By STEVE KRAH
Josh Rogers gets paid to throw a baseball now.
But the left-handed pitcher in the New York Yankees system is still following the advice of his head coach at New Albany High School.
Rogers was advised by Chris McIntyre to focus on the mental side of the game and things he can control and not to worry about those he can’t.
“It’s stuck with me,” says Rogers, who counts McIntyre as a good friend. “It’s like wanting to move up the ladder in the Yankees organization. I had been playing well in Tampa for so long.”
But Rogers knows that is the Yankees’ call.
After going 4-3 in eight starts with a 2.22 earned run average, 51 strikeouts and eight walks in 52 2/3 innings with the High Class-A Tampa Yankees (recently renamed the Tarpons), the southpaw starter did get the call in late May of 2017 to advance to the Double-A Trenton Thunder.
Before a bone spur ended his season on June 28, Rogers went 4-2 in seven starts with a 4.62 ERA, 29 K’s and eight walks in 39 innings.
“It’s been a long off-season for me,” says Rogers, who has been working out at the Katy Hearn Gym in New Albany and resumed throwing about three weeks ago in preparation for a Jan. 12 arrival at spring camp in Tampa. “I’m definitely going early. I’m comfortable with the Yankees staff. I hope to get an invite to big league camp this year.”
As a youngster, Rogers played in the New Albany Little League. Prior to his days at New Albany High School, his team came within one win of going to the Little league World Series in Williamsport, Pa., losing in the finals of the 2007 Great Lakes Regional.
For the next three summers, he played for the Indiana Prospects elite travel ball organization.
As a New Albany High Bulldog, he went 24-2 with a 1.07 ERA and 259 strikeouts.
He had already chosen the University of Louisville over Vanderbilt University prior to his senior season, which wound up lasting only a few innings in the first game of the season.
Rogers felt a twinge in his left elbow.
“I knew something wasn’t right,” says Rogers, who wound up having Tommy John reconstructive surgery. He graduated from New Albany June 2 and enrolled in summer school at Louisville the next day. He worked out twice a day and rehabbed his arm.
“It was a real grind,” says Rogers. “But it paid off. I came back sooner than we expected.”
The 6-foot-3 lefty was able to pitch for the Cardinals about a month into the 2014 season. He made 14 mound appearances (nine starts) and went 3-3 with a 3.63 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 12 walks in 52 innings.
Rogers then spent the first of two straight summers with the Bourne Braves in the Cape Cod League.
“That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing baseball,” says Rogers, who was a combined 4-1 in nine starts with a 3.60 ERA, 27 strikeouts and 18 walks in 45 1/3 innings in 2014 and 2015. “The best players in college baseball are all in that league.”
Rogers earned second-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference honors and his second all-Louisville Regional selection in 2015, going 8-1 in 16 starts with a 3.36 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 25 walks in 93 2/3 innings.
At the Louisville, Rogers played for head coach Dan McDonnell and pitching coach Roger Williams.
Rogers credits McDonnell for his leadership and getting him ready for the challenge of pro baseball.
“It’s impressive the way he lives his life,” says Rogers of McDonnell. “He takes advantage of every single minute to make people better.
“When you go to the University of Louisville, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not an easy journey. You’ve got to earn that playing time.
“You also learn how to eat right, work out right and sleep right. These are things that have gone a long way into helping me with my career to this point.”
Rogers retired many a high school hitter with his breaking ball. In college, Williams convinced him that was not the way to go at higher levels.
“He’s the No. 1 reason I chose the University of Louisville,” says Rogers of Williams. “Hitters were at such a disadvantage when I threw a curve in high school. I thought that would carry over to college or professional baseball. (Williams taught me) a well-located fastball is the best pitch in baseball. Coach Williams really taught me how to pitch.”
Being draft-eligible after his sophomore season, the lefty was selected in the 11th round of the 2015 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Yankees and signed with area scout Mike Gibbons.
Rogers split the 2015 season with the short-season Staten Island Yankees and Low Class-A Charlestown (S.C.) RiverDogs then 2016 with Charleston and Tampa. In those first two pro seasons, he went 14-6 in 29 appearances (24 starts) with a 2.71 ERA, 131 strikeouts and 25 walks in 139 2/3 innings.
Josh (23) is he oldest child in a family of five. Bobby and Eldora also have Haley (21) and Chase (12). The family was able to watch Josh pitch in-person plenty when he was at Louisville and they have gotten to see him a few times in each of his pro seasons.
Rogers is 38 credits shy of a sport administration degree at Louisville.
“I promised my parents and Coach Mac that I will get my degree,” says Rogers. “I’ll keep chipping away at it.”
Throwing from a high three-quarter arm slot, Rogers looks to command his pitch selection of fastball (thrown as a four- or two-seamer or cutter), slider and change-up. When he was moved up to Double-A, he was convinced to throw the fastball even more frequently — maybe 65 percent of the time.
Rogers spent many an hour in the bullpen with Tampa pitching coach Tim Norton learning to develop the change-up and making mechanical delivery tweaks. The two also battled it out on the golf course.
“It’s a pretty cool relationship,” says Rogers. “You don’t call them ‘Coach’ in pro ball, just their name.”
While the Yankees certainly take an interest in the development of a player, he knows the responsibility ultimately lies with that player.
“It’s your career,” says Rogers. “If you’re not ready and slacking, it’s up to you.
“The Yankees do a lot of job of giving people equal opportunity. It just may take longer to someone that is a higher draft pick that they’ve given more money to.
If you control what you can control and focus on helping your team win every time out, the chips will fall where they’re supposed to.”
Josh Rogers, a 2013 New Albany High School graduate who pitched two seasons at the University of Louisville and was drafted in 2015 by the New York Yankees, delivers a pitch in 2017 for the Double-A Trenton Thunder. (Trenton Thunder Photo)