Like everybody else with two eyes, two ears, and a functioning brain, I like Brendan Rodgers (Lake Mary HS, Florida) a whole heck of a lot as a prospect. I’d even go so far as to say that I more than like him — not quite love, but certainly “like-like” — for many of the same elements of his game that everybody else does. His bat speed, power upside, feel for hitting, arm strength, and, most impressively to this layman, the ease at which his athleticism, instincts, and advanced baseball IQ allow him to move in the field and on the base paths make him a clear top ten talent in this year’s draft. The reason I’m not yet ready to proclaim my love for him as a prospect and make him the top player on my board (he’s in the 3-7 range for me as of this writing, likely on the higher end [near 3] when it’s all said and done) is the nagging doubts I have about his ability to control the strike zone and make adjustments at the plate, both from within at bats and from game to game. Those would be major concerns for a college prospect, but, due to the fact that making long-term projections on a high school player’s plate discipline is as difficult as consistently coming up with clever analogies, not nearly as troubling considering his age and experience. Still, it’s something worth further exploring.
To that point, I haven’t seen him enough to make my own ironclad judgments about his approach – and, for the millionth time, even if I had it would just be me giving an opinion as a fan and frequent observer of the game, not as a scout – but I’ve heard from enough smart people who have raved about the usual pluses of his game before getting to some variation of “…but I’m a little worried about his pitch recognition and how much he’ll swing and miss against better arms.” Some downplay his tendency to swing and miss as just another example of an outstanding all-around young hitter getting bored/frustrated/anxious at the plate against inferior competition afraid to challenge him. There is a ton of pressure, externally and internally, applied to star athletes tasked with shouldering the load for amateur teams made up of players that simply can’t match the star’s physical ability. It’s not unusual to see a big-time HS prospect do things his senior season that aren’t necessarily reflective of who he is as a player going forward.
Others have expressed concern about how quickly he changed his approach this spring (in comparison to how he handled his at bats on the showcase circuit last summer), becoming far more aggressive and expanding the zone early in the year despite not getting much to hit. From there, he didn’t do much to adjust to the fact that he wasn’t being challenged. Most of the other top HS hitters in this class (Chris Betts, Tyler Stephenson, Kolton Kendrick, Kyle Tucker, Nick Plummer, Trenton Clark), they reasoned, recognized early how they’d be pitched to as high school stars with bull’s-eyes on their back and tweaked their respective approaches. Recognizing that Rodgers was in a tough spot and excusing him entirely for were two very different things for these scouts. I get that.
It’s entirely possible all of this is much ado about nothing — again, making bold proclamations about any teenager’s plate discipline with such limited data is a losing proposition — but even if it’s something as small as a recently learned bad habit that needs to be undone with the help of professional coaching, that’s still one more thing to concern himself with (and divert his attention away from other parts of his game) as he transitions to dealing with a higher caliber of competition.
The Nature of Comps
Many — three qualifies as “many,” right? — have reached out to me over the years questioning my propensity for throwing around player comparisons. I understand that many disagree with me on the positive utility of comps. I’ve argued in support of them more times than I can remember, but the basic summation of my pro-comp argument is that a good comp can provide contextual shorthand that can help provide a tangible representation — stylistically, statistically, or just plain physically — to tap into the knowledge base of a fan of the game who might not have cared or even known about an amateur prospect otherwise. Ideally, at a site like this, fans checking in both know and care about these prospects, but still want to know more about the players who only exist as names typed on a computer screen. A good comp can make a prospect come to life, provided there is enough meaningful commentary surrounding the comparison.
It’s the same basic argument I’ve presented on behalf of mock drafts in the past. A mock draft by a non-insider like me won’t provide much in the way of actual reporting, but it can be a springboard for insightful conversation about specific draft day scenarios and the relative merits of the prospects projected therein. A list of teams and prospects is a shitty, worthless mock draft, but one with actual commentary can have merit even if every guess at a pick is wrong. Same goes for a player/prospect comp, I think. Just saying This Prospect is the next This Player isn’t very helpful; in fact, without providing any context around it, comps like that can actually be damaging in how they create false expectations for amateurs. A good scouting report should paint a picture of the player with words, and a well-considered comp can add something special — a splash of color, if you will — to said picture.
