Mark Rogers Is An Unlikely No. 1
Back in November, Brett Lawrie was the Brewers' No. 1 prospect. Then he got traded to the Blue Jays during the Winter Meetings, for big league righthander Shawn Marcum.
That left righthanders Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress as the next two prospects in the Brewers' countdown. Gone and gone to the Royals in the Zack Greinke trade.
All three players had attributes that made sense atop a prospect list: Lawrie with a hot bat, Odorizzi's athleticism and four-pitch mix and Jeffress with a fastball that touched 101 mph in the Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars game.
"We traded some pretty good players," righthander Mark Rogers said. "I was watching that game when Jeffress threw 101; that was a two-seamer at 101 with sick movement. It was pretty unhittable. I had no problem being ranked behind those guys."
He no longer is. Rogers became the Brewers' No. 1 prospect—more than six years after being a first-round pick, more than four years from the first, most significant surgery on his throwing shoulder. Trainers like to say that players have surgery only when they can't play anymore. Rogers had two—one to repair a torn labrum, the other to remove scar tissue. He couldn't play anymore twice, as after the first surgery his velocity didn't come back.
After the second surgery, though, Rogers returned to training the way he had since he first remembers throwing. He threw, he threw, and then he threw some more.
A Maine native, Rogers awed scouts as an amateur with his multi-sport athletic ability (he played soccer and hockey as well as most preps in New England) and his sheer arm strength. Despite Maine's less than friendly baseball climate, Rogers always found time to throw growing up, because he and his relatives loved it.
"I was so fortunate," he said. "My dad was amazing. Whenever I wanted to go throw, he'd always take me down to the high school or college field and we'd throw. He had a strong arm, and some of my uncles played and they all had good arms. They always told me the way to strengthen your arm is by throwing, and it just makes sense."
Tossing His Way To Majors
Rogers also incorporated long-toss into his throwing program, which already had helped him throw 94-96 mph in the summer before his senior season of high school. He stunned scouts in the Northeast when he came out of the gate throwing 98 mph the following March. Three months later, the Brewers drafted him fifth overall, three spots behind Tigers ace Justin Verlander, and ahead of fellow prep pitchers and current big leaguers such as Homer Bailey and Phil Hughes.
Within two years, Rogers had shown flashes of prodigious talent mixed with just two pro victories. He says he was throwing well early in 2006 when his arm began hurting. He still doesn't know exactly when or how his shoulder got hurt, and he won't assign blame. He will admit, rather grudgingly, "I was on a shorter-distance throwing program when I got hurt."
When he came back in 2008, Rogers says the Brewers were more open-minded toward his long-toss program. He credited organization pitching coordinator Lee Tunnell for working with him and helping him through his rehabilitation process, as well as Steve Cline, who helped refine Rogers' mechanics as he worked his way back.
"It took awhile, but I finally got back to feeling natural while pitching, just being athletic and letting it go with all I've got," Rogers said. "I was confident I would get back to that point, but there were times when that wavered.
"I just had to stick to my program and listen to my arm and do what was best for my arm. Pitchers have to do that. Long-toss isn't for everyone, and not everyone can go out to 350 feet. Everyone has to find your own distance, but I know it's not 120 feet for me."
Rogers' long road to recovery led him to the major leagues in September 2010, experience that has driven him all offseason. He soaked in all he could from Trevor Hoffman and other Brewers veterans, and will compete for the fifth spot in the suddenly potent Brewers rotation, behind Greinke, Marcum, fellow 2004 Milwaukee draftee Yovani Gallardo and veteran Randy Wolf. Lefty Chris Narveson is his main competitor for the fifth spot.
Rogers, 25, had to wait to make his mark. He seems ready to explode at the chance to finally contribute in Milwaukee.
"I can't wait to compete in the spring and be part of our team," Rogers said. "There's definitely a buzz around our team with the moves we've made, and we have a tremendous clubhouse with guys like (Ryan) Braun, Rickie (Weeks), Corey Hart . . . everyone's pulling for each other and everyone is excited."