BOZICH | The surprising former Louisville player closest to the big leagues
Former Louisville and New Albany ace Josh Rogers is scheduled to make his first pro start at Slugger Field next week as he makes his way to the top of the New York Yankees' farm system.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- If legalized gambling comes to Kentucky before I finish this column, I'm putting my vacation stash on Josh Rogers as the next former University of Louisville baseball player to make the big leagues.
Even though Rogers is not ranked as one of the Top 30 prospects in the New York Yankees' farm system.
Even though Rogers has never thrown hard enough to whip up as much hype as Brendan McKay, Kyle Funkhouser, the Burdi brothers or other pitchers developed in coach Dan McDonnell's program.
Even though Rogers has endured constant trash talk from one of his best friends -- former U of L basketball player Terry Rozier -- that Rozier could take him deep.
"I'm definitely aware of (which players are ranked the top prospects)," Rogers said. "I know who are the prospects and who aren't.
"It's just human nature. I think everybody in our organization does. I wouldn't say it motivates me. I really don't care if MLB Pipeline thinks I'm a Top 30 prospect in our organization or not. I feel like I'm one of the best left-handed pitchers we have.
"I honestly feel ready to go and feel like I could pitch in the big leagues right now. I've never felt like that before, to be honest."
There is a reason Rogers feels that way -- and should feel that way. There is a reason I believe Rogers has earned more than four or five paragraphs of recognition in my weekly Monday Muse.
Rogers has been one of the best pitchers in the International League this season, recognition he can reinforce next Tuesday when Rogers is scheduled to pitch for the Yankees' Triple-A farm team, the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, against the Louisville Bats at Slugger Field.
Arrive early. Look for family members and Rogers' friends from U of L and New Albany High School to fill the seats behind the first-base dugout. They've been buying tickets for weeks.
He has certainly earned the love.
About 10 months after Rogers was shut down in 2017 for bone spurs to be medically removed from his left (throwing) elbow, Rogers has advanced from AA to the highest level of the minor leagues without missing a start.
Rogers ranks in the Top 10 in the International League in innings, strikeouts and earned run average. He's split six decisions..Two pitchers in the league have thrown complete game shutouts this season.
One is Mike Soroka, who was promoted to the big leagues by the Atlanta Braves May 1.
The other is the subject of this column.
"Honestly I'm just trying to throw strikes and get deep into games," Rogers said. "Just do the job of a starting pitcher. Try to make quality starts. I know it's so boring to hear that. There's nothing fancy about it."
There might not be anything fancy about it, but it's still an uplifting story. Rogers picked Louisville over Vanderbilt in 2013 after overcoming Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow at New Albany.
He threw 52 innings for the Cardinals in 2014 and then won eight of nine decisions while throwing 93 innings in 2015. He was outstanding but when the scouts lined up at Jim Patterson Stadium they began their reports with discussion about Funkhouser, McKay, Zack Burdi and position players like Corey Ray and Nick Solak.
Rogers threw an excellent fastball, but it was not a melt-the-radar gun fastball. He had a nice slider. But it was not a wipeout slider. He could change speeds. Changing speeds won't make you a first-round pick. Rogers was not a first-round pick. He was an 11th-round pick, assigned to Staten Island, the minor-league spot where the Yankees put their long-shot prospects after they leave college baseball.
"On a big-league scale I don't have like a (Luis) Severino fastball or a Chris Sale slider," Rogers said. "I think it's just an average pitch. But it's good because all three are ready. They're not elite."
There has been nothing ordinary about his results. His career won/loss record is 11 games better than .500 and he has struck out 256 hitters while walking only 52. Rogers has learned something guys who dazzle the radar guns never figure out:
His job is pitching, not throwing.
He began this season in Scranton after he expected to open in Trenton, N. J.
Rogers went to Scranton convinced that he was going to pitch out of the bullpen, but he moved into the starting rotation for the second game of the season after the Yankees made a roster move.
Thursday morning in Pawtucket, R.I., Rogers is scheduled to make his ninth start for the RailRiders, while fielding texts from friends like Yankees' reliever Chad Green (a former U of L teammate) and Rozier (who gave Rogers a Celtics' jersey to hang in his locker).
Friends routinely ask if he is nervous about getting a call to the big leagues. They have noticed how well Josh Rogers has pitched this season.
"I don't scoreboard watch or look for people to be on the (disabled list), but you pay attention to what's going on," Rogers said. "Everybody does.
"I'm a lot closer than I expected to be. It's cool being this close."
Close enough that Josh Rogers is my pick to become the next former U of L player to make it to the major leagues.
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