MILWAUKEE -- It was merely a formality on Tuesday when the Brewers announced they had come to terms with right-handed pitcher Mark Rogers on a 2009 contract. What comes next is anything but. Five years after the Brewers made Rogers the fifth overall pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, the now-23-year-old Rogers, dogged by arm injuries throughout his brief professional career, will report to his first Major League Spring Training to prepare for a season in which he hopes to re-establish himself as a prospect. For the first time, he will be on the clock. The Brewers placed Rogers on their 40-man roster in November rather than risk losing him in December's Rule 5 Draft, so they will have to burn the first of his three Minor League options to send him to an affiliate.
"It's still a relatively long process," assistant general manager Gord Ash said. "He's still got four years here, so I don't see that as an issue." Rogers probably will not pitch in any of the Brewers' 2009 Cactus League games, Ash said. He has been throwing side sessions, and the Brewers will make a more formal determination of Rogers' Spring Training schedule after he undergoes a physical examination with team physician William Raasch on Feb. 14. "At that time, we'll know what he will and won't be permitted to do," Ash said. In an injury-free world, Rogers could have been ready for the big leagues this season at a perfect time for the Brewers, who are thin in the starting pitching department because of the free-agent departure of CC Sabathia and the likely departure of Ben Sheets. Today, the team has five viable starters but little Triple-A depth, at least in terms of pitchers with Major League experience. Barring his injuries, Rogers might even have been celebrating on the field with the Brewers last fall, when the team clinched the National League Wild Card. Rogers was drafted in 2004 one round ahead of fellow righty Yovani Gallardo, who was ticketed for the 2008 Opening Day roster before he was slowed by a knee injury. With Gallardo (23 next month), Rogers (23) and left-hander Manny Parra (26), the Brewers might have had one of baseball's best cores of young starters. Instead, Rogers has not pitched in a game since mid-2006, having missed the last two seasons entirely because of a shoulder injury. He underwent a procedure in 2007 to repair a torn labrum, then had another surgery in 2008 to remove scar tissue. "He's a smart guy, a thoughtful guy," said Ash, who believes Rogers is not immune to the frustration often brought on by injuries. "As most young guys are, he's in a hurry to make the most of his career. Through this process, I think he's learned to take it a day at a time and he's not putting any pressure on himself to make up for lost time. He understands that he should look at this year coming back as a marathon as opposed to a sprint, that he should try to make the whole year count as opposed to making up for lost time." The Brewers selected Rogers high in the '04 Draft amid some concerns that he threw across his body. Club officials worked with Rogers on new throwing mechanics in 2006 with great early success. But his shoulder started to ache in July, leading to the labrum repair the following January. He hasn't pitched since. Assuming he doesn't have any Spring Training setbacks, Rogers will probably begin the year with advanced Class A Brevard County. The Brewers prefer to send him to a warm climate instead of their new low Class A affiliate in Appleton, Wis. "Hopefully he'll get feeling good there and then move up to Double-A, and then if he's healthy we'll see if he can pitch in the [Arizona] Fall League and start to make up for lost time," Ash said. "Then, assuming he's healthy and he feels good, he would come into  Spring Training right where he would have been anyway."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.