Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila said in late August it would take an injury to spark Jake Rogers’ return to the majors, joining four of the organization’s best seven prospects and continuing the rebuild.
He wasn’t exaggerating.
The demotion Tuesday of backup catcher Grayson Greiner wasn’t enough to get Rogers back to the big leagues. The team went with traveling taxi squad catcher Eric Haase as the replacement with 12 games remaining.
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That leaves Rogers, the organization’s No. 12 prospect, at the alternate training site in Toledo, where he has been since summer camp broke at the end of July. The Texas-born catcher was one of three prospects acquired in 2017 from the Houston Astros in the Justin Verlander trade.
“Well, he’s doing OK,” Gardenhire said Tuesday. “Yeah, he’s fine. I’m sure he’s frustrated. … We know where Jake’s gonna be next year. He’s gonna be with us, for sure.”
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But why not now?
Through 35 games in his first taste of MLB action last season, Rogers registered a .125 batting average, four home runs and eight RBIs. Meanwhile, 27-year-old Haase has yet to play for the Tigers, so they think he deserves a chance – meaning Rogers will have to wait.
“We want to make sure what we’ve got in Haase,” Gardenhire said. “I think that’s what Al was talking about. And we’ll activate him and we’ll see what he’s got and what he can do right now.”
After Rogers stumbled offensively and had nine passed balls, the Tigers went into the offseason with aspirations of picking up a starting catcher.
They added Austin Romine on a one-year contract, giving him a chance to start for the first time in his nine-year career. They grabbed Haase from the Cleveland Indians for cash considerations. And they picked up Ohio State’s Dillon Dingler in the second round of the 2020 draft, but he won’t be ready for a few seasons.
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Romine is slashing .240/.269/.337 with two homers and 14 RBIs. He only has two hits in his last eight games, but the franchise might consider him for an extension. If not, someone else will likely pick him up as a starter or backup.
“I think it’s a little early right now to start looking at who we’re going to sign or not sign for 2021,” Avila said Aug. 27. “It really is early for that because 2021 is going to be an uncertain year. … Toward the end of the season, we always have our big meeting and, ‘OK, what are our needs for next year?’ We haven’t had those meetings yet.”
One player who might be out of the mix for a long-term spot is Greiner, who hit .219 in 2018 and .202 last season. Before his demotion, he was hitting .118 with three home runs and eight RBIs.
“He wasn’t swinging good,” Gardenhire said. “… Hopefully, Grayson can go down there (to the reserve squad) and get a little more confidence going. We’ll see where he’s at after that.”
The next moves for Romine and Greiner could leave an opening for Rogers to get another crack in the majors in 2021. Between Triple-A Toledo and Double-A Erie in 2019, Rogers hit .250 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in 76 games.
Not having a minor-league season because of the COVID-19 pandemic caused a setback in his development.
“Jake is doing what everybody else down there is doing,” Avila said. “He’s working very hard. Unfortunately, we don’t have Triple-A games for him to play in at this point. And I’m not sure if we’re going to bring him up this year.”
But Gardenhire is counting on him for next year.