There is a point in a prospect’s career where the hype fades and they can get caught in a purgatory of not playing against the elite competition to improve, but also not doing enough to justify giving them a spot to play more elite competition. Very few prospects have the talent to force a franchise to bring them up and give them a spot. So many factors come into play when deciding whether to bring up a prospect. The most important one is the timing. Is there an opening for them on the depth chart? Were there free-agent signings? Did the team just draft someone with a similar skill set? Have they been healthy enough? Have they been brought up and sent down so much that your confidence is shot? Are they in an organization that pushes and challenges prospects? Or are they in an organization that sits on talent until it absolutely has to promote it?
Any one of these is reason enough to slow a prospect’s development or career. If a prospect experiences more than one of the questions above, he might not ever get a real chance despite having all-star talent. That’s how you get late-bloomers like Max Muncy, Jacob deGrom, Mitch Haniger, Josh Donaldson, and so on.
|2021 or Bust|
|Brendan Rodgers (1/12/21)||Victor Robles||Brendan McKay (1/5/21)||Andrew Benintendi|
|Kyle Wright||Luis Urias||David Dahl||Brent Honeywell|
|Royce Lewis||Zack & Nick Burdi||Austin Meadows||Franklin Barreto|
|Nick Senzel||Readers’ Choice|
Sometimes it seems like nobody is on Brendan Rodgers’s side—not even the Colorado Rockies. While at times he has looked like a future all-star in the minor leagues, he seems to be perpetually blocked by mediocre second-baseman. Is that because he is also one of these mediocre second basemen? Is he worse? Is he an all-star? We’ve seen signs of all three so far in his six years as a professional.
It wouldn’t be correct to say that Rodgers was a pop-up prospect heading into the 2015 MLB Draft. After all, he was one of the highest-graded draftees heading into his senior year. Already a lock to be a first-round pick, however, scouts noticed improvements in just about every overall hitting tool as the draft neared, making him a potential top pick featuring an elite offensive profile with shortstop potential.
What was special about Rodgers? Unlike many up-the-middle prospects, his power potential was already unlocked. In both his junior and senior years, he launched eight homers apiece—in fewer than 30 games both times. Rodgers had also been working with former pros, most notably Dante Bichette, as his mentors.
The hype really took off when Rodgers slipped to the third pick in the draft, selected by the Colorado Rockies. When you combine a power-hitting shortstop with the most power-hitting environment, it’s hard not to get excited about the video game numbers that could one day be on the back of his baseball card. The apex of Rodgers’s hype probably hit in the middle of the 2017 season, however, when he slashed .387/.671/1.078 in High A with 12 homers in just 51 games—at 20 years old. Rodgers rose to a top-10 prospect and was viewed as on the fast track to the majors, probably making his debut at the end of 2018.
What Went Wrong
Pitching is exponentially more difficult in Double-A than in High-A. The pitching at the second-most difficult minor league level is more controlled, has more movement, and many pitchers throw with more purpose other than just trying to throw strikes. Because of these difficulties, Rodgers’s red flags were exposed. Even while he was raking in the low minors, his questionable pitch selection led to an abysmal walk rate (6.47 career in MiLB), despite an ability to hit for both average (.293) and power (.503 SLUG).
A second stint in Double-A showed marked improvement, so he was promoted to face a higher level of pitching. Again he struggled to initially adjust to a higher level of opponent. He began the 2019 season in Triple-A where he appeared to adjust correctly, so he was promoted to the majors before the all-star break in 2019. Since that promotion, however, Rodgers has appeared to be completely lost at the plate against big-league pitching:
|O-Swing %||Swing %||Contact %||Zone %||Hard %|
The number that jumps out at me is the O-Swing, which is the percentage of swings a batter takes at pitches outside of the strike zone. In 2020, Rodgers swung at almost half of the pitches he saw out of the zone, meaning you could probably close your eyes and get similar results. His rate of 46.9% would have been the second-highest in the majors if he had enough at-bats to qualify.
He swung at almost 60% of all pitches he saw! A number that also would have been the second-highest in the league if he qualified. To be clear, these are not stats you want to lead the league in. Now, swinging a lot doesn’t mean you won’t hit a lot, but it probably does mean you won’t hit a lot if all those swings don’t touch the ball. In 2020 he was at 75% total contact, which is pedestrian—and an actual improvement from his 2019 debut. Elite levels are in the ninetieth percentile. Something else concerning is that Rodgers made hardly any hard contact at 13%. That would have been the worst amount of hard contact in the league, should he have qualified. Even his 2019 rate of 30.6% is considered low. Obviously, if you don’t make much hard contact, you aren’t going to have a high exit velocity. Rodgers’s 83 mph ranks one of the worst in the big leagues, which is not a good sign if you’re a slap hitter, and a really bad sign if you’re a power hitter.
The crazy thing about Rodgers’s approach is that pitchers aren’t being subtle about how they attack him. Pitchers recognize that Rodgers is swing happy, which is why 60% of the pitches he sees are out of the zone. And they aren’t even throwing him breaking stuff. He saw 40% fastballs in 2020. Simply put, in the majors, Rodgers has been an easy out with hardly any risk of throwing anything anywhere outside of the zone.
Yes, Rodgers is only 24. A lot of rookies will make their debut in 2021 at his age, so there is time to right the ship. What is so disconcerting about his profile is that it’s trending the wrong way and Rodgers is in danger of learning habits that cannot be unlearned; these bad habits could take so long to unlearn that he will exhaust his minor league options and bounce around the minors before he figures it out in the twilight of his prime. This brings me to the next point: time. Currently, Rodgers is behind Ryan McMahon at second base, a player who is just two years older; while not performing great himself, McMahon is still the better option of the two. Nolan Arenado is the Rockies’ third basemen until he doesn’t want to be and Trevor Story is their shortstop. If Rodgers can’t earn a spot in Colorado—a hitters haven—what will he do when he is traded or signs a contract with an organization that plays in a less hitter-friendly park? While it didn’t appear that he’d need Colorado’s performance-enhancing atmosphere when he was drafted, it’s obvious that he does now.
Health is also a factor. Rodgers has had two IL stints in the past two years involving his shoulders. That is the one area that can truly affect power hitters. Maybe those injuries are delaying his potential and he’ll make harder contact when some of the strength returns after healing from those injuries. But it does beg the question: Does he still have the power potential he once did? We simply don’t know. And all the evidence points to no. After all, he has yet to hit a homer in his 32 career major league games.
Whenever you read “contact issues” on a prospect’s profile you need to think about Rodgers. For an elite draft prospect, this is what it looks like when they struggle. I didn’t mention the Rockies system and how that fits in this situation, so let’s do that quickly. When it comes to hitters, in particular, the Rockies do not supply them with a long leash. Instead, they make moves to keep multiple options for most positions, including signing free agents for positions in which they already have top prospects waiting in the wings. When you add that to Rodgers’s struggles, you don’t get a pretty picture. I’m selling on Rodgers. Don’t get me wrong, if you have him on your dynasty roster, he’s worth hanging onto if you can afford the spot for this year, but if there isn’t a significant improvement toward the end of summer, it’s time to move on. The Rockies might be right behind you.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)