Miami Marlins' rookie Trevor Rogers off to a great start on the mound
By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer
Fresh off their first postseason appearance since 2003, the Marlins entered 2021 with a tremendous amount of good vibes and a lot of reasons to be excited about the direction of the organization.
Miami proved capable of hanging around with its big-budget counterparts in the NL East, thanks in large part to an exceptionally young starting rotation. A lot of that hype was centered on the promise of right-hander Sixto Sánchez, who dazzled in his debut in 2020 but has yet to pitch in 2021 because of a shoulder injury.
Instead, it has been Trevor Rogers leading the charge so far for the Fish.
After his start Monday, in which he out-dueled burgeoning Cy Young candidate Corbin Burnes (and just a couple of weeks removed from his going toe-to-toe with perennial Cy Young candidate Jacob deGrom), Rogers’ ERA sits at 1.29, fourth-lowest in MLB. His 38 strikeouts are tied for eighth in all of baseball and are comfortably first among southpaws.
Rogers himself is far from a nobody. He’s a former first-round pick who appeared on the back half of some top-100 prospect lists heading into the season. But there was a lot obscuring Rogers’ ascent to greatness, and it’s worth a closer look at why this breakout appears more surprising than it should have been.
When you watch him now, it’s easy to see how a team would think Rogers belonged near the top of the MLB Draft. But his draft status alone doesn’t nearly tell the whole story.
Rogers was selected out of Carlsbad High School (population 30,000; their mascot is the Cavemen) in southeast New Mexico. Do yourself a favor. Pull up a map, and take a look at where Carlsbad, New Mexico is. With all due respect, does that look like a place that would be churning out lefties throwing 97?
To be fair, Rogers is not the first former Caveman-turned-big leaguer. There have been four before him, including Rogers’ cousin, whom you might have heard of: 2010 NLCS MVP and former Marlin himself, Cody Ross.
To be clear, the bigger challenge for Rogers was not that he was pitching in a relatively remote city in the Chihuahuan Desert, but rather, the competition he was facing. His eye-popping senior year stats — a 0.33 ERA in 63.1 innings pitched with 134 strikeouts, 13 walks and only 14 hits allowed — could be viewed only through the lens of the competition he was facing.
Rogers did show well at a few high-profile high school showcase events the summer before his draft year, but questions remained about how good he could be against top-tier competition, particularly when trying to compare him to his high school counterparts in baseball hotbeds such as California, Florida and Texas or those competing at premier college programs.
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Rogers' hometown wasn’t the only thing that raised some eyebrows when the Marlins selected him 13th overall. He was 19 years, 7 months old on draft day — exceptionally old for his high school class.
In recent years, many front offices have placed greater emphasis on targeting players who are relatively young for the class, with the general line of thinking being that A) players who are used to performing against older competition will be better suited to handle the jump to pro ball and B) younger players inherently have more time to develop and thus greater projection for what they can become.
Add the historically shaky track record of highly-drafted high school pitchers, and there was a lot working against Rogers leading up to draft day. MLB Pipeline ranked him 25th in the 2017 class; Baseball America pegged him at 31st. So when the Marlins called his name at pick No. 13, there were a lot of people in baseball, publicly and privately, saying, "Really? The 19-year-old from New Mexico?"
Yet four years later — far too early to judge a draft class, but still — a look at the 35 other players selected in the first round of the 2017 MLB Draft suggests that Miami had the right idea. Rogers is one of 17 first-rounders from that draft to reach MLB thus far, and he is one of only two high schoolers (the other being Angels outfielder Jo Adell, who has yet to reemerge in the big leagues after scuffling in his debut in 2020).
The first high school lefty selected that year, MacKenzie Gore, has been universally praised as one of the best pitching prospects in baseball since the moment his name was called, but he has yet to make his MLB debut for the Padres. Gore may still deliver on that promise long-term, but if you had told people even a year ago that Rogers, not Gore, would be the one contributing significantly in the big leagues in April 2021, you would've gotten a lot of puzzled looks.
If you looked only at Rogers' 6.11 ERA in 28 IP in 2020, his 1.29 ERA this year would seem to be a fairly shocking improvement. But he hasn’t been all that different:
- 2020: 28 IP, 6.11 ERA, 1.607 WHIP, 32 H, 13 BB, 39 K
- 2021: 28 IP, 1.29 ERA, 1.000 WHIP, 18 H, 10 BB, 38 K
The strikeouts and control were already in place, but terrible luck on balls in play — his .380 BABIP against was second-highest among starting pitchers in 2020 — tanked his overall numbers.
Rogers' fastball velocity, something that has fluctuated all the way back to his junior year of high school, has also been far more consistent this season. He has already thrown 61 pitches at 96 mph or higher, up from seven total in his 2020 campaign.
His changeup ain’t too bad, either:
Now Rogers finds himself firmly in the NL Rookie of the Year conversation as he looks to continue to build on his hot start. Careers and reputations in the big leagues are built on far more than five starts to begin a season, but one thing is becoming clear: We all underestimated the 19-year-old from New Mexico.
Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball analyst for FOX Sports. He lives in Maryland but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn't get a lot of sleep. You can follow him on Twitter at @j_shusterman_.