There’s not much in the baseball world that Jason Rogers hasn’t done. From playing on two MLB teams, touring the minor leagues in the U.S., and taking his talents overseas to Japan and Mexico, Rogers’ 13-year career has had it all.
One thing he had not done yet is coach. That was until this season, when Rogers joined the coaching staff of the Lincoln Saltdogs. He initially signed on with the club in the role of player-coach. Rogers, however will not play for the Saltdogs this summer, due to personal reasons, but he remains on the coaching staff.
Rogers only briefly had previous coaching experience, as a trainer at a baseball facility in 2020 after the pandemic canceled the minor league baseball season. As he grew older and he saw the end of his playing career on the horizon, the Saltdogs’ offer as a player-coach became a great opportunity for him to transition into a coaching role full-time.
Rogers’ well-traveled experience in baseball helped him land the job, as he was recommended for the position by Saltdogs manager Brett Jodie, who knew Rogers from managing against him in the independent Atlantic League.
Jodie selected Rogers in the 2020 Atlantic League supplemental draft after Rogers’ previous team, the New Britain Bees folded. After the season was canceled, Rogers did not get the chance to play for Jodie. Meanwhile, the pandemic forced Jodie to look for a new job in baseball who turned out to be the Lincoln Saltdogs. When Rogers became a free agent after 2021, Jodie wasted no time calling him up, and asked him to join the staff in Lincoln.
“He’s really educated and knows the game,” Jodie said. “He’s been there and done that. He’s willing to take the time and share that knowledge.”
Rogers certainly has been there and done that in the baseball world. His career started at Columbus State University in Georgia, a Division II baseball program. While there had been successful players and teams before Rogers, no former player had made it to the MLB. In his one season at Columbus State, Rogers looked set to change that. He tied the program’s single-season home run record with 26, and led the team to the conference championship.
That successful season was noticed by professional scouts, and he was selected in the 32nd round of the draft by the Milwaukee Brewers. After three years of working his way through the minors, Rogers finally was called to the big leagues in late 2013 after he was named the Brewers’ minor league player of the year.
He appeared in 94 games for the Brewers, and cited his career highlight as the go-ahead ninth-inning grand slam he hit in 2015 against the St. Louis Cardinals.
However, the Brewers traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2016, who were interested in Rogers after he performed well against them in 2015. He hit .529 in 10 games against the Pirates. Ultimately, the fit wasn’t right in Pittsburgh, leading Rogers to search for new opportunities.
He found one with the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball, the top league in Japan.
“I played in front of the most fans I ever played in front of in my life, 73,000 I believe,” Rogers said. “The culture over there is very different, practice everyday is game-like, the language barrier was difficult, it’s a little bit of a step below Major League Baseball, but it’s good baseball.”
After his time in Japan, Rogers found the independent baseball circuit, where he has remained since save for a brief two-week stint in the Mexican Professional League. While it was unlikely to get him back up to the big leagues, the quality is on par with AA and AAA minor leagues according to Rogers, and this was a chance to still have fun playing the game professionally.
Rogers said that he tells his players to take advantage of any opportunities you can to play baseball is something Rogers hopes to instill in his players in his new coaching role. His experience from 13 years in professional baseball has blessed him with an abundance of knowledge to help guide the younger players.
“I want to help them out and make them the best players they can be on and off the field,” Rogers said. “I know the team’s gonna be a little young so I want to give back. Maybe get them to affiliate ball and hopefully up to the big leagues.”
In addition to helping the players reach their ultimate goal of playing in the big leagues, the Saltdogs are helping Rogers get a start on his coaching career, something the league has been doing with the player-coach program.
Rogers said his goal is to become a hitting coach, and maybe a manager somewhere down the line at the collegiate and professional level.
Giving former players these types of opportunities are paramount to the foundation of independent minor league baseball.
“If they’re experienced enough, like in the case with Jason, his next change will be going to coaching or managing,” Saltdogs general manager Charlie Meyer said. “We give those guys experience to see if this is something they really want to do down the road.”
Meyer specifically cited Rogers’ experience at multiple levels of professional baseball as what makes him a good fit for the coaching role. He heard from Jodie that it was a “no-brainer” to bring him aboard, Meyer said he knew that this would be a great opportunity to better the team and start the next chapter of Rogers’ career.
Having coaches with the experience and expertise of Rogers has also helped improve independent baseball’s reputation, and give younger players more hope that this could be a path to one day make the big leagues.
Going from independent ball to the majors is not unheard of. David Peralta, the Gold Glove award winning outfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks, played for three different American Association teams. Tyler Matzek, the Atlanta Braves’ World Series champion pitcher, had two separate stints in the American Association as well. Independent baseball breeds success stories because of the unique culture of the sport.
“That’s what helps, especially when you had a guy that’s played in the big leagues and played independent ball, you get it,” Jodie said. “Everybody’s rooting for each other, everybody’s trying to help each other out because we’re all in this together, and that’s unique and fun.”
Rogers’ experiences already as the clubhouse veteran in independent ball have prepared him well for this coaching role. With the leagues structured around helping others reach their full potential, Rogers has been helping his teammates out on the independent circuit for years.
This has made the transition to coaching easier, as overall not much has changed from his last few years in independent ball, other than now he shows up to the field earlier.
Rogers said his goal with the Saltdogs is to win a championship and help the players reach their potential. He harkens back to the coaches he had when he ascended through the Brewers farm system, and hopes he can be that for the younger players.
While he works with the players on their swings and hitting, the mental approach of the game is something Rogers said he really hopes to instill, as that’s something he was not prepared for when he entered minor league baseball.
“Your opportunities are limited, so try to take advantage of them,” Rogers said. “Because your friends aren’t gonna be there anymore as you move up levels. Don’t take the day for granted, and play as much baseball as you can, because one day it’s gonna be gone.”