Rodgers and Comps
I think Brendan Rodgers is the “victim” of an unfair comparison. They are the “experts” and I’m just a guy with a free site on the internet, but the early Troy Tulowitzki comps floated by big-time draft outlets don’t fit Rodgers’s game at all. Now before I get too all righteously indignant — never a good look — I want to be upfront about how I got a comp on Rodgers from a scout who has seen him a lot over the past eighteen months or so that rivals and quite possibly tops the Tulowitzki comparison. It’s an ultimate ceiling comparison and the guy who shared it with me is literally the biggest Rodgers fan I personally know, so keep those things in mind when you read the name a bit later. I don’t think of Rodgers as a future Tulowitzki or the other comp equivalent, but maybe those that do aren’t as crazy as I make them out to be. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to projecting talent, after all. Before we get to that best case scenario dream world comp, I have a few comparisons of my own that I think fit Rodgers a bit better. Before I even get to THAT, it actually turns out I had some thoughts on this very topic back in September…
It’s only logical to compare the aforementioned Brendan Rodgers to Florida’s top shortstop and eventual fifth overall pick, Nick Gordon. Perfect Game has also throw out a Troy Tulowitzki comp (not knocking it, though I don’t see it, but it seems like there’s one of these every year these days) and a JJ Hardy comp (more on target, I think). I’d actually compare his skill set and potential professional future with a different Florida amateur from back in the day: Florida State’s Stephen Drew (except righthanded this time). Rodgers is unquestionably ahead of Drew at similar stages of development – check out the HS scouting report of Drew from Baseball America when you can; it’s rough – and doesn’t come with any of the makeup questions that have dogged Drew (fairly or not) throughout his career. Rodgers, in fact, garners some of the highest praise of any amateur athlete I can remember when it comes to makeup; read this interview on Baseball America for some insight of how he views the game and keep it mind scouts have said this is just tip of the iceberg when it comes to his baseball IQ and commitment to maximizing his natural talent. The words “above-average” litter any report on his future tools: raw power, speed, arm (flashes plus), hit tool, and range/hands/instincts/footwork all hit the mark. The cherry on top is his explosive bat speed, which ranks at or near the top of this year’s group of high school hitters.
I really need to stop plagiarizing myself. So as I apparently mentioned eight months ago, after I saw Rodgers up close last summer I had him pegged as a Stephen Drew type of player. I’d amend that today to say it’s more of a JJ Hardy/Stephen Drew hybrid package, which, my own previous negativity about his 1-1 prospects aside, is still pretty damn valuable. In fact, a fascinating and thorough study at Beyond the Box Score showed that the expected value of first overall picks from 1990-2006 was 11.8 fWAR through their six years of club control. Hardy put up 16.1 WAR in his years of club control while Drew wound up with 11.0 on the nose. In other words, if Rodgers turned into either of those guys (or something reasonably similar), he’d be a fine 1-1 prospect from a pure value standpoint. Maybe those aren’t the type of player futures that you’d rush to trade the number one pick for — the study differentiated between first overall pick value and best player (with the benefit of hindsight) to come out of the class, with the latter winding up an average 28.5 WAR player — but consistent above-average regular with All-Star upside is a pretty excellent outcome. That’s why, despite my reservations, I can’t imagine knocking Rodgers outside of this class’s top five overall talents. For fun, Tulowitzki finished at 22.3 fWAR in his first six full seasons. My “don’t compare him to Tulo because that’s unfair!” comp alternative clocked in at 29.3 fWAR through his six locked-in seasons. Whoa.
Out of all the mainstream comparisons out there for Rodgers, I like the Hardy comparison best. I could see Rodgers ultimately putting up similar big league numbers to what Hardy has accomplished to date. Hardy’s 162 game average: .261/.312/.422 with 21 HR and 45 BB/97 K (14.6 K% and 6.8 BB%). Rodgers could swipe a few more bags along the way — I know he’s not a good runner, but it still amazes me that Hardy’s career high in steals is two — but otherwise I think the two have many shared offensive and defensive traits. Digging deeper into this comp, however, makes me think that it serves a purpose more as a “potential big league outcome” comp than a “similar prospect at similar points of development” comp. Both have utility, but since I don’t love this as much as a comp in the more interesting to discuss latter category — frankly, I think Rodgers is a good bit more talented than Hardy at the same stage, and I give Hardy a lot more credit now than before for how he’s outworked his projections as a pro — I won’t dwell too much on it, especially with one final comp that I like better waiting just around the corner.
