It is so frustrating when top prospects fall apart. Prospects have become such a valuable commodity in baseball these days, and it has become increasingly rare to see highly-regarded ones get dealt. When they fail, however, that is when teams have to start doubting that strategy. The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim could have gotten a star in exchange for Brandon Wood if they had traded him in 2006, 2007, or 2008. Instead, they held onto him and watched his career go nowhere. The thing about top prospects, though, is that even once they are marked as disappointments, they always get another chance. Some other organization always see their potential and a thing or two that they might be able to fix. As important as anything else, those teams have nothing to lose handing out a minor league deal to a player who once had so much promise.
The group of players where teams may have the best chance of success may be the failed starting pitching prospects. While position player prospects who can’t hit are incapable of providing value to a team, starting pitching prospects still have a failsafe: the bullpen. When you are dealing with a starting pitching prospect who never had a chance to go into relief full-time, you never know what can happen when you put him in for shorter stints. The Rays found success with Alex Torres and Wade Davis in that role and used them as key trade chips following huge years from each. The odds of Mark Rogers finding a similar resurgence are very low, but the Rays have nothing to lose giving him a chance.
By 2012, Mark Rogers was already considered a bust. The former fifth overall pick was 26, had endured surgeries on his shoulder and wrist, and was struggling mightily when he was on the mound. Then something crazy happened: the Milwaukee Brewers put him in their rotation, and showed flashes of being the pitcher they thought he would be all along. In 7 starts at the end of 2012, Rogers went 3-1 with a 3.92 ERA, striking out 41 while walking just 14 in 39.1 innings pitched. He was overpowering hitters with his mid-90’s fastball and complementing it with a devastating slider. The Brewers shut him down in August after he had thrown a career-high 134.1 innings, but they were excited to see what he could do in a full season in their rotation in 2013. Instead, more shoulder issues prevented him from appearing in a single major league game, and Rogers became a free agent following the season.
The Seattle Mariners signed Rogers to a minor league deal, but released him after he missed most of April with an injury and managed just a 5-7 strikeout to walk ratio in 7 innings pitched once he returned. Clearly his stuff is not what it used to be. After he had averaged 94.15 MPH on his fastball in 2012 according to Brooks Baseball, he has thrown 13 fastballs recorded by Pitch F/X since and averaged just 88.02 MPH. But you have to think that Rogers has more velocity than that left in the tank if he can get healthy, and no one has tried him in relief yet. Not once in his career has Rogers thrown more than five relief appearances in a season, and even the Mariners had him go at least 3 innings in both of his appearances.
If Mark Rogers has anything left, someone should try him in short relief outings and see what happens. It wasn’t that long ago that he had a mid-90’s fastball and sharp breaking ball, and even if he could only maintain them for one inning, he would still have value. The Rays are the best in the business at fixing players in Rogers’ position, and they could be the team that comes calling when Rogers is ready to pitch again.