Once a rival of Cam Newton, Rogers searching for role with Pirates
February 23, 2016 12:35 AM
Pirates first baseman Jason Rogers fields a ground ball during morning workouts in Bradenton, Fla.
Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Jason Rogers during morning workouts at Pirate City Bradenton Florida.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — Ten years ago, long before Jason Rogers emerged as a bona fide baseball prospect, he was a high school quarterback quivering under Friday night lights. His Banneker Trojans kicked off against their chief rival Westlake Lions in the first round of the Georgia state playoffs.
Westlake, located in a suburb southwest of Atlanta, had an 8-3 regular-season record, which included a 12-point win at Banneker, and was quarterbacked by a junior named Cam Newton.
“He was decent,” Rogers deadpanned last week. “I would say I had a better arm, but he was overall better and more experienced.”
Rogers was rated a two-star quarterback by Rivals.com, three stars behind Newton, who eventually would play for Florida and win a national championship and Heisman Trophy at Auburn before becoming a No. 1 overall draft pick, NFL rookie of the year, MVP and Super Bowl runner-up.
On Nov. 4, 2005, however, Rogers and Newton were in the spotlight together. The score seesawed back and forth until Newton’s Westlake team nosed ahead to win, 34-28.
The game was the end of Rogers’ prep football career, and, since schools showed no interest in him as a baseball player, he accepted a full football scholarship to Alabama A&M. Then, he changed his mind and chased a dream.
Rogers instead tried out for Southern Union State Community College’s baseball team. After three years there, he transferred to Columbus State in Georgia, where hit a Peach Belt Conference-record 26 homers in 2010 and was a Division II All-American.
Rogers was 22 when the Milwaukee Brewers drafted him with pick No. 969 in 2010, and his was a slow climb through the system. He was the organization’s minor league player of the year in 2013 after hitting 22 home runs for Class AA Huntsville, but he was right back in Class AA the following year because the Brewers decided to move him from first base to third.
“The Brewers weren’t known to move people up quickly,” Rogers said, “so you expected to go through every stage. … I never really put up bad numbers throughout the minors. But, when you’re drafted in the 32nd round, you’ve got to work your way up. I’m used to it.”
Rogers finally made his major league debut Sept. 2, 2014, and roped Chicago Cubs reliever Wesley Wright’s 0-2 pitch to right for a pinch-hit double in his first at-bat. In 2015, he hit .296 with a .367 on-base percentage in 86 games for the Brewers.
When Rogers got a phone call from new Brewers general manager David Stearns in December, he thought it simply would be an introduction. A week earlier, the Brewers had traded first baseman Adam Lind, and most, including Rogers, expected he was the next in line to start.
“I was excited,” Rogers said. “This was my opportunity.”
Instead, Stearns informed Rogers he had been traded to the Pirates for prospects Keon Broxton and Trey Supak, shifting him from certain starter status to a spot somewhere down the bench.
Rogers, a right-handed batter who stands 6 feet 1 and 255 pounds, could prove to be a valuable and cost-effective pickup. General manager Neal Huntington praised his defensive versatility, high on-base percentage and reverse batting split — he has hit better against right-handers than left-handers. Rogers also is several years from being arbitration eligible.
Come opening day, however, Rogers will be 28 and have just 179 major league plate appearances under his belt. And, while he has some experience at third base and the corner outfield spots, he feels most comfortable at first base, the primary position at which he has worked so far in spring training. The Pirates currently plan to platoon Michael Morse and John Jaso at first.
“I’ll play wherever,” Rogers said. “First, third, wherever gets my name in the lineup.”
Stephen J. Nesbitt: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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