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Earned not given: Rogers out to prove himself

Pirates acquired 27-year-old first baseman from Brewers this offseason
MLB.com

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The phone call came in the middle of December, when Jason Rogers still thought he might be the Brewers' Opening Day first baseman. On the other end of the conversation was David Stearns, Milwaukee's new general manager.

Rogers figured Stearns was calling to introduce himself; the two had never spoken, much less met. They exchanged greetings, then Stearns informed Rogers he'd been traded to the Pirates.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The phone call came in the middle of December, when Jason Rogers still thought he might be the Brewers' Opening Day first baseman. On the other end of the conversation was David Stearns, Milwaukee's new general manager.

Rogers figured Stearns was calling to introduce himself; the two had never spoken, much less met. They exchanged greetings, then Stearns informed Rogers he'd been traded to the Pirates.

Obviously, the news came as a surprise. So did the return: a pair of prospects, Keon Broxton and Trey Supak.

"I didn't realize I had that much leverage," Rogers said. "Or any at all."

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Whatever leverage Rogers gained, he had to earn it. Coming out of Columbus State (Ga.) University, a Division II school, he played for the Laconia (N.H.) Muskrats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.

Rogers, who turns 28 next month, spent that summer living with friends -- in a retirement home.

"I didn't know if I was going to get drafted or not," Rogers said. "I stayed on the couch in the living room of a retirement home, having breakfast with the elderly people in the morning, getting to know them and stuff."

Rogers wound up getting picked by the Brewers in the 32nd round of the 2010 Draft, the 969th player off the board. He hit well in the Minor Leagues, but he was never considered a prospect. He waited until he was 27 years old for his first real shot in the Majors.

"I've got to prove myself," Rogers said. "Nothing's ever been given to me, so take that into account, keep working hard and everything will end up right."

Tasked with what Pirates manager Clint Hurdle considers the toughest job in baseball -- playing on an inconsistent basis -- Rogers hit .296 with an .808 OPS in 86 games for the Brewers in 2015, primarily as a backup first baseman and pinch-hitter. Whereas some might bemoan their lack of regular playing time, Rogers embraced the chance he was given.

Video: MIL@STL: Rogers starts the scoring with an RBI single

"It's a tough role," Hurdle said. "He's still hungry to be an everyday player. He was able to find a way to stay sharp, stay ready and take advantage of opportunities. That can be a gift."

The Brewers traded first baseman Adam Lind to the Mariners in early December, seemingly opening up a full-time job for Rogers. He had been playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic, looking for more at-bats. A little more than a week later, Rogers was on his way out of Milwaukee, too.

"I thought, 'Next year's my chance, so here we go,'" Rogers said. "It's cool, though."

After the initial shock wore off, Rogers was pleased to hear he'd been dealt to Pittsburgh. He had admired them from across the field, and he had just jumped from a 68-win ballclub to a 98-win one.

Considering the prospects they traded, the Pirates clearly believe Rogers has proven himself.

"Wherever they want me to play, just help the team win," Rogers said. "That's the biggest thing. This is a winning ballclub. That's the exciting part. Winning helps everything."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Jason Rogers