Path to the Draft: Rodgers chasing his dream
Potential No. 1 pick motivated to lead school to state title en route to bigger goal
The spring before the Draft can be full of excitement and pressure for amateur players hoping to be selected by a Major League organization. Those in the discussion for top of the first round face even more scrutiny as June approaches. MLB.com will be following Brendan Rodgers, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's Top 50 Draft Prospects list, throughout the process. From the start of his senior year at Lake Mary High School outside of Orlando, Fla., all the way through Draft Day, Rodgers has given MLB.com full access to his life as the top Draft prospect in the country.
LAKE MARY, Fla. -- Take a survey of 5- and 6-year-olds and chances are a large number of them will say they plan to be professional athletes when they grow up. It's a dream that for the typical kid remains just that -- one that fades away with time.
Lake Mary High School shortstop Brendan Rodgers had that dream. Whenever his kindergarten or first-grade class had to answer the question about what each student wanted to be when they grew up, his answer was always the same.
"I'd always write 'professional baseball player,'" Rodgers said. "There were always those teachers or students who would say, 'No, seriously, what do you want to be when you grow up?' I'd say, 'This is what I feel and what I can accomplish.'"
In grade school, it was fine. As Rodgers aged and was, self-admittedly, a scrawny infielder, there were skeptics. But while other kids moved on from those early fantasies, he never wavered. If anything, the more Rodgers has heard the questions, the more motivated he's become to make it come true. Now an 18-year-old senior and an early front-runner to be taken No. 1 overall by the D-backs in the 2015 Draft, Rodgers is on the cusp of doing just that.
"It's basically been the doubters out there who didn't believe in me," Rodgers said. "I've pushed myself since then. It wasn't a big deal when I was 6 years old. But then I was 10, 12, 14, 16. I still remember those days."
An amateur player may want something, but a lot more goes into getting there than just showing up and having talent. Want to know how a grade school kid with a dream evolves into perhaps the No. 1 pick in the Draft? It's more than just "practice, practice, practice."
Growing up with an ability to work nearly year-round has helped, especially if you're willing to use that advantage to the fullest benefit possible. Rodgers has done that, putting in as much time as possible trying to perfect his swing and his glove work.
Rodgers typically shows up an hour and 15 minutes prior to a scheduled 5 p.m. practice. Upon arrival, he'll take extra ground balls, then head to the cage to hit off of a tee or soft toss. That's not because the field isn't available, but rather because Rodgers is a considerate teammate.
"I don't want to spray balls all over the field and make everyone pick them up when they get to practice," Rodgers said. "During practice, I'll get my regular BP and ground balls. I get a good amount of early work in, so that's good."
Rodgers didn't stray from that routine, even after a long summer on the showcase circuit. After playing at the East Coast Pro Showcase in Syracuse, N.Y., and then both the Under Armour All-America Game in Chicago and the Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego, not to mention Perfect Game's World Wood Bat event in Fort Myers, Fla., in the fall, it would be understandable if he took some time off.
Not so much. Rodgers kept on with baseball-related activities. A day rarely goes by without Rodgers swinging a bat. He'll go to his hitting facility every day, even before he heads to the field for early work. And it's clearly paying off as Rodgers profiles as an exciting all-around shortstop prospect -- one who can hit for average and power while being able to stay at his premium position long-term.
Rodgers had an excellent summer, and it carried over into his high school season opener, when he launched a long home run with dozens of scouts, including several scouting directors, in attendance.
Perhaps it's that narrowness of focus that has allowed Rodgers to keep his eye on the prize. He said he was more nervous during the college recruiting process -- he committed to Florida State as a sophomore -- than he is now, with all of the attention from scouts just starting to ramp up.
"Now, all the attention and everything, it doesn't get to me too much," Rodgers said. "I was kind of used to it, because of all the college guys out there. It wasn't too bad.
"I try to not let all that get to me. I try not to get a big head. I go out there and let people talk about it, let them say it to me, but I try not to think about it too much. I just go out there and play every day and keep doing what I've been doing. I stay focused and not let the things like that get to my head."
The fact that Lake Mary might have its best team in school history also helps keep Rodgers' feet on the ground. With the Draft so focused on an individual's exploits -- his tools, his performance -- it's easy to forget that the players in question are not just out there trying to play for themselves.
But Rodgers feels this team has a chance to play deep into the Florida high school postseason, even after an early hiccup in a loss to district rival Hagerty (and fellow Draft prospect Ryan Mountcastle) on Wednesday night. Coming to the field every day to work toward that prize with teammates he's known for years makes it easier for Rodgers to shut out the potential external distractions.
"I've been with these kids, some of them since I was 10 years old, and luckily we all came to the same high school," Rodgers said. "When we were freshmen, we were always saying, 'Wait until we're all seniors. Wait until how good we're going to be.' Now we're here. We know we can win states. We have the team for it. It's not going to be easy, but we're going to do everything we can to win the state title for the first time.
"That would be something I would really look back on, saying I led the team to a state title after it's never been done."