When a 23-year-old pitcher excels in the Florida State League in his sixth professional season, it usually isn’t anything to get excited about. Mark Rogers is an exception. The Brewers right-hander was back on the mound this summer after missing two full seasons due to injury, and he did more than just prove that he was healthy enough to pitch-he once again flashed a fastball that flirted with triple digits. Selected fifth overall in the 2004 draft, out of a Topsham, Maine high school, Rogers once ranked alongside Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Yovani Gallardo as Milwaukee’s top prospects, and with his surgically-repaired shoulder seemingly back to 100 percent, he now appears back on track to join them in Miller Park. Rogers talked about his long journey back, and his desire to reward the Brewers for their faith in him, at the conclusion of the Arizona Fall League season.
David Laurila: You’re 23 years old. Given all you’ve been through, do you feel older than that?
Mark Rogers: Absolutely. One thing I can say about the rehab process, and this might sound a little crazy, is that you gain a lot of experience. You end being around a lot of players who have been in the game a long time. An example of that is Chris Capuano. Mike Cameron was down there with us, as was Bill Hall. Those are guys who have been around the game for awhile, and it gives you…I took advantage of my time and tried to use it wisely. Even though you’re in a rehab state of mind, you still learn a lot about the game, and I was fortunate enough to be able to pick those guys’ brains. I feel that I learned a lot from them, especially Capuano. With his experience, and the type of person he is, he was able to give me a lot of advice. There’s even the guys who haven’t been in the big leagues, like Mike Jones, who has gone through a lot of stuff, with his shoulder surgery and his elbow surgery. Getting advice from guys like that has helped me out with where I’m at today.
DL: Having missed two full seasons, what did game action feel like for you? Did the mound feel at all unfamiliar, or was it just like riding a bicycle?
MR: You know what? Part of it was like riding a bike-the physical part of it, mechanically. We worked really hard my first couple years to iron out my mechanics, so that came back rather quickly. But, my first game, I’ll always remember: We were in Daytona and it was the second game of the Florida State League, so there was a good crowd. It was the first game in Daytona, and I had the jitters again. Do you know what I mean? Maybe jitters isn’t the right word, but that nervousness came back again. It was exciting. It was really, really exciting to be back out there. With all that time off, getting back into a professional game again, that nervous feeling and excitement all came back again. It reminded me of how hard I had to work to get to that point and how I was extremely appreciative that the rehab process had gone as well as it had. I was able to be back pitching in competitive baseball again, at a professional level, and I felt very fortunate.
DL: A year ago at this time there was a question of whether you’d be put on the 40-man roster or left susceptible to being taken in the Rule 5 draft. Were you surprised that you were protected?
MR: I didn’t have any doubt in myself, because my rehab process at that time had really taken off. I had responded great to the operation, and my bullpens, and everything…my arm strength, was starting to come back, so I was very optimistic with the opportunity. But, looking at it realistically, I had missed two years, and other teams hadn’t seen me in a little while, so of course I was nervous about not being put on the roster. I just can’t thank Milwaukee enough for the amount of time they’ve put into me, and the amount of faith they’ve had in me. I feel that they’ve given me a second chance, so I’m trying to do everything I can, and working as hard as I can, to reach the major league level and help our major league club. Obviously, for everybody who plays in the minor leagues, that’s their goal, but I’m really looking forward to going to camp this year. I owe Milwaukee a lot of gratitude for the time they’ve put into me, and the chances they’ve given me.
DL: Who are the coaches that have helped you the most over the past couple of years?
