Feb 27, 2014; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Esmil Rogers pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies in a spring training exhibition game at Florida Auto Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Esmil Rogers, A Potential Starter For The Toronto Blue Jays

RHP Esmil Rogers, 28, is competing for the fifth spot in the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation this spring training. It is an important opportunity for him. An excellent outing may finally establish him as a full-time starter, but he must truly impress the powers that be. There is a long list of competitors. Rogers is up against Ricky Romero, Todd Redmond, Sean Nolin, Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Marcus Stroman and Dustin McGowan for the last spot in the rotation.

Rogers is a good athlete; wiry and fields well. The Jays like his versatility in that he can start and pitch in relief. Rogers also never seems to tire the further he goes into a game. Still, his critics feel consistency is his Achilles’ heel and that he does not have what it takes to be an everyday starter. Indeed, in 2013, Rogers showed flashes of brilliance for a series of games, but as the season wore on, in the parlance of my New Brunswick relatives, he sucked woodpecker’s eggs. Was this inconsistency, fatigue, or both?

Rogers was in the bullpen at the start of last year. With the loss of several starting pitchers, he got the nod to be a starter himself. Due to his improved sinker, his team won a series of victories. Rogers made 20 starts in 2013. He dominated in June and his ERA was 2.27, however; he tired as the season wore on. This is understandable since the most innings he pitched in a previous season was 137 in 2008 in the minors.

As a starter, Roger’s fastball hits between 92-95 mph. When he can get his fastball in low, it gets him ground balls. If he throws strikes early and gets ahead of hitters, it sets up the rest of his repertoire (e.g., cutter, slider, change-up and curve). Rogers does have the ability to throw 100 pitches and still keep his velocity up. This is the key reason why the Jays used him last year as a starter.

Unfortunately, Rogers gave up a lot of home runs because he fell behind in the count and he forced his fastball. The opposition knew it was coming. In these situations, Rogers would do better by not throwing his fastball and pitch more off-speed stuff. This produces more walks and strikeouts, but this is more desirable than the opposition clearing the bases.

Roger’s slider hits the mid-eighties and throws it 30 percent of the time. He throws it to batters on both sides of the plate. When it comes in tight, Rogers is a beast. It freezes a lot of hitters. However, there are days when he hangs his slider and surrenders… you guessed it… home runs.

Rogers throws his change-up the odd time even though he pitches it very well. He used it mostly for south paws. There was a good reason. In 2013, Rogers had more difficulty with left-handed batters (BA .294 and .480 slugging percentage).

Roger’s curveball is nothing to write home about. He uses it sparingly, about 10 percent, just to keep batters guessing.

In this writer’s opinion, Rogers is lethal as a late-game reliever strikeout-pitcher. He is also valuable as a swingman because he can pitch multiple innings. If he becomes starter in 2014, Rogers will have to learn to take on 180 or more innings. More importantly, he will have to stay ahead in the count with greater consistency, avoid his fastball in full-count situations and become a true master of his entire repertoire of pitches. This may be too much to ask. Most likely, Rogers goes north with the team, but not as a starter. That is a good thing. Better to be lethal than to suck woodpecker’s eggs.

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