Rodgers eyes 2nd base: 'I'm ready to be me'

February 24th, 2021

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Funny thing about mirrors. Those peering eyes and the words mouthing back can pierce one’s soul. Or not.

Rockies shortstop went to the mirror not long after hearing that the club had traded away third baseman Nolan Arenado. The logical fallout was Ryan McMahon moving from second base to third, and Rodgers staring at an unclaimed second base.

“I was kind of like, ‘It’s time,’” Rodgers said.

The challenge expressed in that one-person, two-way conversation didn’t shake Rodgers. It freed him.

Rodgers, 24, a first-round Draft pick out of Lake Mary (Fla.) High School in 2015, had been on MLB Pipeline and other top prospect lists long enough for rankings to go from a cool deal to enough already. Trials in the Majors Leagues in 2019 and ’20 began with sporadic playing time, during which he admitted pressing, and ended with right shoulder injuries.

With the pain out of his right shoulder and the figurative pressure off both shoulders, Rodgers wants to replace the tight -- maybe even uptight -- swing he has shown in the Majors with the short-to-the-ball thunder that produced an .855 OPS in 387 Minor League games.

“I’m relaxed, I’m smooth,” Rodgers said Tuesday, the first day of full-squad workouts at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick. “That’s just how I’ve gone about the game my whole life. I feel good about it.

“You haven’t seen me be me. I’m ready to be me.”

The last time Rodgers was himself was at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2019, when he batted .350 with nine home runs and 21 RBIs in 37 games. However, at some point Rodgers’ right shoulder began aching. He was called up twice for a total of 25 games. He was hitting .224 when the shoulder acted up again during a June 23 game at Dodger Stadium. He would soon undergo surgery to repair a torn labrum.

Rodgers recovered faster than expected and had earned consideration for a roster spot last spring. During the shutdown, he continued adding muscle and felt healthy. While impressive at Summer Camp, Rodgers began the year at the alternate training site. When called up to the big squad, however, he went 2-for-21 with six strikeouts. On Aug. 29, Rodgers slid headfirst into third base -- where the Padres’ Manny Machado, after diving for an errant throw, landed on his right shoulder.

It was back to the injured list, although the injury was nowhere near as bad as the one from the previous year. But with about a week left in the season, what he called a “charley horse” popped up in his left hamstring during a morning intrasquad game at the alternate site. Rodgers never made it back to the Majors.

“It was just the roller coaster,” Rodgers said. “I do everything in my power to stay healthy and stay on that field. I cleaned up my appetite, cleaned up my ways of going about my business. I’ve just got to continue on with that.”

Rodgers said the Rockies told him during his exit interview they liked his physical improvements. He arrived this spring at 215 pounds, up 5 from his Summer Camp weight.

Rodgers was drafted as a shortstop, but Trevor Story’s presence forced him to move. Rodgers grew up being coached by former Major League pitcher Tom Gordon. So this winter, Rodgers worked with Gordon’s son, Reds infielder Dee Strange-Gordon, on advanced second-base footwork and double-play pivot technique.

Rodgers said he will take grounders at shortstop and third base in case there is a need, and there has been no explicit decree from the Rockies that second base will be his. But Rodgers sees opportunity at second, and encouragement and confidence surround him.

“It’s not like I’m going make him press the magic button or anything,” Story said. “He’s super-talented. He’s a good player and I think he has a chance to be great. He knows that. He has a lot of confidence in that, and everybody that has watched him play can see that potential.”

Rodgers is part of a transition to younger, homegrown position players that began after 2018, when the Rockies didn’t retain second baseman DJ LeMahieu or outfielder Carlos González. Rodgers joins McMahon, outfielder Raimel Tapia, infielder/outfielder Garrett Hampson and catchers Elias Díaz and Dom Nuñez. Rodgers could even end up at shortstop if the Rockies struggle this season and deal Story, a star in the final year of his contract.

Projections of the Rockies’ win total are low, but manager Bud Black -- who believes his starting pitching is underrated and competitive -- shows no trepidation in turning positions over to players like Rodgers.

“There’s another year of maturity, another year of growth, and he sees himself as a guy who can potentially make that statement: I’m a Major League player,” Black said. “There are some guys who transition right away -- Dustin Pedroia. There are other guys who take five years to become that player they want to become. You just don’t know that timeline.”

Rodgers said, “I’ve had not the hottest start to my big league career. But I’m here to turn that around.”