MR: I think that throughout the process there have really been three main guys. First and foremost, our physical therapist is awesome. His name is Kenny Patterson, and he’s rehabbed a lot of guys, but he really put in a lot of one-on-one time with me. He was there to do a lot of extra work with me. He’d be there at 6 a.m. when I showed up, and he’d work just as hard as I did, throughout the entire two years, and that takes a special kind of person to go out there every day and see the struggles. I mean, there are ups and downs, and he really, really impacted me in both my life and in my baseball life. He made me realize a lot about the professional game and he brought me back to this level, as far as rehab went. As far as pitching coaches go, there have been two who have really helped me. Steve Cline helped me throughout the entire rehab process, and then there is Fred Dabney. Steve Cline was with me every day during the rehab process. We’d go out there and throw, and he’d be right beside me, advising me throughout the whole process. And that’s tough to do, I think, as a pitching coach, working with guys in my situation who are used to throwing hard and feeling good, and then you get up there your first time back, and playing toss a little bit, and as hard as it is to throw physically, mentally it’s just as difficult. His experience there was awesome for me, and exactly what I needed. He got me back to my arm slot, and to repeating it. Then, Fred Dabney, throughout this year, kept me in that arm slot with clean mechanics. They got me to the point I’m at right now, where I feel I can go into camp this coming spring and hopefully get some people to pay attention.
DL: You worked out of the bullpen this season. Is your future in the pen or the starting rotation?
MR: I’ll definitely be a starter again next year. The [Arizona] Fall League was to get some experience before next year started, and to try to get a little ahead of the game going into big league camp this spring. Hopefully I’ll be at the next level next year, and I think it’s helped me a lot.
DL: Reports have your velocity back at 98 mph. Are those accurate?
MR: Yeah, that’s right. I’m very fortunate to have my arm strength back. It’s been a lot of work and a long process, but when you get back on the mound, it’s all worth it.
DL: How important is velocity to your game?
MR: I think that velocity is important to a certain degree, but when I really pitch my best is when I’m able to throw my secondary pitches for strikes, and locate my fastball, no matter how hard it is. It’s always nice to be able to put a little extra on it, and put a guy away, or make a big pitch, and having your velocity back is definitely great for your confidence and maybe getting away with a little more, but it’s not my go-to. But it is nice to have.
DL: Do you throw a four-seamer or a two-seamer?
MR: I throw a four-seamer and a two-seamer, but mostly a four-seamer.
DL: What is your best secondary pitch right now?
MR: My slider. My slider is probably my best secondary pitch, and out here I’ve been working a lot on throwing more changeups and incorporating that more into my regimen. Being a starter, you really need to have three or four pitches to keep people honest, pitching six or seven innings. So, I’ve been trying to execute all four of my pitches; I throw a curveball as well. Just being able to throw them all for strikes is very important.
DL: You’re getting an opportunity to throw to Jonathan Lucroy, arguably the best young catcher in the organization, in the Arizona Fall League. Can you give a brief scouting report on him?
MR: He’s an awesome catcher. I’ll tell you what-we’re in a great situation in Milwaukee, being able to throw to a guy like Jon. He shows up every day, he calls a good game, and you know that he’s going to do everything he can to block every pitch. And he’s great at throwing guys out. If you give him a chance, he’s going to throw the guy out, which helps you, because you’re not so worried about that runner at first base. When you know that your catcher has a really quick release, and that he controls the running game very well, it helps us as pitchers because we’re able to attack the hitter, execute our pitches, and not worry about the runners that are on base.
DL: When Lucroy, or another of your catchers, puts down fingers for a pitch, do you automatically go with what they call?
MR: Throughout the year, I think you build a confidence, and get a game plan with your catcher, so the shaking off of pitches kind of goes away. And the more I work with Luc, the more on the same page we are. The more you get to throw to the same catcher, the better off you are, and with him, he really takes the time to study the hitters. He also remembers which pitches were thrown. I’m confident that when he puts them down, that he’s seen something, so a lot of times you’re going to go with it, because he believes in it. That makes you believe in it as well, but if I really feel that I don’t have the pitch to put a guy away with, that is working well at that time, then I’ll shake him off. But most of the time, we’re on cue with each other as far as what is working that day, and what the hitter’s approach is.
DL: Any final thoughts?
MR: No, that pretty much covers the last couple years of my life. It’s been a whole lot of rehab, with a lot of great people helping me through that process. Now I’m hoping to pitch myself onto the big league team and reward them for all the time they’ve put into me. That’s about it, really.