Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Can the Brewers count on Mark Rogers next year?

Despite a disappointing season, it's not all frowns for the 2012 Milwaukee Brewers. They've had encouraging performances from many young players, namely Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Carlos Gomez. But even though those players (as well as Nori Aoki) have been pleasant surprises, the guy who had the most to overcome might be former pitching prospect Mark Rogers. A 2004 first-round pick, Rogers has had a whopping four two shoulder surgeries as well as two wrist surgeries since joining the Brewers organization. He was an afterthought coming into the season, and honestly, I thought he was done as a baseball player after the wrist surgeries and subsequent poor minor league performance in 2011. If you had told me that he would secure a major league rotation spot before Tyler Thornburg or Wily Peralta, I would have called you a filthy liar.

But I would have been wrong. Rogers pitch fairly well in AAA Nashville, and earned a promotion to the Brewers' starting rotation following the Zack Greinke trade. While his major league numbers (5.02 ERA) seem just okay after five starts, there's evidence he's been unlucky; that lofty ERA is accompanied by a .316 BABIP, 67.9 LOB %, and an inflated 15.4% HR/FB rate, leading to a 3.79 FIP and 3.32 xFIP. In short, better things may be in store. Of course, that's assuming he stays healthy.

In eight seasons in the organization, this is only the second time he's eclipsed 100 innings pitched (2010 being the other). The team has hinted at shutting him down after a couple more starts, which is not only good for his health but should give the team an opportunity to get a look at Hiram Burgos, Peralta or Thornburg in the major league rotation. It's a double-edged sword; while it keeps his workload in check, if any of the aforementioned youngsters are lights-out in his absence, it could cost him a spot in the majors next year.

Looking at what's currently in the organization, a 2013 rotation could consist of Yovani Gallardo, Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and two of the group of Rogers, Peralta, Thornburg, Chris Narveson, and perhaps Burgos. And that's assuming the team doesn't make a trade or go after a free agent or two, which would further muddy the waters. The team will likely try to contend in 2013, meaning that the likelihood of them going into next season with the above rotation is very unlikely.

It's not all bad for Rogers, however. While he hasn't been very reliable, there's reason to believe he could still push hard for a rotation spot no matter what the team does to supplement the pitching staff. Among his likely competitors, Peralta has struggled greatly with control in the minors, Thornburg might be too small to be a SP and has had trouble with the long ball, and Burgos hasn't proven himself in the majors yet. Estrada would seem to have a leg up on a rotation spot, but has pitched well in the bullpen before and may be a better fit for a relief role than Rogers. While a relief spot may seem good for Rogers in theory, less innings for him may not equate health; he's be pitching less innings, sure, but he'd likely be throwing harder more often. And the team has shown no interest whatsoever in making him a reliever. Not to mention that despite everything that's happened to him, he's still touching 97 mph with his fastball and breaking a wicked slider.

Personally, if I were running the team next year (read: I won't be) I'd give him every opportunity to win a starting rotation spot. While it's small sample size, it's hard to ignore a 31/9 K/BB ratio, which is what he's done in the majors this year. That kind of strikeout ability has a lot of value for a 4th or 5th starter, even if he's only going five or six innings a start. And if he once again can't stay healthy (I doubt he would lose a spot due to performance), the team would have options for replacing him. Can they count on him? Probably not, but because of there backup options, they don't really have to.

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