. I know he’s going to be able to control the running game. There’s going to be a microscope on his bat, so we’ll see.”
While Rogers’ recall to the Tigers in 2021 has now-or-never vibes, the aging prospect doesn’t want to become overwhelmed. Ramos is set to return soon, meaning a roster move is coming.
Rogers can’t afford to let the pressure attack him.
“I don’t really think of that,” Rogers said. “If it’s make or break, it is what it is. I’m not a kid. I’m 26, and I want to be up here and stay with all these guys. I don’t really think it’s make or break. I just think I’m here to play and do my best.”
Evan Petzold is a sports reporter at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzold. Read more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.