My Rodgers Comp
After far more thought than I’m comfortable admitting publicly, I think the best comparison for Rodgers is fellow Floridian Ian Desmond. Now this is a tricky comparison that might not make a lot of sense at face value, so bear with me. Desmond was a third round pick of the Montreal Expos (!) back in 2004. He was generally regarded as a glove-first prospect with a questionable enough offensive profile that led to some doubt as to whether or not he’d be an above-average regular down line. That version of Desmond isn’t much of a parallel prospect for Rodgers, but the 20-year old Desmond who made serious adjustments to his approach in 2006 after getting demoted back to Potomac begins to resemble the type of player that I think Rodgers could become. For Desmond, all of the defensive promise remained — Baseball America (which I can’t link to because their website is terrible, so I had to literally dust off old Prospect Handbooks from my bookshelf and there was a bug in one that crawled out onto my leg so you see the kind of things I go through for this site) wrote that “he [had] the tools to be an above-average defender at shortstop with plus-plus arm strength, plus range, and soft hands” — but getting him back closer to an age-appropriate path (he was moved very quickly initially through the system, in part because Washington’s player development staff believed he had the makeup to handle it) was what he needed to get the bat going. That consolidation year (2007) was when the proverbial light bulb went on for Desmond as a professional ballplayer. His 2008 was another sign of steady progress at Harrisburg (in his second shot at AA) before he took off for good starting that fall and continuing all the way through to his promotion to the big leagues.
That’s a particularly wordy way of saying that I think a) Rodgers and Desmond have fairly similar tool sets and physical gifts (above-average overall glove, average speed that plays up because of superior instincts, ample bat speed, above-average to plus raw power [19-27 HR potential], plus arm strength with occasionally erratic but generally solid accuracy), b) Rodgers will follow a developmental path more similarly to Desmond (and more similar to most top prospects historically) rather than the crazy quick and crazy success intros to pro ball of recent 1-1 caliber talents (to name just two examples that come to mind, he’s not likely to follow the Carlos Correa or even Addison Russell [a player he’s been comped to as well] path of demolishing pro pitching at just about every stop until the big leagues), and c) the most likely cause of Rodgers’s development requiring more patience than assumed will be similar to the reasons why Desmond needed to be slowed down as a prospect. Rodgers is wildly talented, but he’ll need to adjust his approach (like how Desmond gradually improved his plate discipline, stopped chasing quite so many low breaking balls, and improved with mashing inside heat for extra bases) to better fit the pro environment. By all accounts he has the drive and work ethic to do so, but that’s not really one of those things an outsider like me can fairly assess.
Rodgers will not be a clone of Desmond. He will not experience the same ups and downs, the same developmental path (I’m guessing it could be similar, but “guessing” and “similar” are key words there), or the same circumstances (teams, coaches, teammates) that anybody before him or after him will face. That’s not how comps work. I realize that’s obvious and I apologize if anybody reading is offended by me pointing that out (I think I might be if I read that…), but I like pointing it out all the same because I hate the idea of the only takeaway from this being RODGERS = DESMOND and anything else will make him a bust. Still, for reference’s sake here is Desmond’s 162 game average to date: .268/.316/.429 with 19 HR and 39 BB/148 K (22.3 K% and 6.0 BB%). I’m not sure Rodgers will experience struggles to the same extent as Desmond when it comes to swinging and missing at the big league level, but I could see him settling in as a consistent 18% K, 8% BB kind of hitter over the long haul. Something like Desmond’s post-2012 output (.275/.325/.450 with the chance for 20+ HR and SB and above-average defense) seems within reach as a realistic ceiling. That’s a player worthy of going 1-1 if it all clicks, but there’s enough risk in the overall package that I’m not willing to call him the best player in this class. Second best, maybe. Third best, likely. The difference in ranking opinion is minute, but for a decision-maker picking within those first few selections it can mean the difference between job security for years to come (and, perhaps eventually, a ring…) or an outright dismissal even before getting to see this whole thing through.
The Perfect World Everything is Awesome OMG I Can’t Believe Some Idiot Nobody on the Internet Ranked Brendan Rodgers Third in This Class When He So Obviously Should Have Been First comparison that I have gotten from a source I really respect: Hanley Ramirez. That’s such a tremendous bar to reach that I hesitated even mentioning it all, but it’s the internet and we’re all pals here, so there you go.