Rogers setting up as Tigers' catcher of the future

Detroit's No. 11 prospect acquired in Verlander trade last season

September 6th, 2018

ERIE, Pa. -- The Tigers shuttled 34 pitchers through their Double-A roster this season. Their common denominator was the guy behind the plate.

That says a lot about what meant to the Erie SeaWolves this season. So, too, do the pitchers who threw to him.

"He's incredible, to put it simply," Kyle Funkhouser, the Tigers' ninth-ranked prospect by MLB Pipeline, said earlier this summer. "He receives really well above average. He throws well above average. And he's really good at adapting to each pitcher.

"I'm really comfortable with him and I trust what he puts down pretty much in any situation. But it's not just me. He does a really good job from pitcher to pitcher, inning to inning, at adapting and knowing pitchers' strengths and reading swings. He's just really, really good back there."

Said Beau Burrows, Detroit's fifth-ranked prospect: "We have the best defensive catcher in all of baseball, I think. It's a good feeling."

Said Alex Faedo, the Tigers' fourth-ranked prospect: "He works really hard. He puts his body on the line. He's very good at receiving. He has a good feel for the game. And he's thrown out like 50 percent of the guys, something ridiculous. I mean, he's got all the tools back there."

Rogers ended up throwing out 56 percent of would-be basestealers by season's end.

"As I've said many times, he's one of the best defensive catchers I've seen," SeaWolves manager and former Tigers Minor League catcher Andrew Graham said. "He can receive. He helps the pitching staff out a lot, getting pitches for them. He's still got a lot to improve on his blocking and game-calling, and game-calling in tight situations, and that comes with experience. He's been pushed pretty quickly, too, being in Double-A in his second full season."

He'll get more experience next month in the Arizona Fall League. After helping Erie's pitching prospects all summer, it's time to work on his own game.

It's a tall task for someone who started 98 games behind the plate this year, the same total has posted in Detroit over a longer season. But Rogers, Detroit's 11th-ranked prospect, isn't ready for his season to end.

"I think it'll be good to go out there and catch," he said. "Going out there and catching more, getting my body ready to catch more and more in a season, it'll be good."

The Tigers have had remarkable stability behind the plate over the last decade with Alex Avila and McCann. They believed Rogers could be next when they acquired him as part of last summer's trade. So far, they haven't been disappointed.

The Tigers had stability at Triple-A Toledo with and , so they let Rogers settle in at Erie and handle many of their top pitching prospects. Four of Detroit's top six threw to Rogers at some point, including three members of MLB Pipeline's top 100. That doesn't include Franklin Perez, who pitched to Rogers in the Astros system and was lined up for Erie if not for injuries.

"We've had a lot of good arms, a lot of talented guys come through," Rogers said. "It's been fun, different guys at different times with different ways to pitch. It makes you better when you can call their games and see what their tendencies are and kind of learn them as pitchers, what they like to do, don't like to do."

The one he caught all season was Burrows, who went through an up-and-down campaign with the SeaWolves but showed the arsenal that made him a first-round pick in 2015.

"He goes out there and competes, no matter what his stuff is like," Rogers said. "Some days are better than others for him, but no matter what, he goes out there and competes. And that's what I like about him. When he's up there on the mound, he has a presence. People know it when they face him."

Faedo, Detroit's first-round pick in 2017, joined Erie in mid-June. He went 3-6 with a 4.95 ERA, but struck out 59 batters over 60 innings and had two seven-inning gems in his first pro season.

"When he's on, he's hitting his spots, commanding his fastball," Rogers said. "When he's painting his fastball down and away, slider down in the zone, it's going to be a tough day for hitters."

At the end arrived Manning, the ninth overall pick in 2016 who rose from Class A West Michigan to Erie this year. Rogers caught the 20-year-old for two starts, including six shutout innings in his Double-A debut last week.

"His stuff's electric, man," Rogers said. "That curveball's good. His breaking ball's awesome. I think as he grows, given how good it is right now, it's going to get better. Really bright future for him."

Rogers' offensive game had its own ups and downs. His 17 home runs fell one shy of last year's total in 70 fewer at-bats, but his .219 batting average and .717 OPS were off. Take away a miserable start, however, and Rogers batted .261 with 14 homers and an .885 OPS over his final 58 games.

"The power's in there, and I'm happy with the slight adjustments he made with his swing the last couple of months," Graham said. "A lot more solid contact, a lot more hitting for average, rather than just going for straight power and swinging and missing."

Said Rogers: "It was a slow start, but having guys helping me out and really getting in and focusing on an approach and not trying to be too big, getting good pitches to hit and not chasing out of the zone, stuff like that really helped me. Once I got locked in, I just kept with it."

That will be a focus for him in Arizona, getting more at-bats to settle in with the approach. But it'll also be an endurance test for him as a catcher. He'll at least have another batch of talented pitchers to catch.