Catcher Jake Rogers is on the fast track.
After opening eyes at big league camp this spring, the 23-year-old—who is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors—opened the season at Double-A Erie.
“He really showed himself well,” vice president of player development Dave Littlefield said of the 2016 third-rounder out of Tulane.
Rogers has impressed since reporting to Tiger Town with major league pitchers and catchers in early February. Acquired as part of last summer’s trade with the Astros for ace Justin Verlander, Rogers has quickly put himself in position to be the Tigers’ catcher of the future.
“He’s an advanced player in many facets,” Littlefield said. “He’s mature, intelligent and did a real nice job in major league camp. He’s got tools, he’s been productive and there’s a lot to like.”
In 112 games last season Rogers hit .261/.350/.467 with 18 home runs, doing most of his damage at low Class A Quad Cities in the Astros’ organization. His calling card is defense. Rogers received rave reviews from Tigers pitching coach Chris Bosio with the way he worked with pitchers this spring, and he is considered a favorite of new big league manager Ron Gardenhire.
How much Rogers’ offensive game develops will be the difference between a glove-first everyday catcher and a potential all-star cornerstone in the future. Tigers scouts who recommended him have noted his confidence behind the plate, something Gardenhire mentioned when he was demoted from major league camp this spring.
“He’s very intelligent behind the plate, but he gets a little flashy at times,” Gardenhire said. “I don’t ever want to take too much of that away, but the basic parts, we have to clean them up.”
One instance in particular stands out. With a runner on base, Rogers threw the ball back to the pitcher over a righthanded batter’s shoulder.
“He’s got that flair. He knows he can play,” Gardenhire said. “You don’t want to take that away from him. We also want him to understand the basics of the game . . . Until you’ve proven yourself at the major league level, you probably should stay on the straight and narrow.”
By starting at Double-A, Rogers could conceivably reach Detroit at some point in September. But the inference is clear: Rogers is the Tigers’ catcher of the future.
>> Two of the Tigers’ top pitching prospects were out of action on Opening Day. Righthander Franklin Perez sustained a right lat strain in his first action of the spring on March 19 and was expected to miss at least 12 weeks. Shortly thereafter, righty Matt Manning strained his oblique. Manning will start at low Class A West Michigan.
>> Prospect outfielder Cam Gibson, son of Kirk Gibson, focused primarily on hitting offspeed pitches this offseason, taking the majority of his swings against a curveball machine. The work paid off in the Tigers’ final spring training game, when Gibson knocked in the game-winning run on a slider.