Blake Rogers Interview: TinCaps’ Pitcher Starting to Find His Groove

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Credit: The Mid West League Traveler

Blake Rogers was drafted by the Padres in the 37th round (1,107th pick) of the 2015 MLB Draft out of the University of Oklahoma. His collegiate career started with him sharing time both behind the plate and on the mound. At Lyon College in Arkansas (NAIA), Rogers hit .350 and was named Second Team-All Conference as a catcher. His second year of college saw him move to the mound full-time. Following the decision to commit completely to pitching, Rogers spent a year at Cisco JC and then a year OU before being drafted by San Diego.

Upon signing with the Padres, Rogers pitched 21 1/3 innings in the Arizona League, compiling 22 strikeouts en route to a 2.53 ERA. Seeking to give Rogers some experience, the Padres gave him a two-level promotion to end 2015; and Rogers was assigned to Lake Elsinore. With the Storm, Rogers pitched 7 1/3 innings, giving up three earned runs while striking out five batters.

In his first full season of pro ball (2016), Rogers began the year in Lake Elsinore but pitched most of the year in Fort Wayne. In 23 appearances (two starts), the right-hander registered a 5.43 ERA, striking out 38 batters while walking 20.

In 2017, Rogers has compiled a 5.72 ERA in 28 1/3 innings for the Fort Wayne TinCaps. His ERA doesn’t really tell the whole story, though. He has pitched a bit better than his ERA indicates (4.49 FIP, 4.06 xFIP). He also has a relatively high BABIP against (.319) and is striking out 7.31 batters/9, which is a career high.

I got a chance to chat with the 23-year-old Texas native about pro ball, his thoughts on compensation for minor leaguers, Fort Wayne, and more:

What is the leap like facing college hitters verses professional hitters? I have heard people say that NCAA D1 ball is comparable to A+/AA ball, which sounds kind of insane to me.

Yeah, I think it is insane to say Division 1 baseball is like A+/AA.  The hitters in professional baseball, especially with affiliates, are flat-out better. As are the pitchers, because there’s so much depth.  You have to be able to execute in and around the zone with all of your pitches especially when you see them multiple times in a series and throughout the season.

Every player seems to have their own “draft story”….. what’s yours? Did you have an idea the Padres were interested in you headed into the draft?

I had interest from just about every team and the Padres were one of them. But at the end, they were by far the most interested.  I did not have the season I wanted in 2015 at Oklahoma (7.80 ERA in 12 appearances), but I was fortunate to have a good summer season in 2014 that they saw me in and a lot of exposure in scrimmages at OU.  I’m extremely blessed that the Padres saw enough from me to give me an opportunity to be a part of this organization and work towards pitching at the major league level.

Speaking of OU, how was your experience there? Did pitching in a place like that, where there is so much wind in the spring, change your pitching approach?

Being a student-athlete at OU, or a place like OU, was always a dream of mine.  Also, my dad and brother were huge OU football fans… so for me to be a Sooner meant as much to them as it did to me. I have a fastball that sinks; so if I am executing it properly the wind is never a factor for me. But it did make me more conscious of how important it is for me to use my strength to have success.

Credit: Journal Gazette

When did you make the full transition from catcher to pitcher, and why?

I started getting some higher level interest towards the end of my senior year in high school, but wanted to stay committed to playing a season with my brother, Colby, and thought that was in my best interest.  After my freshman season at Lyon College, my parents and I reevaluated and knew pitching was my long-term calling. I transferred to Cisco College with hopes of pitching at a Division 1.

How are things going in Fort Wayne? You guys have a lot of young players and started slowly, but have seem to really picked it up of late.

It’s really starting to click for us here, which we knew was a matter of time with how professional each guy on the team shows up to the field and prepares to play.  There’s a lot of talent top to bottom and our staff with AC (manager Anthony Contreras), Burt (pitching coach Burt Hooton),  Doug (hitting coach Doug Banks), and Carvy (coach Jhonny Carvahal) have done an outstanding job this year.

How is the experience of going from college ball (where the season is relatively short) to pro ball (where you play 130+ games)? Is there a learning period where you have to adjust to playing almost every day?

The quickest thing learned in professional baseball is the importance of short-term memory… whether it’s coming off a good or bad game.  There’s always something to learn everyday you show up to the field and that’s the mindset you have to keep to have longevity in this game.

A lot of relievers have their own routine during games that help them get mentally/physically ready should their name be called. Do you have a routine that you go through? Is it difficult heading to the ballpark not knowing if you are going to pitch that day?

Depending if we’re home or away, I usually start moving around after the fifth inning and get a light jog in and some few light stretches.  Then, when I’m on the mound, I establish my sinker and then a few sliders just to get the feel because it’s different at game speed.  But the priority is getting the sinker established in the pen.  I try to stay mentally locked in at all times. Before the game, I’ll take the opportunity to work on some other things.

There has been a lot of talk in baseball about the lack of salary/benefits that minor league players get. Do you believe you guys should be compensated more than you are?

I’d say there are some areas that should be improved but it’s not beneficial to worry about that kind of stuff.  No matter how much I get paid it doesn’t change why I am playing or where I am trying to be.

Is there anything specific that you would like Padres fans to know about you?

I’m appreciative of the time I’ve had these two years and look forward to the years to come as I progress across the system and hopefully land in Petco Park in a Padres uniform.

It was a pleasure to chat with Blake Rogers. In a system loaded with pitching prospects, he is yet another player to root for. I would like to also just send my thanks out to Blake for taking the time to answer some questions. It is much appreciated.

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