The Yankees organization has gone from one of the worst to arguably the most heralded farm systems in all of baseball over the course of the last two seasons. This has become evident in watching the team’s young and exciting core fuel their unexpected 2017 run to the ALCS where they are currently battling the Houston Astros for a date in the Fall Classic. What should leave fans even more excited is the fact that there is a plethora of talent that the general fan base may not be familiar with, but have a real opportunity to make an impact sooner rather than later.
What has allowed the Yankees farm system to grow into the power that it has become is the depth of pitching from top-to-bottom. The Yankees used their 11th round draft selection in 2015 to select southpaw Josh Rogers from Louisville University, and he has proven to be a guy who many in the organization believe can pitch in the big leagues shortly.
The 23-year old Rogers reached the Double-A level for the first time in 2017 and went 4-2 with a 4.62 ERA in seven starts for the club before undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur in his left elbow. Prior to his promotion in late May, the left-hander had dominated the Florida State League by going 4-3 with a 2.22 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning and holding the opposition to a .231 batting average.
In two-plus seasons in professional ball, Rogers has posted a 22-11 mark with a stellar 2.80 ERA in 44 games. As a polished college pitcher, the Yankees like the fact that the lefty has excellent control; he has walked just 41 batters in 241 1/3 innings of work in the system. Pinstriped Prospects caught up with Rogers via telephone last week to see how his offseason has been going since undergoing surgery and what he expects heading into 2018.
Your season was obviously cut short after having elbow surgery over the summer. How has your offseason gone so far, Josh?
“It’s going well so far. I just got home; I was down in Tampa last week; I got checked out by the physical therapist, and I got to stop in and see some faces, show my face and says what’s up to the guys down there. I feel awesome, everything is good, and I’m ready for a big 2018.”
For the folks who may not know, the surgery that you had to have was to remove a bone spur from your elbow, is that correct?
“Yeah, I had a little bone spur on the tip of my elbow. It had been bothering me for some weeks up there. I feel like it affected me a little bit through the course of those weeks to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had to say something and get it evaluated and get it fixed. Now I am rehabbing it and hopefully will be back stronger next year.”
What has the rehab process been like for this injury? You have already had to have Tommy John surgery; what has that rehab been like as compared to the operation to remove the bone spur, has it been easier?
“I wouldn’t say that rehab is ever easy, I try not to look at it like that. But, this is definitely easier. It was pretty much a six to eight week rehab as far as getting flexibility back and getting the strength in my arm back. As of right now, I can’t even tell any difference in my elbow. The first few weeks were a little bit rough; I was stiff just from having surgery. Once I got the inflammation out I started doing a lot of shoulder strengthening and the upper body stuff now into almost a normal offseason program.”
Have you been able to throw at all yet or have you not thrown since you had the surgery?
“I could have thrown. I would have technically been cleared to throw seven weeks out, but we decided that there’s no reason; I wasn’t going to be able to get ready for the fall league or to get ready to go to instructs, so just to take the normal offseason we decided to do that. I think I am going to start a throwing program a little bit earlier than most guys probably will just because I have had so much time off. ”
After pretty much a normal offseason program, when you get down to Tampa for spring training, it will be like a normal slate for you without any restrictions?
“Yeah, absolutely. I will be on a normal schedule from here on out. They told me that I could just proceed with normal activity. Obviously just working out and getting my body in the best shape that I can be.”
Obviously, you didn’t get much time there as you probably had hoped for, but what was the experience like in making the jump up from High-A Tampa to Double-A in Trenton before the injury?
“I had been in Tampa for a while, and I felt like I had that league figured out a little bit and how to get those hitters out. The biggest difference that I saw was hitters discipline at the plate. They were able to put the breaking ball in play a lot more, and so I tried to have different approaches with those hitters; working fastballs in and off of the plate and I think locating the fastball is the biggest key in Double-A, for sure.
What was it like working with Pitching Coach Jose Rosado once you got up there? I know a lot of the guys in that rotation throughout the year, and in seasons past have thrown a lot of praise his way.
“I remember my first start was in Portland and [Rafael] Devers was in the lineup, he was hitting in the three hole. We were kind of going through a scouting report and breaking down hitters for the first time; looking at heat maps and spray charts and all of that kind of stuff with Rosie. I had known Rosie a little bit from spring training the previous two seasons, but wasn’t as familiar with him. It was a learning experience for me as far as going over a scouting report to try and break down hitters and having a plan for individual guys rather than just throwing a breaking ball here or throwing a fastball there. It was funny because he told me not to throw an 0-2 breaking ball to Devers. What do I do my second time through the order? I get him 0-2 and throw him a breaking ball and he hits it to the opposite field for a base hit. It was definitely a learning experience and a higher level of baseball and I am excited to hopefully get back there next year and show what I can do.”
You got drafted out of Louisville in 2015, where do you think you have grown the most from then to where you are now as a pitcher?
“Last year I actually went through some video when I was struggling a little bit, just to kind of see. I went back to look at college and honest to God, when I looked at that I was a totally different pitcher. I think that is a big credit to our pitching coaches and coordinators in the organization that have helped me grow as a pitcher. The confidence in the fastball; I am not a guy who is going to run it up there at 95-96 like some of those guys are doing now up in the big leagues, which is awesome, but learning to have confidence in it even if it is 89-91 MPH. A good located fastball whether it be down and away, up and in, is the best pitch in baseball. ”
On the flip side of that, where do you think you need to improve the most and get better as you head into 2018?
“I think that my body is a big thing and I am really going to be getting after it in the weight room and come into camp in the best shape that I have been in my entire life. I am not out of shape by any means, but I am not the strongest guy or anything like that, so I am going to be working on putting some good weight on and come into camp in a good body form to be ready to try and get to that 170-200 innings next year. Also, as a starter in our organization, the change-up has come a long way for me from two years ago. It has been astronomically different and it has been a huge pitch in my development. Just those things, to continue to develop the change-up; maybe add a cutter, we talked a little bit about that last year and just making sure my body is nice and strong to stay healthy for a full-season.”
Seeing so many young guys up in the big leagues helping the Yankees and getting opportunities up there throughout the season, does it almost become competitive in trying to capitalize on what the guy did ahead of you?
“Oh my gosh, it is so competitive that it is sickening. My first full-season down in Tampa I had kind of hit a good stride and was really throwing the ball well. I can’t lie, I am a big stats guys; I love numbers, I love looking at what everybody is doing . I would have a decent night, throw six innings and give up two runs for a quality start to get the win; I would look at the Double-A roster and [Jordan] Montgomery would go seven innings and give up two hits and no runs and Dietrich [Enns] in Triple-A would go eight innings and give up one hit with nine punch outs and one hit. It is insane all of the talent that we have here. It is a credit to our farm system and what they have been able to do. It is awesome and I think that it has definitely made me a better pitcher. It is super competitive and it is a lot of fun to form relationships and friendships with these guys. It is really cool to see guys like Domingo German, Montgomery, Chad Green and those kind of guys, who are doing their thing up in the big leagues after you were sitting in the dugout with them and going out and grabbing some hibachi with them.”