SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Top Rockies prospect Brendan Rodgers' surgically repaired right shoulder labrum is progressing faster than expected -- to the point that he could be playing the field before the end of Spring Training and ready for Major League play quicker than the original target date of some time in May.
Well, how about Opening Day?
“I wouldn’t cross it off,” said Rodgers, who said his mapped-out schedule has him tentatively set to be available as a designated hitter on March 3 against the Cubs. “In my eyes, if I perform well in these games, when I do get an opportunity, good things could happen.”
Rodgers, MLB Pipeline's No. 29 overall prospect, underwent surgery on July 16 after being severely hampered by shoulder pain during his MLB debut season (when he hit .224/.272/.250 in 25 games). The hope is that a healthy Rodgers, with extended playing time, will show the talents that led to a .350/.413/.622 performance with nine home runs in 37 games with Triple-A Albuquerque.
“If he continues to progress at the rate he’s progressing, he’s going to be back sooner than I think we anticipated,” Rockies manager Bud Black said Saturday.
The caution had to do with Rodgers' throwing program, but he is able to throw at 160 feet with no pain. Rodgers also said that the ball is “jumping off my bat” right now, and he is making all the throws to first base. Rodgers has not begun a throwing progression from shortstop, which should be the test of his readiness.
Already, Rodgers and third-base coach/infield instructor Stu Cole have been doing defensive drills to hone footwork -- which Rodgers must improve upon at the Major League level. Playing mostly at second base last season, there were some plays where slightly better footwork would have made a difference.
“He’s a natural shortstop, so his comfort level is at short,” Black said. “The main thing that all Minor League players have to realize is the Major League game is much faster. At the highest level, players are bigger, stronger, faster. The ball comes off their bat harder. The game is just faster because they’re better players.
“He has to learn that. You can only learn it playing in a big league game. I know that Stu and Brendan are working on his footwork. The arm issues speak for themselves. His shoulder was beat up. Now, that seems to be recovering. The strength to his throws will come back to Major League quality.”
Rodgers added, “I feel a lot quicker, lighter on my feet. People -- some trainers -- have said the same thing. I just took care of my body, was on my grind of eating, training and therapy. You name it. I didn’t take much for granted. I was busting my butt all offseason just to get right.”
Bard getting his shot
Black said that reports from a recent workout held by right-hander Daniel Bard, who is trying to resume his career after severe control issues pushed him out of the Majors in 2013, were “outstanding.” Bard pitched for the Red Sox for four seasons. After unfruitful Minor League results through 2017, Bard worked as a mental skills instructor for the D-backs the past two years before trying to make a comeback.
Bard said that he talked to the D-backs about pitching for them, but they all agreed that being teammates and competing for a job with players he worked with in sports psychology would represent a conflict.
Hilliard and the Rockies offer support
Hilliard said he has had contact with Crawford’s father, but has yet to meet the star shortstop. Still, Hilliard was thankful to be invited to participate. ALS CURE Project is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit established by Athletics outfielder Stephen Piscotty and his father, Mike.
“I’m looking forward already to next year and the years to come, but it was incredible to see the amount of support that they get and that the Rockies showed toward the event and toward me and my family,” said Hilliard, who is hosting a Spring Training VIP experience at Rockies camp as part of the MLB charity auction, which this year benefits five charities committed to research, care, awareness and education regarding ALS.
From the Rockies, Hilliard was joined by Nolan Arenado, Garrett Hampson, Josh Fuentes, catching prospect Max George, bullpen coach Darryl Scott, strength and conditioning coach Mike Jasperson and Major League data and game-planning coordinator Doug Bernier.
Up next: Hoffman to start Sunday after Cactus opener canceled
Often in Spring Training, a rainout means pitchers simply go indoors to reach a prescribed pitch count and stay on schedule. But after Saturday’s Cactus League opener between the D-backs and Rockies was canceled, Black pushed righty Jeff Hoffman to Sunday’s game against the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Hoffman is competing for a starting rotation spot.