Rogers, Dingler begin big camp for their futures

February 14th, 2023

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Alex Faedo was on the row of bullpen mounds on the back fields at Tigertown, getting ready to throw Tuesday morning, when squatted behind the corresponding plate.

A handful of pitchers were throwing, but Rogers took a familiar spot.

“I always ask him, ‘Are you sure you want to let me throw [to you]? Do you want to catch a new guy?’” Faedo said. “He’s like, ‘No, no, you can throw to me.’ He knows he can just yell at me to tell me if I need anything fixed because he sees everything.”

Rogers and Faedo have been teammates and friends since 2018 at Double-A Erie. Faedo was a first-round Draft pick in his first full pro season. Rogers was a prospect in the Justin Verlander trade. They have been together in Lakeland for the past several months -- Faedo recovering from hip surgery that ended his first Major League season in July, Rogers rehabbing from Tommy John surgery that cost him a season-plus after he found a place in Detroit in 2021.

A few days earlier, Faedo was on the back fields at second base, with Matt Manning fielding Rogers’ throws from behind the plate. So maybe it made sense to return the favor.

“He’s just putting everything on the money,” Faedo said. “He’s doing trick throws, things like that. And I’m like, ‘He’s back.’ You can tell he’s so happy to be around the guys, too. He’s like a glue guy. He needs to be in the locker room because he helps everyone be better.”

After a lost season, Rogers needs to fight his way back there.

“It’s definitely a big year for me,” he said. “So hopefully I can get out there and hit the ground running.”

A few feet from Rogers, squatted to catch another pitcher. The 38th overall pick from the 2020 MLB Draft has caught big league pitchers in every camp since he turned pro -- three Spring Trainings, plus Summer Camp in 2020. The Tigers’ top catching prospect, and the 11th-best in the organization per MLB Pipeline -- has yet to catch a regular-season game above Double-A.

While Rogers has bonded with Faedo, Manning, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, Dingler took ownership of an Erie staff that included prospects Wilmer Flores, Reese Olson and Ty Madden. Asked if he has a goal for this year, Dingler -- who has played 157 Double-A games -- answered before the question was finished.

“Get to the big leagues,” he said, quietly but determinedly. “Get to the big leagues. For sure.”

Rogers played 127 Double-A games on his way up. Now he’s competing with trade acquisition Donny Sands and non-roster invites to back up Eric Haase, who is a No. 1 catcher for the first time in his career at age 30. All hope to become the Tigers’ answer at a position that has been a revolving door since Detroit non-tendered James McCann in 2018.

McCann was a Tigers Draft pick, as was his predecessor, Alex Avila. The past four years have shown how difficult developing catchers can be.

One rival evaluator argued catchers, other than stars, can take until age 27 to fully develop. Catching, pitch-calling and defending take precedence.

Hitting has been slower to develop for Rogers, a .182 hitter in 73 career Major League games, and Dingler, a .238 career Minor League hitter. Both show their athleticism in the field but have needed time to translate that at the plate. Receiving pitches all day doesn’t make it easier to hit them. It takes time, and between game-planning and training, catchers are always pressed for that.

“It’s 99 percent approach,” said Dingler, a Futures Game selection last summer. “You just have to make sure you fine-tune your approach. It’s easier said than done. There are a lot of outside factors that can get you off of that, so I’m going to make sure that I have a solid, sound approach every time I step up to the plate.”

Later-blooming catchers abound in the Majors. Sean Murphy didn’t become a regular until age 26. Christian Vázquez didn’t break out until age 28. Will Smith was the Dodgers’ first-round Draft pick in 2016 but didn’t become a regular for another five years.

For Rogers, 27, and Dingler, 24, this year -- beginning with this camp -- is big.

“It's important,” Dingler said. “Confidence leading into spring knowing that I belong and can build on my last two seasons in Minor League ball, that’s the biggest thing for me.”