This was the plan, or so Rockies fans thought: After major shoulder surgery prematurely ended Brendan Rodgers’ 2019 season, the infielder’s true rookie year was supposed to be the breakout.
But instead of getting to immediately prove his worth in the big leagues, Colorado optioned Rodgers to its satellite camp to begin the season, where he spent nearly a month before being recalled this week. Rodgers was “a little aggravated” with the unexpected demotion, but the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft used it as further motivation to prove he can be the franchise pillar that everyone, including himself, is expecting.
“That didn’t stop me from working,” Rodgers said. “Honestly, it’s more fuel to the fire to keep pushing myself, knowing what I want to be and what I can do for this team.”
The 24-year-old slashed .224/.272/.250 in 25 games last year, playing most of that time with a painful right shoulder injury that eventually required season-ending surgery in July.
After making his 2020 debut Wednesday, Rodgers said he “felt really comfortable” in the box coming off of training at the satellite camp at Metro State and playing in intrasquad scrimmages with the team’s other top minor leaguers at Coors Field.
“I stepped in and I felt like I belonged and like it was a new start, a new beginning,” Rodgers said. “I’m pretty confident in myself right now.”
While Rodgers is eager to get back on track toward fulfilling his star potential, his expedited growth is one key to getting Colorado back on pace for a playoff spot, as the club was after its 11-3 start. With recent injuries in the lineup (Chris Owings, David Dahl) as well other key hitters toiling with averages in the low .200 range (Nolan Arenado, Ryan McMahon, Tony Wolters), Rodgers fulfilling his potential would be a welcome development.
Right-hander Jon Gray, a former first-round pick himself who has a keen understanding of the pressure that selection comes with, believes Rodgers is capable of the breakout year that was supposed to come in 2019. The lofty expectations for Rodgers last year were underscored by his performance in Triple-A Albuquerque prior to his May 17 debut, as he hit .350 with nine home runs in 37 games with the Isotopes.
“I like the way he carries himself and I love the way he plays,” Gray said. “I feel like he’s doing things the right way. And yeah, he hasn’t had the easiest road back (from surgery), but he’s finally finding his way there and he’s not trying to do too much… I’m ready to see him go off, to be honest. I know it’s inside of him, and I’m ready to see him become that (elite) type of player.”
Rodgers acknowledged his path back from surgery had its fair share of tribulations, even as he entered the first round of spring training in Arizona a little ahead in his rehabilitation. For more than a month after last summer’s surgery, he couldn’t lift his arm above his head.
“It was a big surgery, and I had a long way to go to get back into playing shape and where I wanted to be,” Rodgers said. “But I kept moving forward. I knew my time would come. And I kept pushing myself day in and day out. I’m a self-motivator; I find little things that push me just a little bit more.”
Defensively, Rodgers gives Colorado another option at second base alongside McMahon and Garrett Hampson, while he can also spell Trevor Story at shortstop. Offensively, Colorado is waiting for Rodgers to flex the power he demonstrated over his last two minor league seasons (26 homers between Albuquerque and Double-A Hartford). He has yet to hit a long ball in the majors.
“He can power a ball,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We’ll see over his career what transpires, but he’s a year older, he had a good offseason with (rehabbing) his shoulder, and overall I believe his strength has improved, his stamina has improved, physically he feels good. I project power to some extent in Brendan’s career.”
Debates about power aside, the big question is this: Is Rodgers ready to erase his name from the prospect list for good and become a mainstay in LoDo, a name as familiar to Colorado fans as Arenado and Story?
“That’s where my mind’s at,” Rodgers said.