Tigers send down catcher Jake Rogers with vote of confidence
Cincinnati — Among the significant takeaways from the Tigers’ roster moves Monday and subsequent video conferences with general manager Al Avila and manager Ron Gardenhire was that Jake Rogers, despite being sent to the taxi squad in Toledo, remains the catcher of the future.
“He’s one of the guys we look at as one of the special players for our future,” Avila said. “He just needs to figure some things out hitting-wise. He has made a lot of progress and I don’t think he’s got too far to go.”
The Tigers will start the season with Austin Romine and Grayson Greiner behind the plate. Dearborn Divine Child product Eric Haase, Gardenhire said, would be the team’s taxi squad catcher, traveling to away games.
The Tigers need Rogers to continue to develop offensively, and just as importantly, they want him to continue working with the stable of elite-level pitching prospects — Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal — in Toledo.
“I had a good conversation with (Rogers),” Gardenhire said. “He knows what he’s got to do. I told him, ‘Out of all the catchers here, when you are behind the plate, you put fear in the other team, just the way you can throw the ball around and behind runners.’ He’ll keep working on that.
“He’s still a big part of our plans. I think the organization loves this kid. He can do things and he’s going to be able to hit as he gets his swing down. He’s an impact player behind the plate, that’s my opinion.”
Rogers, 25, hit .250 in the intrasquad games, 100 points higher than he hit in 128 plate appearance for the Tigers last season. While four of his 14 hits last season were home runs, he struck out 51 times. He still has a pronounced upper-cut swing, but he’s worked to keep his bat through the zone longer, even getting a couple of extra hits to the opposite field gap.
“From a defensive perspective, he has all the talent in the world,” Avila said. “The thing about him, though, his struggles at the plate somewhat affected his defense and that’s not a good thing. That’s why we went out and got Romine.
“Defense comes first. Those pitchers on the mound come first. You can’t let hitting get involved with the defense. You can win a game with your defense. Jake is a special talent and we feel he’s on the right track.”
The Tigers still need to trim seven players to get down to 30 before noon Thursday. Avila said he plans to make those final cuts after the exhibition game Wednesday.
Clearly, the Tigers brought extra pitchers to Cincinnati to get through the exhibition games. Anthony Castro is a good bet to be sent back to the taxi squad. And, between Dario Agrazal, Shao-Ching Chiang, Kyle Funkhouser, Beau Burrows and John Schreiber, only one, possibly two, will likely make the 30-man roster.
Position player-wise, infielder Willi Castro, utility man Brandon Dixon and outfielders Derek Hill and Jorge Bonifacio could also end up in Toledo.
Complicating the decisions for Avila, players like pitchers Nick Ramirez, Agrazal and Chiang, utility player Jordy Mercer and Bonifacio are non-roster players. To put them on the 30-man roster would force other players off the 40-man roster.
Injuries and the virus protocol could give Avila some temporary roster relief — as outfielders Troy Stokes, Jr., Daz Cameron, possibly Travis Demeritte and lefty Tarik Skubal are all candidates for the injured list. Jordan Zimmermann has already been placed on the 45-day injured list, creating an opening on the 40-man roster.
Pitcher Daniel Norris (COVID-19) was cleared to return to camp Tuesday, but he will not be immediately reporting to the active roster.
“Trying to manage the roster is a very tricky thing,” Avila said. “We want to start the season on the right path and see where it goes. We know as the season develops there will be roster moves, just naturally from having to go from 30 players to 28 (in two weeks) to 26 (in four weeks).”
Avila said roster depth is paramount, maintaining organizational depth. Which is why the preference may be to keep some of the veteran players in Toledo at first — players like Bonifacio, veteran pitcher Hector Santiago and Chiang.
Avila also said he’d be scouring the waiver wire for veteran players who have exercised opt-outs in their contracts who might be able to help down the road.
In other words, the roster will be in a state of flux throughout the next two-plus months.
Training and development
Avila hinted Monday that some of the minor-league players in the system who did not get placed in the player pool might play in independent leagues this summer and fall. He did not specify which players or which leagues.
Second base prospect Kody Clemens and Tigers third-round pick Trei Cruz are playing in the Constellation Energy League in Texas
Avila agreed, though, that without a minor league season, the development of players at the lower levels of the minor leagues will be stunted.
“We’re doing the best we can with the circumstances we’ve been given,” he said. “I would say the guys going to Toledo to practice, it will be more like a college fall ball program. It’s a lot of instruction, lot of repetition, lots of drills. That makes you a better baseball player.
“In the pro game, while there is instruction and practice, it’s games day in and day out and that’s what they’re going to miss the most. But in saying that, we’ve got some great instructors and some great technology, and we feel we can get these guys ready to play this year, if and when they are needed, and also get them enough work that they’re going to progress for next year.”
As for the players not in Toledo, Avila is hoping the Major League season can go the distance, all 60 games, the full playoff slate and then the World Series. If that happens, then it’s likely there would be an enhanced Arizona Fall League scheduled, where organizations could field full teams, and an enhanced Instructional League in Florida.
The Tigers announced Tuesday night that left-handed pitching prospect Tarik Skubal has been cleared of COVID-19 protocol and will report to the club's taxi squad in Toledo. Right-hander Zack Hess was removed from the 60-man player pool. Also, veteran lefty Hector Santiago was released.