Rodgers has turned nearly un­touch­able

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Groke

WASH­ING­TON, D.C.» One of them wore braces on his teeth, a sug­ges­tion of his age and place as a base­ball prospect. The other car­ried the ex­pec­ta­tions of a fran­chise, some­thing less ob­vi­ous at first glance.

Bren­dan Rodgers, the Rock­ies’ high-value mi­nor-league mid­dle in­fielder, rubbed el­bows with Jose Gomez dur­ing spring train­ing long enough to form a bond. And Rodgers is start­ing to see his friends churned through the busi­ness of base­ball. Gomez was one of three Sin­gle-a play­ers traded last week from Colorado to Philadel­phia in a dead­line week deal that net­ted the Rock­ies a much­needed re­lief pitcher.

Rodgers, mean­while, stands on firm ground. The 20-year-old slug­ger, the sec­ond-high­est draft pick in club his­tory, is af­fect­ing the fu­ture of the Rock­ies from afar.

“A few of my bud­dies got traded,” Rodgers said by phone from Hart­ford, Conn., where he is ex­celling with the Dou­ble-a Yard Goats. “I know it’s part of the busi­ness. But with all the trade stuff go­ing on, I try not to think about it or pay any at­ten­tion on so­cial me­dia. Just go play hard and let it all work out.”

As the Ma­jor League Base­ball trade dead­line rushes to­ward its con­clu­sion Mon­day, with the Rock­ies in the thick of po­ten­tial deals from mul­ti­ple an­gles, Rodgers is the near­est they have to an un­touch­able. He is a hall­mark of Colorado’s mi­nor-league sys­tem who con­tin­u­ally draws in­ter­est from other clubs en­am­ored of his abil­ity to hit for power and av­er­age and field with a rocket arm.

As the No. 7-ranked prospect in base­ball, ac­cord­ing to Base­ball Amer­ica, Rodgers’ name is near oth­ers across the league who will soon af­fect play­off races.

One of those races in­volves the Rock­ies, who en­tered the week­end 13 games over .500 and firmly grasp­ing a wild-card spot. The play­offs are a siren, a tease that can lure fringe play­off teams into jump­ing into mis­takes. The de­ci­sion to trade for an im­me­di­ate run while sac­ri­fic­ing fu­ture sta­bil­ity is a del­i­cate bal­ance.

The Rock­ies, it seems, have de­cided Rodgers is worth the wait. But no prospect is off the ta­ble.

“I’ve only seen a cou­ple at-bats. But he’s one of our best prospects,” Colorado man­ager Bud Black said. “I’ve been around long enough to know there are very few un­touch­ables in this game. Very few, when you think about it. The Na­tion­als have one. The Angels have one. And we have one. That’s the re­ally hard part of a gen­eral man­ager’s job, as­sess­ing a player’s value, both your own and oth­ers.”

The un­touch­ables Black hinted at are proven names: Wash­ing­ton right fielder Bryce Harper, Los Angeles cen­ter fielder Mike Trout, Rock­ies third base­man Nolan Are­nado.

Black first saw a trade dead­line un­fold from the front of­fice as a spe­cial as­sis­tant in Cleve­land for four years through 1999, when the mid-mar­ket Indians were con­sis­tently push­ing to­ward the post­sea­son. He watched gen­eral man­ager John Hart and as­sis­tant GM Mark Shapiro jug­gle the needs of the present, try­ing to piece to to­gether a play­off team, with the de­mands of the fu­ture, as it re­lates to prospects.

“I’ve been around long enough to un­der­stand,” Black said. “I’ve been around enough con­ver­sa­tions and heard a lot of philo­soph­i­cal talk about that over the years. It’s given me per­spec­tive.”

He knows the Rock­ies could flip Rodgers for im­me­di­ate help to fill some glar­ing holes in their run through the Na­tional League West. Colorado, de­spite trad­ing for sidearm vet­eran re­liever Pat Neshek last week, could use a mul­ti­year arm at the back of the bullpen to buf­fer the pos­si­ble loss of Greg Hol­land be­fore next sea­son. They could use a vet­eran catcher to bol­ster a weary bat­tery. They could use a vet­eran start­ing pitcher to mix with a rook­ieheavy ro­ta­tion.

But Rodgers seems a price too high. He was ham­mer­ing a 1.119 OPS (on-base plus slug­ging per­cent­age) early this sea­son for the Sin­gle-a Lan­caster Jethawks be­fore a jump to Dou­ble-a, ahead of sched­ule. In the past month, he quickly ad­justed to bet­ter pitch­ers and lower al­ti­tudes, with an .830 OPS. He has learned to de­mand a hit­ter’s count, then know that the next pitch might not be a fast­ball, some­thing less tal­ented pitch­ers fall back on.

“I have a long ways to go,” Rodgers said. He will likely need about 150 more at-bats in Hart­ford. “The ul­ti­mate goal for me this year was to stay healthy and get to Dou­ble-a. I did one of the two. I started the year with a nag­ging wrist in­jury, but af­ter that, I was like, I have a chance.”

Even Neshek, who joined the Rock­ies on Fri­day, can see the po­ten­tial of a team that makes it dif­fi­cult to de­stroy the fu­ture for in­cre­men­tal help in the near term.

“This is a re­ally good of­fense, one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s a mat­ter of get­ting hot at the right time and stay­ing in the race.”

For now, it seems, the Rock­ies will pick away at the edges of po­ten­tial ac­qui­si­tions, ig­nor­ing the lure of a hefty haul at the ex­pense of their high­est-pro­file prospect. Whether that cau­tion ex­tends to 22-year-old Ryan Mcma­hon, a Triple-a in­fielder tear­ing up pitch­ers in the Pa­cific Coast League, or 19-year-old Ri­ley Pint, the Sin­gle-a pitcher with the 100 mph fast­ball, will play out soon.

And if the Rock­ies wait for a sig­nif­i­cant run to­ward the World Se­ries, so will Rodgers.

“I’m gonna bust my butt to make it work,” he said. “Just chill out and be my­self.”

Ri­cardo Ramirez Buxeda, Or­land Sen­tinel file

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