Detroit — Of course Jake Rogers was thrilled to finally get promoted to Triple-A Toledo.
One hundred and twenty-six games in Double-A is more than enough for the Tigers’ top catching prospect, especially one who was killing it at Erie, hitting .302 with a .429 on-base average and slugging .535.
“It’s great, just climbing that ladder and getting one step closer to the ultimate dream of getting to Detroit,” Rogers said Tuesday in a teleconference with reporters. “It means everything right now.”
In his first game with Toledo, Rogers went 2-for-3 with a homer and double in the Mud Hens' 6-4 loss to the Norfolk Tides Monday.
He may not fully be aware of what he’s in for, though. He’s leaving behind one of the best starting pitching staffs in the minor leagues in Erie — featuring the club’s top pitching prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Alex Faedo — to catch a staff in Toledo with a combined ERA of 5.68.
“It was really fun catching those guys,” Rogers said. “They are really talented and it was a blast catching them. They are so different and yet so similar and there were a lot of things that made me better as a catcher.
“It’s really easy to be back there when you are catching guys with the stuff they have.”
Tigers general manager Al Avila has said often that defensively, Rogers is ready to play in the big leagues right now. The way he handles pitchers, the way he calls games, catches the baseball and controls the running game is far beyond his years.
But his bat has been slower to develop. Going into August last season, Rogers was hitting .204, striking out 90 times in 311 plate appearances.
“The first half of last year humbled me,” he said. “I think going forward it’s going to help me handle adversity a little better.”
He finished strong in August, hitting .264, striking out 22 times in 97 plate appearances. Although his numbers don’t reflect it (8 for 48), he hit the ball hard during the Arizona Fall League, as well.
“You want to ride every wave you can get,” he said. “After I struggled in the first half, it was helpful to get the ball rolling a little bit and find some barrels and just get on base where you can ride that wave into the off-season, into the spring and into the season.
“I’m going to ride it as long as I can.”
The Tigers worked hard during spring training to get Rogers to level out his swing, lose some of the launch angle he’d gotten during his years in the Astros system and focus more on putting balls in play. But, Rogers said, that was only part of his transformation.
“I’m really seeing pitches well and swinging at good pitches,” he said. “I’m not chasing out of the zone as much, just really focusing in on my routine and getting in the swing of things. Really, it’s just about picking out good pitches to hit and hitting them hard.”
He said he’s quieted his mechanics at the plate, too. He has taken some of the movement out of his swing, which has helped him keep his head still, which improves his ability to see and track pitches.
“Here they want me to tone it down,” Rogers said. “Tone down the strikeouts. Focus on getting a good pitch to hit. That was a big deal. Just focusing on the routine and getting into the swing of things really helped me excel as a hitter.”
Rogers is hoping his stay in Triple A is considerably shorter than Double A.
“To be able to play with these guys at this level and play the towns we’ll be playing, it’s going to be fun,” he said. “I’m excited.”