Baseball Preview: Rogers ready for encore

Part 1: Sidearm Kennedy looks to acnchor pen
Part 2: Kapteyn is a Kaptializer
Part 3: Steady Wright looks for big 2011
Part 4: Cooper looks to build on 2010
Part 5: Meyer ready to take next step
Part 6: Shortstop Black Returns for Senior Season
Part 7: Flexible Kaczmarek provides options

The Kentucky baseball team opens up its 2011 season on Friday at 5 p.m. ET at No. 20 College of Charleston. Leading up to first pitch, UKathletics.com has done an extensive eight-part preview, highlighting some of UK's returning stars. The final story is on UK sophomore pitcher Taylor Rogers.

His first start was nearly perfect.

A skinny, 6-foot-3, 170-pound southpaw out of Littleton, Colo., Taylor Rogers didn't waste any time cracking the Kentucky weekend pitching rotation.

After a great fall and preseason practice and with returning first round pick James Paxton in limbo due to his relationship with famed sports agent Scott Boras on opening weekend, UK head coach Gary Henderson made a rare move for him.

He put an 18-year old true freshman in the weekend rotation.

Rogers was that freshman and he rewarded Henderson for his faith, as he turned in as dominating a collegiate debut as anyone could hope for. He went 7.2 shutout innings, allowing only six hits and walking only one.

"Anytime you have an athlete that is new to an environment it always takes some success on the field to achieve that level of confidence that you are looking for," UK head coach Gary Henderson said. "You can be good in practice all your want, or intrasquads, or drills, or bullpens, or cage work. But ultimately what you have to do is be successful in the game setting, in the competitive environment. For him to be able to do that early on, during the opening weekend, really helped propel his confidence."

He was so good in his collegiate debut that he retired the first 13 hitters he faced and had only faced one two over the minimum through the seventh inning. Rogers threw first-pitch strikes to a staggering 25-of-29 hitters faced and carried a perfect game into the fourth inning of his first college start. That outing earned him Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week accolades and firmly planted Rogers as a member of the weekend staff.

The southpaw didn't let up there, he continued to dominate into his second start, posting a win over Bowling Green with six innings of one-run ball, going 2-0 with a 0.66 ERA through his first two starts.

"It was a definite confidence booster," Rogers said about his experience in 2010. "To throw as many innings as I did last year was really good to get experience. I've been able to just make some adjustments quicker in the fall and learn more about myself, what I can do and what I can't. And having that year under my belt really helps me learn more about the game and about winning at this level."

His start was not envisioned a few years ago when Rogers was pitching for Chatfield High School. A highly projectable talent with a low 90s fastball, pinpoint control and good secondary offerings, Rogers broke out on the prospect map during the Connie Mack World Series, dazzling scouts and jumping into contention for a high round draft pick.

UK assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Bohannon had spotted Rogers before that outing and Rogers committed to the Wildcats, stating his only other offer was from Northern Colorado. After his breakout performance, the Baltimore Orioles picked Rogers in the 37th round of the 2009 MLB Draft, but Rogers came to Lexington for his freshman season.

In the preseason of 2010, before Rogers had ever dominated West Virginia in his collegiate debut, Baseball America tabbed him as a potential first round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft and as the seventh-best newcomer in the talent-rich SEC.

While his first two starts were dynamic, Rogers had the typical struggles of a freshman, in addition to further glimpse of his talent, including eight one-run innings at Vanderbilt, 7.2 two-run innings against Alabama and seven shutout innings vs. IPFW.

Rogers points to the start against Alabama as a moment where he was solidly convinced that he could be a successful starting pitcher in the SEC.

"I think going 3-0 out of the gate was pretty cool," Rogers said. "But I got brought back to reality when the SEC started. Alabama was the game where I realized that I can do this and it is something that was a lot of fun. It was just a great experience last year, pitching against the best competition in the nation." 

Overall on the year, Rogers led UK in innings pitched (83.0) and starts (14), logging a 4-7 record and a 6.40 ERA, as UK's freshman pitching workhorse.

Now with a year under his belt and having already proven himself as a highly effective starting pitcher in the SEC, Rogers went to work in the fall and preseason at improving himself on the mound.

"One of the things that you will see from Taylor this year is that he is stronger," Henderson said. "That strength has allowed him to repeat his delivery much, much more often. He can create better pitches, he is throwing a little bit harder. He has a competitive second pitch. His curveball is now workable. He has a changeup that he will be able to use. He pitched a lot of innings last year with nothing more than a fastball and he did a very good job of throwing strikes and challenging the hitters. He is going to be a much improved pitcher this spring."

Throwing 83 innings in the SEC as a true freshman with "nothing more than a fastball", Rogers did a pretty good job. Now, with an improved fastball and the addition of a tight curveball and a changeup, Rogers will have the ability to solidify his potential as a future first-round pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.

"In the fall I was able to shorten up my curveball and that was a big difference in throwing in intrasquads, there was a noticeable change," Rogers said. "I developed a changeup which is going to help me eat up some innings and throw it earlier in the count. Another thing I really worked on was fastball location. I was pretty good at throwing strikes last year but I wanted to work on more quality strikes instead of just throwing strikes."