When your favorite baseball team is 38-94 and there’s still a month of baseball left to play, there’s not going to be a lot of excitement on a daily basis. This is where the Orioles find themselves as September approaches. They are incredibly bad. There is not much to be done to fix that now.
One thing the Orioles can do in the waning days of this lost season is offer some opportunities for big league auditions for some of their young players. Another will get a chance on Tuesday night as the Orioles bring up lefty starter Josh Rogers from Triple-A to make the start against the Blue Jays.
Rogers, 24, was acquired from the Yankees in the Zach Britton trade. He is one of five starting pitchers who the Orioles picked up in their July trades. As Rogers is the only one of those five starters who had Triple-A experience at the time of the trade, it’s not a shock to see him first. The O’s also have to put Rogers on the 40-man roster this offseason anyway, so calling him up in late August isn’t rushing things for him.
The Yankees originally drafted Rogers in the 11th round of the 2015 draft. He steadily climbed their system before the trade, making it up to Triple-A this season. You can get an idea of the kind of pitcher he is just from looking at his strikeout and walk totals as he rose up the ranks.
The 2016 season saw Rogers strike out 115 batters and walk just 22 in 136.1 innings. Last year, he struck out 80 and walked 16 in 91.2 innings. That pattern has continued this year as Rogers has issued 36 walks while racking up 101 strikeouts in 139.2 innings between the Yankees and O’s Triple-A teams. The phrase “crafty lefty” exists for a reason, and if the O’s are lucky, Rogers will be able to seize the label.
His potential and problems were summed up in a paragraph by ESPN’s Keith Law in his review of the Britton trade:
Lefty Josh Rogers is a finesse guy with good command and control, lacking any sort of real out pitch. He might be a fifth starter but more likely is an up-and-down guy. He’s seventh in the International League in homers allowed, which might be a harbinger of what will happen if he starts in the majors.
Law writing about a prospect is not the final word on what he is or what he might be, but it is an indicator that things could be an uphill battle for Rogers. The strikeouts and walks from above are where the “finesse guy” comes from.
The problem with being a finesse guy is that it’s easier to succeed with finesse in Low-A than in Triple-A, and easier to do it in Triple-A than MLB. The hitters get better at every level. They are more easily able to recognize balls and strikes, are more skilled at making in-game adjustments, and when a pitcher does make a mistake, the big leaguer can hit the ball harder and farther when he connects. Rogers allowed six home runs in his 2016 games. He has allowed 16 home runs so far in Triple-A in 2018. It’s a big difference.
Pitchers who end up with a lot of balls in play are also more dependent on having a good defense behind them. The O’s defense feels like it has improved lately, particularly in the outfield now that Cedric Mullins is in center field and Mark Trumbo’s injury has pulled Trey Mancini back into the infield or DH. The infield may be a bit more of a question mark.
If you don’t have an out pitch, you frequently end up in at-bats where the batter fouls off pitch after pitch. This is bad for racking up your pitch count and it’s bad because eventually they’re going to figure you out. It can happen even to good pitchers at times, but guys who are more on the fringe will run into it more often. Guys at Double-A might not make contact where big leaguers can spoil a pitcher’s pitch by fouling it off.
This type of player is never going to rocket up top prospect lists, and indeed, Rogers doesn’t even appear on the top 30 Orioles prospect list put out by MLB Pipeline. Don’t panic over this. The Pipeline folks didn’t strain themselves to figure out where many of the newly-acquired pieces from the O’s late July trades belong in the system. It’s still true that it will be an uphill battle for a player with Rogers’s basic profile to make it in MLB.
Rogers is not a failure if he has one tough start tonight. He might have stuff to learn and he might be capable of better later. He’s not a guaranteed success if he has a great game either: It’ll take more starts to know if MLB batters can adjust to him and if he can adjust to their adjustments.
Still, for tonight at least, Rogers is something new and different in this 2018 season, and he brings with him the potential - however small it may prove to be - that he could stick around in the rotation. That is exciting until reality makes it otherwise. Finding a decent back end of the rotation starter from within is not something the O’s have been able to do over the last several years, which is one reason why they are where they are right now.
A nice first impression would be welcome. The relievers from those July trades who’ve poked up to the big leagues so far, Cody Carroll from that same Britton trade and Evan Phillips from the Kevin Gausman trade, have had such command problems that they have been banished back to the minors for the moment. Rogers may have other problems, but he at least shouldn’t have problems throwing strikes.
The next good Orioles team is probably a ways away. Every good audition from one of their trade acquisitions or existing top prospects brings it a little closer. Here’s hoping Rogers can have a nice debut and carry that forward into a quality September that keeps him as an intriguing future piece.