With what right-hander Mark Rogers had been through, a little shoulder stiffness in camp wasn't going to deter him.
The 2004 first-round Draft pick has been through two shoulder surgeries, missed two full seasons and faced countless doubts about whether he'd fulfill his big league dreams. And despite the fact that he hasn't pitched in a Cactus League game yet due to tightness in his shoulder, the Brewers' No. 1 prospect is determined to be ready should the club need him to begin the year in the rotation, with ace Zack Greinke out of action with a fractured rib.
"There's the feeling when you first get drafted -- you feel better than you've ever felt before in your life. You get that golden opportunity," Rogers said. "Then, I went through [those] two years when I couldn't throw. When somebody takes something away from you you've done your entire life, it was really difficult for me. There were some times that I was [thinking], 'I don't know if I'm going to get back to that.' Playing catch was a process for myself for a little while.
"I got to the point where it started feeling better and better. I'm fortunate enough now where I don't think about it anymore. I'm back to where I feel comfortable and confident again. It was a long road back."
"It was extremely satisfying," Rogers said. "It was more rewarding now than if it was before any of this had happened, obviously."
It certainly left him thirsting for more. The acquisitions of Greinke and Shaun Marcum made the rotation more crowded, but that wasn't something that was going to discourage Rogers. Now, with Greinke's injury, there appears to be a more obvious opening, however temporary, for the 25-year-old.
"There was a time when I wasn't sure where I was going to be in 2011," said Rogers, who barring any setbacks ,should be ready to fill in for the Brewers in April. "Just to have the opportunity to make what's going to be a very good team out of Spring Training this year is a great chance for me. Whether I go back to Triple-A and have a chance to maybe help [Milwaukee] somewhere down the road would be really rewarding, because I think we're going to be in it for a long time."
And Rogers thinks he will be, too -- something he wasn't always 100 percent sure of. He always knew he had what it took, but admitted there were moments of doubt about getting the opportunity to prove it.
"I always believed I could get here," Rogers said. "If I didn't, I don't think I'd be here. I always believed I could get here, but there were some times where you really questioned it. There were some real low lows, but here I am."
Brewers' Top 10 Prospects
1. Rogers, RHP: He's got a shot of at least a temporary spot in the rotation with the injury to Greinke -- if he can get past his shoulder stiffness.
2. Wily Peralta, RHP: The 21-year-old right-hander built on his Midwest League All-Star season in 2009 by pitching at two levels last year. He threw a career-high 147 1/3 innings and held his own when he moved up to Double-A. He has three pitches and just needs to refine his command a little He could be ready to help soon.
3. Kyle Heckathorn, RHP: MLB.com's choice for Brewers Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2010, Heckathorn pitched at two levels and led the system with a 2.98 ERA. His sinker generates a lot of ground balls, though he didn't miss a ton of bats. His breaking ball and changeup have a chance, and they'll need to continue to improve if he wants to be a starter. He'll keep working on his craft, likely beginning the year back with Class A Brevard County.
4. Scooter Gennett, 2B: The Brewers took Gannett in the 16th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, then signed him away from Florida State. He seemed more than worth it, as Gennett spent all year with full-season Class A Wisconsin and hit .309 with surprising power (.463 slugging percentage). He's a smart player who plays all-out, sort of what you expect from a guy named Scooter. Now a second baseman, he'll continue to improve at that position and should be fine there as he moves up to the Florida State League in 2011.
WHEN WILL THEY ARRIVE?
6. Eric Farris, 2B: The speedy second baseman was slowed in 2010 by a knee injury that cost him two months and some of his explosiveness. He seemed to be closer to the guy who stole 70 bases in '09, when he went to the Arizona Fall League, hit .351 and was 9-for-9 in steal attempts. He doesn't have power but will do things like bunt to get on base, and his defense at second is outstanding. Blocked by Rickie Weeks, he'll likely return to Triple-A to wait for a chance.
7. Cody Scarpetta, RHP: The 11th-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft turned in his second consecutive solid full season, finishing second in the system in strikeouts. He has fanned 10.4 per nine innings throughout his career, a testament of his outstanding stuff: a good fastball, a plus curve and a decent changeup. The only thing eluding Scarpetta has been consistent command, and he'll continue to work on that as he moves up to Double-A.
8. Kentrail Davis, OF: The 2009 sandwich pick had to take a step back to take a big step forward in 2010. He got demoted from Brevard County down to Wisconsin but began to figure things out there, hitting .335 with a .421 on-base percentage and .518 slugging percentage in 64 games at the lower level. He can hit for average and get on base. How much power he develops might determine just how good of a prospect he is, especially playing an outfield corner. He might get another shot at conquering the Florida State League to begin 2011.
9. Tyler Thornburg, RHP: The 2010 third-rounder out of Charleston Southern was hampered in his summer debut by a minor injury, though he did show that Pioneer League hitters were no match for him (.179 average against; 38 K's in 23 1/3 innings). He has a good fastball and outstanding curve. If his changeup and command can improve, he could prove wrong those who think his size means he's better suited for the bullpen and be a starter long term. He'll serve in that role for his first full season.
10. Jimmy Nelson, RHP: At his best, the 2010 second-round pick features a heavy fastball (he had a 3.00 groundout-flyout ratio in his brief pro debut last summer) and a good slider. He has a changeup, but it needs work to catch up to the other two pitches. He's big and durable and could be a workhorse in the middle or back of a rotation. If the third pitch doesn't come, he could have a future as a short reliever with his other two offerings. Either way, he could be the type to move fairly quickly, starting with a full-season assignment in 2011.
Under the Radar
Erik Komatsu, OF: After a strong summer debut back in 2008, the eighth-rounder out of Cal State-Fullerton played in just 26 games in '09 because of injuries. He bounced back last year, leading the system with his .323 average and finishing third with 28 steals. He draws a ton of walks (.413 OBP last year) and could profile as a leadoff-type down the road. After an All-Star turn in the Florida State League last year, he'll try to make the jump to Double-A this season.
Dan Merklinger, LHP: Normally a guy who leads your organization in strikeouts and finishes seventh in ERA gets more attention. Granted, Merklinger was taken back in 2007 in the sixth round and he'd never thrown over 100 innings in a season before last year. But the southpaw tossed 143 innings last year, mostly with Brevard County, and now has a career 9.5 K/9 ratio. At 25, he'll have to show he can succeed at a higher level, something he'll get the chance to do in '11.
Hitter of the Year -- Gennett
He'll continue to live up to his name, playing hard while leading the organization in batting average and continuing to show surprising extra-base pop.
Pitcher of the Year -- Nelson
Heckathorn could walk away with his second straight award, but here's a hunch that things will click for Nelson, as he'll earn a promotion while topping the system in ERA.