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Brendan Rodgers could be at the doorstep of stardom

His campaign was bookended by two brutal slumps, but Rodgers was the best player on the team for most of 2022

Welcome to the 2022 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2022. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

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No. 1, Brendan Rodgers: 4.3 rWAR

When you get to pick a player with the third-overall pick in the MLB Draft and give him a large signing bonus, you’re going to have lofty expectations for him. Ideally, players so skilled would develop into franchise cornerstones who can be called “best player on the team” at least a few times. Brendan Rodgers has had those expectations placed upon him for a long time and in 2022, his age-25 season, he has delivered upon his promise. After being a solid everyday player in 2021, Rodgers was the best player on the team for large portions of his first relatively full season, leading the Rockies in rWAR thanks to exceptional glove work at second base and solid hitting.

It wasn’t a simple season for the second baseman, however. Rodgers began the season on a brutal 4-for-51 April slump, with no homers and 16 strikeouts. But as soon as the calendar turned to May, he caught fire, hitting .347 that month and .300/.347/.459 for a very good 111 wRC+ (100 is average, higher is better) from May through August overall. Rodgers had quite a few memorable moments, with his three-homer game that included a walk-off in extras against the Marlins on June 1st right at the top of the list.

He then slumped badly in September, hitting just .183 (possibly affected by hamstring issues that landed him on the IL) and bringing his batting line for the season to a relatively modest .266/.325/.408, adding up to a 92 wRC+. Removing his April slump, however, Rodgers hit a much better .286/.342/.441 (106 wRC+) in 2022 and showed some improvements in key areas. He chased less balls out of the zone, walked more, struck out less, and routinely hit the ball hard: 45.9% of his batted ball events were hit at 95+ MPH, second-best on the Rockies among regulars.

Rodgers’ issues with the bat were the same ones he’s had in previous years so far in the big leagues: too many ground balls and not enough fly balls being pulled in the air. It’s one thing to hit a ton of grounders, but if you’re not doing damage on the few fly balls you hit, you’re going to be in trouble. When Rodgers hit a ball at a launch angle of 25º or higher last season, this is where they went:

That tendency to hit the ball the other way in the air is part of the reason why he hit a relatively unimpressive 13 home runs despite hitting the ball as hard as anybody on the team. Rodgers himself has acknowledged these things in interviews, of course, and I’d expect them to be an area of focus moving forward. The organization recently hired Hensley ‘Bam-Bam’ Meulens as hitting coach, who just last season served as assistant hitting coach for a Yankees team that was second-best in the majors at generating pulled fly balls. The Rockies as a team were 25th.

However, the bat is not the true story of Brendan Rodgers’ 2022 season. The amount of value he provided resided mainly in his glove at the keystone, which netted him his first career Gold Glove award.

Previously considered a relatively average fielder, Rodgers improved drastically this season, with every measurement from the advanced data to the eye test agreeing that he’s now an elite defender at second. He led all qualified second basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating (8.0) and Defensive Runs Saved (22) and was generally a lock for at least one spectacular play seemingly every other day, showcasing fantastic range and actions and being particularly great at charging slow grounders.

This new-found Gold Glove-caliber defense at second base gives Rodgers a steady baseline as a major leaguer. He could be a productive everyday starter even if he was just a league-average hitter, but there’s a lot more hitting ability locked within him than just average. Rodgers has good hand-eye coordination and plate coverage, plus raw power, and electric bat and hand speed, giving him a dangerous hit-and-power outlook. His swing decisions also improved last season, so the remaining piece of the puzzle is the batted ball profile. If he manages to lift and pull the ball a bit more, we’re looking at an All-Star caliber player who could hit for power and average, paired with great defense up the middle.

Players with those skills don’t grow on trees, and there’s a reason Rodgers was drafted so high and was a top 25 prospect in baseball for years. Injuries, the 2020 pandemic and inconsistent playing time slowed him down for a while, but he’s still only 26 years old. Brendan Rodgers is a good player right now, and was the most productive Rockie in 2022. But this is not his ceiling, and he has the tools to be great. I’m looking forward to seeing him continue to develop.

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