WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of them wore braces on his teeth, a suggestion of his age and place as a baseball prospect. The other carried the expectations of a franchise, something less obvious at first glance.
Brendan Rodgers, the Rockies’ high-value minor-league middle infielder, rubbed elbows with Jose Gomez during spring training long enough to form a bond. And Rodgers is starting to see his friends churned through the business of baseball. Gomez was one of three Single-A players traded last week from Colorado to Philadelphia in a deadline week deal that netted the Rockies a much-needed relief pitcher.
Rodgers, meanwhile, stands on firm ground. The 20-year-old slugger, the second-highest draft pick in club history, is affecting the future of the Rockies from afar.
“A few of my buddies got traded,” Rodgers said by phone from Hartford, Conn., where he is excelling with the Double-A Yard Goats. “I know it’s part of the business. But with all the trade stuff going on, I try not to think about it or pay any attention on social media. Just go play hard and let it all work out.”
As the Major League Baseball trade deadline rushes toward its conclusion Monday, with the Rockies in the thick of potential deals from multiple angles, Rodgers is the nearest they have to an untouchable. He is a hallmark of Colorado’s minor-league system who continually draws interest from other clubs enamored of his ability to hit for power and average and field with a rocket arm.
As the No. 7-ranked prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America, Rodgers’ name is near others across the league who will soon affect playoff races.
One of those races involves the Rockies, who entered the weekend 13 games over .500 and firmly grasping a wild-card spot. The playoffs are a siren, a tease that can lure fringe playoff teams into jumping into mistakes. The decision to trade for an immediate run while sacrificing future stability is a delicate balance.
The Rockies, it seems, have decided Rodgers is worth the wait. But no prospect is off the table.
“I’ve only seen a couple at-bats. But he’s one of our best prospects,” Colorado manager Bud Black said. “I’ve been around long enough to know there are very few untouchables in this game. Very few, when you think about it. The Nationals have one. The Angels have one. And we have one. That’s the really hard part of a general manager’s job, assessing a player’s value, both your own and others.”
The untouchables Black hinted at are proven names: Washington right fielder Bryce Harper, Anaheim center fielder Mike Trout, Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado.
Black first saw a trade deadline unfold from the front office as a special assistant in Cleveland for four years through 1999, when the mid-market Indians were consistently pushing toward the postseason. He watched general manager John Hart and assistant GM Mark Shapiro juggle the needs of the present, trying to piece to together a playoff team, with the demands of the future, as it relates to prospects.
“I’ve been around long enough to understand,” Black said. “I’ve been around enough conversations and heard a lot of philosophical talk about that over the years. It’s given me perspective.”
He knows the Rockies could flip Rodgers for immediate help to fill some glaring holes in their run through the National League West. Colorado, despite trading for sidearm veteran reliever Pat Neshek last week, could use a multiyear arm at the back of the bullpen to buffer the possible loss of Greg Holland before next season. They could use a veteran catcher to bolster a weary battery. They could use a veteran starting pitcher to mix with a rookie-heavy rotation.
But Rodgers seems a price too high. He was hammering a 1.119 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) early this season for the Single-A Lancaster JetHawks before a jump to Double-A, ahead of schedule. In the past month, he quickly adjusted to better pitchers and lower altitudes, with an .830 OPS. He has learned to demand a hitter’s count, then know that the next pitch might not be a fastball, something less talented pitchers fall back on.
“I have a long ways to go,” Rodgers said. He will likely need about 150 more at-bats in Hartford. “The ultimate goal for me this year was to stay healthy and get to Double-A. I did one of the two. I started the year with a nagging wrist injury, but after that, I was like, I have a chance.”
Even Neshek, who joined the Rockies on Friday, can see the potential of a team that makes it difficult to destroy the future for incremental help in the near term.
“This is a really good offense, one of the best I’ve seen,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting hot at the right time and staying in the race.”
For now, it seems, the Rockies will pick away at the edges of potential acquisitions, ignoring the lure of a hefty haul at the expense of their highest-profile prospect. Whether that caution extends to 22-year-old Ryan McMahon, a Triple-A infielder tearing up pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, or 19-year-old Riley Pint, the Single-A pitcher with the 100 mph fastball, will play out soon.
And if the Rockies wait for a significant run toward the World Series, so will Rodgers.
“I’m gonna bust my butt to make it work,” he said. “Just chill out and be myself.”