The New York Yankees have been building up quite an arsenal of starting pitchers throughout their farm system. While some are higher on the watch-list than others, it’s a strong set of names throughout. A couple of under-the-radar names may not strike a chord for fans just yet, but are well on their way to. One of those players is Kentucky-native Josh Rogers, who in just his first full season of pro-ball took High-A Tampa by storm. Rogers made four appearances for Low-A Charleston before being quickly promoted to Tampa at the start of May. Little did Tampa know they’d be getting their most reliable pitcher for the rest of the season, in a rotation that already had names such as Vicente Campos, James Kaprielian, and Chance Adams.
Rogers held a 2.53 ERA in the regular season over a span of 20 games. He’d finish third best in the FSL with that ERA and also his WHIP of 1.15. Coming to Tampa without a full season of work under his belt he was still being figured out by most, but after his successful 2016 campaign it’s safe to say he’ll have many more eyes on him heading into 2017. We talked to the 11th rounder on his journey and how he was able to put together such a solid season in the Yankees’ organization, despite it being his first full season of professional baseball.
For those who may not be familiar with you yet, tell them a little about yourself.
“I’m from New Albany Indiana, I went to New Albany high school for four years. I went to the university of Louisville, I was there for two years, we made it to the college world series my freshman year. I love everything about Louisville, I was super blessed and excited to be a part of that program. I feel like it definitely helped me get to where I am today, taught me how to not only be a better baseball player, but a better person in life and I think that’s come a long way on and off the field. As for pitches I throw a fastball, changeup, curveball, and slider. My fastball is anywhere from 88-91, changeup 81-85, slider 83-85, and my curveball is 75-78.”
What do you think is your best asset not only as a pitcher, but as a player.
“I always feel like I have a good mental approach to the game. I don’t let any moment get too big, I approach every day the same way whether it’s my start day or I’m going to come out of the bullpen. Having a good mindset showing up to the field. Whether it’s going to the weight room, going on the field to work and throw, working on some different things in the bullpen. Just having a good mindset each day, I feel like University of louisville did a good job with mentally preparing me for the challenges in pro-ball.”
When you arrived to Tampa what were some things Tampa Yankees’ pitching coach Tim Norton wanted to work on with you this time around after pitching under him once before?
“I ended up in Charleston in my first shortened season after being drafted and Norty was there so I was familiar with him. It was only a couple of weeks, but it was good to have that familiarity with Norty, love that guy. He was so much fun all year to work with, we had a really good time. From day one when i got there it wasn’t not only Norty, but the coordinators who put a lot of focus on my changeup this past year. I worked months and months and months to make it as good as I possibly can, it came a long long way from the beginning of the year starting in Charleston to where I finished at in the playoff game with Tampa. I felt like it was night and day with the changeup and being able to throw it in any count and any situation.”
Come second half you really hit your stride, what did you improve on?
“I felt like I was in good shape all year. I showed up to spring training in good shape, ready to go, but I think the five-day rotation thing in the first half. Getting settled in with that, knowing how to really prepare yourself for each start, because in college you have seven days and you get to lift more and you have more time for your body to recover. So what I figured out was less was more for me during the week, being able to make sure my body was prepared for every fifth day. So the first half was a good adjustment period and learning period in the weight room, trying different running things, but i figured out a good system that worked. Big thanks to our strength and conditioning staff who really work individually with everyone. Being able to do what they want to do, but still get after it and get stuff done, but just make sure that they’re ready, healthy, and on the field.”
When you’re pitching that well is there any hesitation to not change what you’re doing at all?
“That’s a great question and that’s something I’ve battled with this year, it’s like well what the heck I just went seven innings, two or three hits, no runs and punched out seven, and I didn’t walk anybody. You watch the film the next day and try to break it down. Baseball’s a game of failure for the hitters, but for the pitchers you want to be about as perfect as you can get, so there’s definitely pitches in different situations you try to make better. As far as mechanically and stuff that was something, when I was throwing the ball really well, in-stride like you said, I felt like I had a good rhythm, I had a really good connection with Wes Wilson behind the plate. We were on the same page for the whole entire year. When he hopped behind the plate it helped me out a lot, I give a lot of credit to Wes and it was a lot of fun working with him. Norty’ said were going to keep working to get better, keep working to get better, so we just kept tweaking things, maybe trying different grips with the changeup still. It was still really tough throwing well and still trying to improve, but there’s always areas you can improve on in your game.”
When facing a batter, what is your mindset? Are you more of an aggressive or finesse arm in your opinion?
“You have to establish the fastball. I don’t throw overly powering hard, I have a 95-96 mph fastball, so how I feel like I can get guys in trouble is commanding the fastball to both sides of the plate early in the game. Showing the fastball in, showing the fastball away, and that can set me up for the later innings and I’ll be able to spin the ball and change speeds on hitters, but fastball command and getting ahead in the count is my biggest things on the mound. I feel that’s something I do pretty well, throwing strikes is my main focus and not giving up free bases, not giving up cookie pitches and watching the ball fly over the fence. Trying to keep the ball low in the zone and attack both sides of the plate with the fastball.”
The most important thing in the game will always be health. Rogers credited that multiple times while speaking on his success last season and even reaching the end of the season. “I actually felt as good as I had felt all year coming down the stretch, which was kind of surprising to me in my first full season, throwing every fifth day. There was no point this season where I got tired, or in game situation I felt I needed to take a step back“. Rogers did say he had an innings limit over his head, but with some good managing from Pat Osborn, he was able to stay over 30 innings away from that point.
With the success down that stretch, there was some expectation of him to move up after clearly topping the High-A level. Despite being in the Tampa Yankees’ rotation far more than anyone else on paper, he was not called up, and many others got that call instead. Rogers didn’t let it get to him, but he spoke more on the situation when asked if he felt he deserved a promotion. “I haven’t earned, I don’t feel like anything with the organization to this point. Do I feel like I competed and put myself in consideration to be promoted? Yes, and I think as far as my mindset goes, that’s all I can do“.
Rogers has been working out at Louisville this off-season to prepare for 2017 as what he described as a ‘fun process’ being home and practicing with former teammates. Looking forward to next season I expect Rogers to start in Tampa, but he is another name to probably be a quick move to Trenton if his success continues. His changeup production will once again be an asset for him to mix in even more than last season I believe, and expect his strikeout totals to go up because of it compared to his relatively low number of 90 in 113.2 innings during the regular season.