Brendan Rodgers has carried the weight of great expectations ever since the Rockies made him the third overall pick in the 2015 draft.
But what was once a burden has now become a challenge, and Rodgers is wrapping his arms around it.
“It was pretty tough, on the mental and physical side,” the 25-year-old second baseman said. “I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff early in my career, but I know how hard I have worked. Baseball is my life and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get on the field to prove that I am who I am.”
Rodgers, along with catcher Elias Diaz, has been one of the Rockies’ breakout players this season. He entered the weekend leading the team with a .284 average, and his .805 OPS was second to C.J. Cron’s .905. Rodgers, who didn’t hit his first big-league homer until June 5, now has 15, along with 18 doubles and two triples.
During the Rockies’ recent 7-2 road trip, Rodgers hit .343 (12-for-35), with three home runs. And while his teammates have struggled to hit on the road all season, Rodgers has actually been more productive away from Coors Field. He’s hit .282 with an .864 OPS, and mashed 12 of his 15 homers.
“He’s popping off right now,” starting pitcher Kyle Freeland said. “He’s got it all, and I think he’s starting to really realize it now.”
Rodgers’ next challenge could be a huge one. That is, filling a giant hole at shortstop with the likely departure of two-time all-star Trevor Story, who’ll become a free agent at season’s end and will likely sign with another team.
Unless the Rockies acquire a shortstop to replace Story during the offseason — which is a possibility — the job could belong to Rodgers in 2022. And make no mistake, Rodgers, who grew up playing short, wants the job.
“If Trevor is gone, I will definitely work in the offseason to get ready to play shortstop,” Rodgers said. “That’s always been my position. I definitely think I can take it to the next level and be an elite, everyday shortstop. I just have to get the opportunity.”
Story has been impressed by Rodgers’ development this season.
“We are just getting a glimpse of what he can be,” Story said. “Over a season, he can be an all-star-type player. I know that about him. He’s showing that right now.”
Still, Rodgers needs to answer some questions about his play as an infielder. One scout for a National League West team loves what he sees from Rodgers at the plate, but believes improvement is needed in the field.
“He’s got the skillset, but I think he still needs to work on his footwork and anticipation, at both short and second,” the scout said. “There are some balls that an elite infielder gets to that Rodgers doesn’t right now. He needs to make more plays.”
Manager Bud Black still considers Rodgers a work in progress at both second and shortstop.
“We haven’t given him a ton of work at shortstop, so I don’t want to differentiate between (second and short) as far as his skill level,” Black said. “I’ll say this: he’s a natural shortstop and he feels very comfortable there. It’s second nature to him.
“At second base, he’s rapidly becoming very comfortable, going to his left and going to his right and charging balls. He’s becoming more and more confident at second. There are still things he needs to clean up at this level because the game is so much quicker than it is in a minor-league game.”
Rodgers was 18 when the Rockies drafted him out of Florida’s Lake Mary High School more than six years ago. He received a $5.5 million signing bonus. At the time, Rodgers said he wanted to make his big-league debut by age 21.
He almost made it, debuting for the Rockies on May 17, 2019, at age 22. But his big-league journey has been rocky. Entering this season, he’d hit just .196 with a .235 on-base percentage in 97 at-bats over 32 games. Injuries, most crucially a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required season-ending surgery in July 2019, stalled his career.
“I had had shoulder pain for a number of years prior and I knew that, eventually, I was going to get surgery on it,” he said. “I would have good years and bad years with it. I’m glad we took care of it. It feels strong now.”
Early in spring training, Rodgers was buoyant about the looming 2021 season.
“You haven’t seen me, be me. I’m ready to be me and get out there and show people what I’m capable of,” he said.
Black put in another way.
“There’s another year of maturity, and another year of growth, and I think now he sees himself; as a guy (where) this can potentially be his year,” Black said. “To make that statement of, ‘I’m a major league player.’ I think that’s how he’s viewing things right now.”
But then came another setback. During a Cactus League game March 13, Rodgers strained his right hamstring while trying to steal second base. He did not play his first game with the Rockies until May 21.
But now, as the season comes to a close, Rodgers has definitely proven himself as a major leaguer.
“In the last couple of months, we have seen the freedom show up in his game and the confidence has shown up,” Black said. “He’s always believed that he could play in the big leagues and hit in the big leagues.”
But, Black added, Rodgers faces more work to become the player he has a chance to be.
“The thing that I want Brendan to understand is that I think it’s important for him to see himself as a complete player, both as an offensive force and defensive force,” Black said. “That’s going to take time and work. I want to continue to see his work ethic and work capacity grow, as a major leaguer. Because as you get older, you have to work even harder than you did as a minor-league player to get here.”
Rodgers’ rocky road
June 2015: Selected by the Rockies with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft out of Lake Mary High School in Lake Mary, Fla. Signed for $5.5 million.
Summer 2015: Played in 37 games for the Grand Junction rookie-level team, hitting .314 in the second half.
2016: Hit .281 with 19 homers for Low-A Asheville and was named a midseason and postseason all-star in the South Atlantic League.
2017: Combined to hit .336 with 18 homers in 89 games between High-A Lancaster and Double-A Hartford. Rodgers put together a 23-game hitting streak at Lancaster, prompting his promotion to Double-A.
2018: Named an MiLB.com organizational all-star and midseason all-star for the third consecutive season. He hit .275 with 17 home runs in 95 games for Double-A Hartford, and played in 19 games for Triple-A Albuquerque, hitting .232.
2019: Made his major league debut on May 17 at Philadelphia and played in 25 games with the Rockies before right shoulder surgery ended his season in July. Hit .224 for the Rockies. Played in 37 games with Albuquerque, hitting .350, with nine homers.
2020: Played in seven games (four starts) for the Rockies in the pandemic-shortened season, hitting 2-for-21 (.095) with no home runs. Was placed on the injured list on Aug. 31 with a right shoulder strain.
— Patrick Saunders, The Denver Post
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