Rogers staying focused on rehab path
Former Brewers first-round pick building toward 2008 return
PHOENIX -- Mark Rogers looks around the Brewers' crowded Minor League clubhouse and sees plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
Like Mike Jones. Manny Parra. Luis Pena. All have undergone shoulder surgeries but are still trying to pitch their way to the big leagues.
"They've all come back and they all look great now," Rogers said. "That's kind of reassuring. There's a lot of positive energy around me right now."
He needs it. The Brewers' first-round pick in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft at No. 5 overall, Rogers was the first pitcher from Maine ever drafted in the first round. There were concerns about the way he threw across his body, but the Brewers believed Rogers was a good enough athlete -- he had NCAA Division I scholarship offers to play baseball, soccer and hockey -- to make the necessary adjustments.
That process started last season. Rogers worked with Minor League pitching coordinator Jim Rooney, himself a former first-round pick whose career was cut short by arm trouble.
For a while, the results were encouraging. By mid-May, Rogers was comfortable with his new, smoothed-out delivery. He notched 10 strikeouts in consecutive starts on June 8 and 15 while pitching for Class A Brevard County. He was throwing on more of a downhill plane, making use of his 6-foot-2 frame.
Brewers officials loved the way Rogers threw himself into the process.
"It's very hard for a guy with his talents, who has dominated the way that he did at the level he was at in high school to hear someone say, 'You have to do things different,'" Brewers farm director Reid Nichols said. "He could have said, 'I'm a No. 1 draft pick and I do things a certain way.' I'm not speaking for Mark, but I wouldn't be surprised if that went through his mind."
Then, in July, just as Rogers was hitting his stride, his right shoulder started to ache. He tried rehab but succumbed to surgery in early January, and it wasn't a minor fix. Rogers had a torn labrum repaired, all but scrapping any hope that he would pitch in 2007.
"I was at a real low point in my career right there," he said. "The day I had surgery, I remember waking up in excruciating pain. My arm was killing me, my head hurt. It was like a bad nightmare."
When he finally was able to lift his right arm, "it felt like a dead limb," Rogers said. He questioned whether surgery was the right route to take.
"But finally I realized it had to be done," Rogers said. "And once I stopped feeling pity for myself, things started to happen. I'm very happy where I'm at right now."
He is now 10 weeks into a difficult rehab that could stretch as long as 18 months. Jones, the team's first round pick in 2001, had the same procedure in October 2004 and said he finally felt like himself again at the start of this Spring Training.
But Rogers says his arm strength is already returning. He's beginning light weight work focused on his upper body to go with the lower body and core workouts that were already part of his routine. Rogers is betting that his body will be stronger for having gone through this process.
He has an April 10 appointment with Dr. John Conway, a Rangers team doctor who performed Rogers' surgery. If that goes well, Rogers expects to begin throwing the following week.
"There's no way to sugarcoat it, because it's tough," Rogers said. "You have to accept that."
He's living this spring with top positional prospect Ryan Braun, and the two talk a lot about hitting. He also continues to talk at length with Jones, especially about off-the-field issues related to rehab. And Rogers meets with a sports psychologist associated with the team and has become a believer in yoga and meditation.
"There are a lot of things I can do during this down time," Rogers said. "The positive of having time off is using it for other things.
"It's a process, and I understand that I'm only 10 weeks into it right now," Rogers said. "As great as I feel right now, I still have a long way to go. Just because everything I am doing right now is going really well, that doesn't mean I can slack off. I don't want to go back to Stage 1."
The toughest question, the one that there is no real answer to, is whether Rogers would have been injured had he just left his delivery alone. Rogers blocks that thought out of his mind. Nichols said nobody in the organization has any regrets.
"I honestly feel that a lot of those changes are going to help me down the road," Rogers said. "Everybody is like, 'Oh, if you didn't change your mechanics, maybe this wouldn't have happened.' But how do you know that? It happened. If I had kept my mechanics the same way, it could have been my elbow.
"We made this change to avoid a surgery, but it happened. All I can do is figure out what I need to do now to stay healthy for the duration of my career."
Standing outside the Brewers' Minor League complex, Rogers motions toward the Major League facility across the parking lot.
"The ultimate goal is always to get to the big leagues," he said. "I feel like if I reach all of my short-term goals and continue to have the success I'm having in the rehab stages once I get to the throwing stages, I see myself over there."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter forMLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.