According to a recent article in the Detroit News, Detroit Tigers hitting coach Lloyd McClendon claims that he has seen progress with two of the Tigers’ best defensive players when it comes to wielding the wood on offense. While those improvements would be welcomed with open fanfare from the fans and front office alike, there is a bit of an uphill climb ahead of them.
JaCoby Jones is very close to being a known quality at the plate. Without getting too in-depth, he has proven over the course of two-plus seasons now that his bat-to-ball skills are subpar, but when he does connect he often gets good results.
Jake Rogers, on the other hand, is a bit further down the developmental ladder and is considered by the Tigers’ top brass to still be a work in progress on offense. Like Jones, he has a glove that can easily play at an All-Star level under the bright lights of the big leagues. Also much like Jones, he is a high strikeout, low average hitter with some decent pop when he makes contact. Unlike Jones, though, Rogers does not have blazing speed to mitigate his lack of solid contact, and will not create havoc on the basepaths.
There is an issue with Rogers’ approach that has followed him from amateur through pro ball that appears to be centered around his high leg kick. While he has a few other transient flaws that can be seen in his swing, like his busy hands and poor balance, there’s a general consensus that committing that much inertia into every pitch (via the leg kick) puts him at risk of timing slumps, as well as susceptibility to breaking pitches and MLB-level sequencing.
“He came here with these habits and it’s tough to get out of it... But I think he’s committed to doing it. It takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
OK, completely fair — Rogers arrived with some very well-known flaws in his offensive approach, and we all know J.D. Martinez wasn’t built in a day. Let’s look at how Rogers has progressed throughout his professional career.
A look at his 2017 season swing
Here are some of Jake’s swings for extra-base hits from 2017. Drafted only a year before, there’s limited video footage of him available from his early days, so this is a good starting point to visually evaluate whether or not he has had any mechanical progress over the course of his professional career in two different organizations. There is a significant bias in using film from only highlight archives, of course, but we have to work with what is available.
What do we see from these GIFs?
- Rogers has a high leg kick that would make many Asian-league players blush
- His hands are extremely active
- He is relying considerably (one might argue too much) on his balance from the back leg
It is not always pretty, but when he connects, he does yield home runs and extra-base hits. And people dig dingers and extra-base hits. After all, he hit 18 home runs with an ISO of .206 across Low- and High-A levels that season, so his potential was already showing. He also managed to put up a 128 wRC+ alongside that in 491 plate appearances. But people also dig plus-glove catchers that can hold their own with the stick at the major league level, which wasn’t a sure bet yet.
Here are a few clips from the 2018 season
Let us see if Tigers coaching made any noticeable adjustments to his approach in 2018. As noted above, you cannot expect instantaneous results from changes in mechanical approach, but one would expect to visualize some modifications to obvious issues. Again, small sample size and success bias caveats still apply, but you can trust your eyes and derive your own conclusions from these home run swings.
That swing looks mostly consistent with what we have seen prior. But wait... what in tarnation? Here is Rogers using a less-pronounced standard step instead of looking like he is fleeing from a wasp heading for his crotch, and he still smacks a nice big fly.
The above clip suggests Rogers’ power is not completely derived from that massive leg kick, so it would be reasonable to believe that some changes to that step will not significantly sap his power. But, less than a month later, we see that he went back to the previous exaggerated motion.
As the season waned, he still maintained the same old approach.
It doesn’t seem that there has been a great deal of mechanical change along the way so far, save for one outlier — which does pique some interest, but has not been replicated in the rest of the video data. But Rogers’ power numbers continued against Double-A competition over the course of the 2018 season, as he cranked 17 home runs and posted an ISO of .193. There is a great deal potential waiting to be untapped if he can adapt to hitting big league pitching.
Speaking of which, here are all of Rogers’ highlight clips from 2018 arranged for quick viewing if you would like to see more of his mashing (and defense, as he had a fantastic minor league season posting a 6.0 WARP along the way).
Now, it’s 2019
There is a lot of hope among the club and fans alike that Rogers will be the Tigers’ catcher of the future. However, the offensive hurdle he has been facing still stands in front of him, as there remains a great deal of uncertainty about how he well can handle MLB-level pitching at this point. Let us take a look at what we have seen from him so far this spring in the big league camp.
That is a swing that appears triumphant, but is less prodigious than you might think. He managed to feast on some poor pitching and happened to commit correctly there, continuing his all-or-nothing approach with the exaggerated leg motion.
Below are some clips from Rogers’ only at-bat on March 2 in a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves. You can quickly watch the entire plate appearance here in real-time, which resulted in a strikeout looking.
Notice how that his two-strike approach is still something of concern. Rogers is way overmatched by what appears to be a sharp breaking ball, slowed down in the GIF below. To be fair, he’s already at a disadvantage on an 0-2 pitch and there’s some pretty nasty break there, but the timing issue is clear. He has no inertial leverage to adjust himself after his initial movement, removing any possibility of holding off on the pitch way out of the zone.
Next, you can see how his commitment to forward momentum and his dependence on his back leg for balance prevented him from adjusting to a pitch in the low strike zone that was close enough that it should have at least been fought off, but again his timing was amiss and he ended up watching strike three cross the plate on a 1-2 count.
An example of a two-strike approach that would most certainly benefit Rogers can be seen from top prospect Bo Bichette, and how he changes his footwork down two strikes. Note that his typical mechanics include a fairly violent leg kick not dissimilar to Rogers. Then, at the 0:47 mark of the video, observe that he switches to a heel-raise, keeping his body much more balanced and prepared for a mid-swing adjustment.
Bo Bichette's ability to keep his hands inside the ball are amazing. Down 1-2 in the count, he hits an absolute laser that painted the RF line that did not hook at all.#BlueJays@baseballpro pic.twitter.com/4XrLV2E0uL— Jason Woodell (@JasonAtTheGame) March 18, 2018
Two weeks later in a minor league game on the backfields of TigerTown, Rogers once again showed off his ability to hit for power, smacking a double in his first at-bat. In the tweet posted below, although the view is not great, you can see that his mechanics are largely unchanged, save for keeping his heel lifted a bit higher off the ground than usual as he prepares for the pitch. He would later ground out softly and strike out in his next two at-bats.
So far this spring, Rogers has been underwhelming offensively in major league camp, collecting only three total bases in 16 plate appearances. He hit .143/.188/.402 against an opponent quality of 6.4 while in big league camp, which is considered to be between High-A and Double-A levels. Note that the home run doesn’t count because it was hit in an exhibition game against a local college. He was reassigned to minor league camp on Thursday, March 14, where he has continued to work on his development playing with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens during spring training, as seen in the clip above.
It appears from the small, yet longitudinal sample presented here in this article that there has not been a great deal of change in Rogers’ batting habits over the past couple years (from what we can see). But, to echo McClendon’s quote earlier, changing an approach takes time, and results are rarely seen overnight. Hopefully, we will begin to see results both with our eyes and in the box scores over the course of this coming season as Jake’s powerful bat blossoms into a major league-level tool.