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Tigers catching prospect Jake Rogers kicks it into high gear at Toledo

By Matt Schoch
The Detroit News

Toledo, Ohio — His hitting coach is not concerned with what Jake Rogers does in the box before the ball arrives.

Just as long as he’s ready when it does.

Catcher Jake Rogers was just promoted to Triple-A Toledo.

Toledo’s Mike Hessman is one of the men charged with making sure the Tigers prospect, long considered one of the finest defensive catchers in all the minors, continues to develop enough offense to be an impact big leaguer.

And if Rogers does it with the exaggerated leg kick he’s had since a teenager, so be it.

“It’s just kind of a thing that’s been comfortable for me,” Rogers told The Detroit News on Sunday. “I got the timing down with it last year, the timing was off a little bit early on. It’s just kind of a timing mechanism for me, and it’s been pretty good.”

Good enough to earn a promotion last week to Triple-A, where his hot bat continued to connect. His offerings left Fifth Third Field in his first two at-bats, a ground-rule double and then a towering fly ball into Mike Hessman Home Run Alley in left field.

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Hessman, the minor league home run king with 433 homers over 19 seasons, preferred a quiet front foot, while Rogers goes with a high left leg paired with his low hands.

“That’s his style,” Hessman said. “Me, personally, as a hitting guy, I never really try to take it away from them. There are times where it gets a little high and out of control, and I think he is starting to understand when it gets to that point.

“The most important thing is just getting into a good, strong hitting position and foundation once it’s time to fire. He can do what he wants to beforehand, just as long as he’s getting into that good launch position consistently.”

Rogers, the No. 11 Tigers prospect in The Detroit News system rankings, has built upon a strong finish to a disappointing season in Double-A Erie last year with more success this spring.

In 27 Double-A games this season, Rogers hit .302 with five home runs with 19 walks and 26 strikeouts. He hit safely in 10 of his last 11 games for the SeaWolves and is 4 for 12 through four games in Toledo before sitting out Sunday for scheduled rest. HIs first three hits for the Mud Hens went for extra bases.

That’s after a nice finish salvaged an ugly .219 season last year, where he struck out 112 times and drew 41 walks.

“I’m trying not to get too big,” Rogers said of his swing. “I was chasing out of the zone, swinging at pitches I shouldn’t.

“I’m just trying not to do too much — and hit the little white thing.”

The 24-year-old from Canyon, Texas, grew up as a shortstop and pitcher and moved to a part-time catcher in high school. At Tulane, he moved full time into catching after his father, Dusty, told him every team needs a good catcher.

“I ended up loving it because you’re involved in every play, it’s not that boring,” said Rogers, who said he emulated Joe Mauer, former Tigers catcher Pudge Rodriguez and Yadier Molina growing up.

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The right-handed Rogers was a third-round pick in 2016 by Houston and his reputation behind the plate continued to flourish.

One of three prospects dealt to Detroit for Justin Verlander in 2017, Rogers continued to show off the defense, nabbing 50 of 90 would-be base stealers, a .556 percentage — Martin Maldonado led the majors last season at .486.

“He’s legit, he’s as advertised,” Erie manager Mike Rabelo said of Rogers’ defense. “The receiving, the mobility, the blocking, the throwing — he can throw from different arm slots, it’s lightning quick.”

Jake Rogers, right, chats with pitcher Zac Reininger during the spring.

Rabelo, a former Tigers catcher, said Rogers improved his two-strike approach this season and improved against lefties, hitting .333 with four home runs against them this spring after hitting .200 in 2018.

“I’m just finding good pitches to hit and not chasing out of the zone,” Rogers said. “Finding a barrel or two helps.”

Mud Hens outfielder Danny Woodrow, who played with Rogers in Erie last season, said Rogers is the best defensive catcher he’s ever played with. Woodrow, the No. 37 Tigers prospect, said Rogers should boost Toledo, which improved to 10 games under .500 with Sunday’s win.

“He’s awesome back there; I love when he’s catching,” Woodrow said. “He throws the hell out of it; he’s a smart player.

“When you get a guy out on the bases, it’s always big. It’s kind of that one you get back, you know? The guy got on somehow and then you get it back with a great defensive play from Jake.”

Rabelo also said Rogers contributed to a positive clubhouse atmosphere for the SeaWolves.

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The catching prospect befriended a 4-year-old Erie fan last summer after Nico Kolash’s father posted a video on social media of his son, a huge baseball fan who underwent open-heart surgery last summer, imitating Rogers hitting a walk-off home run.

The catcher saw it, and it began a relationship that led to Nico being signed to be an honorary player for the SeaWolves for a day.

Rogers came to the family home to give the youngster the good news.

“I try to have fun, and I try to be good to the fans because they’re coming to watch,” Rogers said. “His dad just happened to post a video at the right time, and I saw it at the right time, and it just kind of went from there. It blossomed into something greater.

“Nico, him and his whole family are great people, and I’m glad I got to know them.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.