Feature Photo: Brendan Rodgers, SS, Rockies
Editor’s Note: 2080 Baseball is publishing weekly profiles of former Perfect Game All-Americans as they progress through the professional ranks. The series will be published each Wednesday and run through the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic, to be held Sunday, August 14 at Petco Park in San Diego, CA. We’d also like to offer our special appreciation to David Rawnsley, vice president of player personnel for Perfect Game, and Patrick Ebert, PG’s managing editor and scout, for their contributions to the PG in the Pros series. Click here to learn more about Perfect Game and the PG All-American Classic. – Mark Shreve
The home ballpark for the High A Lancaster JetHawks – The Hangar – is currently the most favorable in the hitter-friendly California League for right-handed hitters, according to StatCorner.com. That reputation has led to some to discount the first half put together by 20-year-old Brendan Rodgers (SS, Rockies), who slashed.400/.419/.700 in 48 games for the JetHawks during the first half of the season. However, vice president of player personnel at Perfect Game David Rawnsley isn’t so quick to discount Rodgers’ production.
“If hitting .400 with power in the Cal League was easy, somebody else would be doing it instead of a 20-year-old,” Rawnsley said.
Rodgers has projected as an above-average hitting middle infielder since his high school days at Lake Mary HS (Lake Mary, FL). Going into his senior season at Lake Mary, Rodgers was ranked by Perfect Game among the top prep prospects eligible for the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft.
“He had that rare combination of a true shortstop defensively combined with the potential of having a middle-of-the-order bat,” Rawnsley said. “That combination doesn’t come along very often, and when it does, you jump on it.”
The Rockies were quick to bite on Rodgers’ potential, grabbing him with the third overall pick in that year’s draft. The then 18-year-old was tested right away after signing with Colorado, playing in the Rookie-level Pioneer League against competition that was, on average, more than three years his senior. Rodgers held his own, slashing .273/.340/.420 with three home runs and 15 walks in 37 games for the Grand Junction Rockies.
Rawnsley noted that Rodgers was a good fit in the Rockies’ system because of his polished approach at the plate when he was coming out of high school.
“The Rockies have to be careful because the way that their minor league system lines up, they have a team in the Northwest League and a team in the Pioneer League [and none in the Arizona Rookie League],” Rawnsley said. “They can’t afford to take two-year Rookie guys or raw guys out of high school. They need their high school players to be pretty polished because they are going to go in and compete against college guys right away. Rodgers was a perfect guy with them.”
Rawnsley said Rodgers wasn’t just a talented player in high school; he also put in a lot of time on the diamond.
“He played at a very high level growing up in the Orlando area. He played with the Orlando Scorpions, which are one of the top travel teams. He was a year-round baseball player. He’s a yard rat,” Rawnsley said. “After he signed and came home that summer, he was coming to games and coaching first base for the Scorpions. He was very ready to play right out of high school and advance quickly. It’s really no surprise.
“If you look at other high school players the Rockies have taken, Trevor Story, the shortstop from Dallas [Irving HS, Irving TX], was another player with a very similar background. If they take high school players, they are very aware of that as an organization that they have to take more polished players.”
In 2016, Rodgers made the jump to the Class A Asheville Tourists for his first full season of pro ball, and he continued to impress against older competition, slashing .281/.342/.480 with 19 home runs in 110 games. He entered the 2017 season as 2080 Baseball’s pick as the Rockies’ top prospect, as well MLB.com’s 10th-best MLB prospect.
Rodgers’ production has taken an even bigger leap forward this season in High A ball. Going into the California League All-Star break, Rodgers was leading the league in batting, on-base percentage and slugging. The only blips on the radar for Rodgers this season have been a mediocre K/BB rate of 31:6 over 222 plate appearances that is indicative of his aggressive approach, and a three-week stint on the disabled list in April with an injured hand.
2080’s Dave DeFreitas recently scouted Rodgers. While he noted that Rodgers’ BABIP (currently .431) is unsustainable, DeFreitas also pointed out that “it is somewhat representative of his consistent hard contact thus far in 2017.”
DeFreitas sees Rodgers as a strong hitter who will only grow stronger, but cautions that Rodgers may not post huge home run totals in the upper levels.
“Rodgers projects to have above-average pop and is already able to drive the ball to the middle of the field, however the swing is geared more towards line drives rather than long fly balls – so while he likely will be able to leave the yard to center field eventually, look for the over-the-fence ability to be primarily to pull, while finding a fair amount extra-base hits in the right-center field gap,” DeFreitas wrote.
DeFreitas also notes that Rodgers has work to do on being more selectively aggressive at the plate
“Such an aggressive approach at the plate in not uncommon for a young player, and his ability to hit for such a high average speaks to his feel for the barrel and to his bat control,” DeFreitas wrote. “However, as he starts to face more advanced arms and the percentage of hittable pitches he sees drops, he’ll have to start being more selective and learn to take his walks.”
A scout for a National League team I spoke to projects Rodgers to be an above-average hitter, but also cautions that his approach needs work.
“He can really swing the stick, with good bat speed and balance, and he can impact the ball in multiple zone locations, not just center-cut mistakes,” the N.L. scout said. “He’s a hitter, but an aggressive one, so working on his approach will be a big part of his sustainable offensive success.”
The biggest question that remains for Rodgers – and really any shortstop in the lower levels of the minor leagues – is whether he will be able to stick at the position for the long term. The N.L. scout says more repetitions will be needed to make a full assessment of Rodgers at shortstop.
“He has enough tools to make it possible, so if he’s given time to refine, I think it’s possible,” the scout said. “The thing people forget is that bat-first types that move quickly often fall behind on their defense and base running, which ironically enough, are the skills that can end up delaying their final ascent to the big leagues. He has fundamentals over flash, and if given more time and focus, he should be fine in the short-term. Long term, second base is probably a better fit for his skillset. His bat will play anywhere.”
DeFreitas also says the jury is still out on Rodgers’ long-term future at short, but that Rodgers should stay at the position for now.
“Defensively, there are those that feel like he will get too big to stay at shortstop, however his athleticism and body control are both plus, and the above-average arm is more than enough for the position,” DeFreitas writes. “He is an average runner and likely settles in at fringe average as a big leaguer, but the game clock is good and he will make the routine plays.”
The Rockies are keeping both options open for Rodgers. While has played the majority of his professional games at shortstop, he did log 30% of the games he played in the field at second last season for Asheville. Rodgers has appeared in four of his 48 games at second base this season for Lancaster.
With the second half of the season officially starting this week, the Rockies have decided to give Rodgers an opportunity to prove the bat can play outside of the California League. The Rockies are set to promote him to the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats after the California League All-Star game.