After years of playing baseball from coast to coast, Brady Rodgers is closer than ever to home.
The 6-foot-2 right-hander opened the 2014 season with the Corpus Christi Hooks, the Double-A affiliate of the Houston Astros. On Tuesday, he also got to travel with the team for the Futures Game at Minute Maid Park, a “home” game for the Hooks against the San Antonio Missions.
“Corpus is nice,” Rodgers said. “It’s a good, decent crowd and one of the nicest minor league ballparks in all of baseball. It’s nice to play so close to home. That’s what makes it more enjoyable. I’ve had a few friends from back home come to games. That always makes it more fun.”
Rodgers won’t make the waves that fellow pitching prospect Mike Foltynewicz will. Foltynewicz features an upper 90’s fastball and a wipeout slider.
On the other hand, Rodgers’ repertoire fits what the Astros are doing very nicely. He’s got a low 90’s two-seam fastball that generates plenty of ground balls along with a nice breaking pitch and a developing changeup.
Heading into the season, Rodgers already had brief stints at Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was a pretty developed prospect after being drafted out of Arizona State in the third round of the 2012 draft.
All he needed to do this season was refine his approach and develop some more consistency. That may be why, though his numbers haven’t been bad, he’s disappointed in how he’s performed in 2014.
“Personally, I’m always hard on myself,” Rodgers said. “I don’t think I’m doing what I’m capable of doing. The best is yet to come. If I keep trying to be myself, sooner or later, the tide will turn. All I can do is keep playing hard and hope things roll right.”
In 58 innings with the Hooks this season, Rodgers has a 4.45 ERA with 40 strikeouts and just eight walks. His strikeout rate (16 percent) is the lowest of his minor league career, after living above 20 percent at his last three levels. The walk rate, though, is the lowest of any qualified pitcher in the Texas League.
Rodgers is still about a year and a half younger than the rest of the Texas League and he’s struggled at times with the competition level. Some of that comes from him learning how to develop more of his control.
“I throw a bunch of strikes with all my pitches,” Rodgers said. “This year, I’ve been throwing a lot of strikes, but they haven’t been good strikes. They’ve been more on the white (part of the plate) and not enough on the black. I need to start making more quality pitches.”
One of the biggest adjustments Rodgers needs to make this season is just staying healthy. According to Hooks manager Keith Bodie, Rodgers has been nagged by little injuries recently.
“Brady Rodgers has had a tough time,” Bodie said. “We have to get him on the field more. He’s missed quite a bit of time due to various injuries not regarding his arm.
“He’s a four-pitch pitcher. The quality of his stuff is there. He’s got the stuff to be a starter in the big leagues. We just have to get him back on track.”
Playing at Minute Maid Park has its perks and gives Rodgers and his teammates a taste of the big leagues. Rodgers’ former high school teammate Randal Grichuk knows first-hand about the big league experience.
Rodgers has been Grichuk closely this season and called the St. Louis outfielder shortly after Grichuk hit his first career home run in the majors.
“I talk to him very frequently,” Rodgers said. “He hit his first home run the other day and I was stoked for him. Hopefully, that’s the start of a great career for him. Hopefully, I’ll be playing against him shortly.
“I asked him, ‘How is it?’ He told me, ‘I can’t even describe it. It’s something you have to experience.’ He said you can’t experience it through what someone else says. You have to do it for yourself. It’s going to help push me to get where he’s at. It’s hard to get there, but it’s even harder to stay there. So, that’s what I’m working for.”