ROME, GA — Uncommon to popular belief, every new Atlanta Braves prospect isn’t automatically a Top 30 prospect in the system.
That doesn’t mean they aren’t pretty darn good, however.
Jordan Rodgers is having a nice season for the Rome Braves. The 6-foot-1, 185 pound utility infielder got off to a slow start after the Braves selected him in the sixth round out of Tennessee. He’s found his groove, and is rolling.
Batting atop the lineup — he was in the two-hole Thursday night — Rodgers went 12-for-26 last week. Half of his hits were doubles, while he scored four runs and drove in six more. The huge week earned him South Atlantic League Player of the Week honors.
“It was pretty special,” Rodgers said of the award. “I got a great hitting coach in Bobby Moore. You know, I had a slow start, adjusting to pro ball and playing everyday. It’s a little different, especially with your body, little aches and pains and stuff like that. Mainly for me, it was getting my routine and taking a deep breathe and going back to basics and playing ball. Once I started doing that I started seeing some results and most importantly, helped the team win.”
Rodgers grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, so there was never a big league club in close proximity in which he could become a true fan. He watched the Redbirds growing up, but found himself drawn to players, more than teams.
“Obviously, everybody looked up to Derek Jeter,” Rodgers said. “I just liked the way he played the game. I was kind of a Yankees fan, but I started liking [Evan] Longoria in high school and recently I really started to like [Josh] Donaldson. Just guys who are hard-nosed guys that you want on your team. That’s what I try to be for my team.”
He definitely rooted for the Braves, and as he said, had plenty of Braves clothes growing up. There was also an added bonus in being drafted by a team close to home.
“No question it was special,” Rodgers said. “My whole family is in Jackson, Mississippi, so hopefully one day I get to play in front of them.”
Rodgers played in the battle-tested SEC. He spent his summers in collegiate leagues, capping his career in the legendary Cape Cod Summer League last season. Nothing was ever handed to him. While he earned First Team All-SEC honors as a third baseman, he’s learned the best way to keep himself in the lineup has to become a jack-of-all-trades.
Thursday night, Rodgers made his eighth start of the season at shortstop. He’s made 12 more at second and another 16 at third. He handled short well, although he was charged an error attempting to reel in a tough throw from Lucas Herbert. He moved around the hole with ease. His arm seems to be of little issue, as several Rome guys gushed about how improved his defense gets every game.
“I grew up playing shortstop my whole life, and some second base,” Rodgers said. “As I got older, closer to college, I moved over to third when I got a little taller and a little leaner. I played a whole season in college at first base, and then in right field. For me, it was just about staying in the lineup everyday, so I learned to play different positions. I use to be like, ‘no, I’m an infielder,’ but now I take pride in being a utility guy, especially when I feel like I can do a pretty good job at all three. The main thing is helping your pitchers out. I’m just as comfortable at any of them.”
One thing I noticed is that Rodgers is aggressive. His first two at bats of the evening saw him attack on the first pitch, making contact, but grounding out. He took a strike in his first pitch of his third at bat, but ripped into the second pitch for a double down the third base line. He would come around to score an important run in Rome’s comeback, 12th-inning walk-off win.
This aggressiveness was a conscious adjustment.
“Early in the year, I got myself behind in counts and then pitchers would throw their nasty [pitches] and get me to chase,” Rodgers said. “I’ve been working on getting a pitch in the zone and if I feel like I can do some damage, go ahead and go for it. The first two today I rolled over and hit ground balls. I’m going to keep staying aggressive. Usually when pitchers try to throw a strike that’s the best pitch you’re going to get.”
Rodgers aggressiveness does lead to less walks, something he wants to improve on as he moves up the ladder. He’s currently struck out 26 times — a 20 percent rate which isn’t incredibly worrisome — but has walked just five times. Still, he has obviously improved his swing and is getting his timing down. He’s not simply hitting to hit, but producing runs to a nice 112 wRC+. He only struck out in one at bat Thursday night, making contact in five other at bats. His two biggest hits — the double and a fly out — were dead pull, both hugging the left field foul line.
Rodgers has been a big part of Rome’s current eight-game winning streak. He is 13-for-36 (a .361 average) but more importantly has scored eight runs and driven in seven.
(note: Rome extended their winning-streak to nine in a second consecutive extra-inning walk-off. Rodgers did have another hit as well but I was not at the game to report on anything else.)
“Our team’s really good,” Rodgers said. “When we lost, it was just little things that didn’t go our way. We knew it was a matter of time before things started to go our way. The pitching has been really good, picking up the hitters, and we score a lot of runs. We’re really having fun.”
Having a Big Three of Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz and Bryse Wilson certainly helps. Of course, Rodgers has quickly learned that playing for someone like Randy Ingle is a big part of it as well.
“Oh man,” Rodgers said of his skipper. “From the start I heard he’s as good as we have in this organization. He’s shown me nothing but respect, and he’s had my back since I got here. He’s such a legend around here, but automatically and instantly shows that he respects you.”
Rodgers knows what it means to be a part of the Braves organization. It’s a system constantly on the rise. It is also stacked with quite a bit of talent in the infield, so embracing the utility role as he has, should help him along the way. The Braves have proven to be aggressive in their promotions, but Rodgers isn’t worried about that.
Right now, it’s about playing baseball.
“My whole life I had to wait my turn and not take any shortcuts, from recruiting to earning my place in college to getting here and having that slow start,” Rodgers said. “For me it’s just about doing everything I can do to do what I can do best, be a good teammate, and perform on the field. I’m a firm believer that the stuff you can’t control will take care of itself. I’ll just keep playing as hard as I can and as passionate as I can and hopefully that shows them something.”