Prospect Retro: Kenny Rogers
Kenny Rogers was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 39th round of the 1982 draft, out of high school in Plant City, Florida. To put that into context for you young ones, this was one year after I entered puberty. I had a massive crush on a girl named Beth who wore nice sweaters and didn't know I existed. Ronald Reagan had been president for a year and a half. Pink Floyd was still together (sort-of). The American League Rookie of the Year was Cal Ripken, and the baseball world was still recovering from the damaging 1981 strike. Rogers threw three shutout innings in rookie ball after signing, but as a 39th round pick who didn't throw exceptionally hard, no one really knew who he was.
In 1983 the Rangers sent Rogers back to rookie ball. He posted a 2.36 ERA in 53 innings, although his K/BB was not impressive at 36/20. At this point he was considered a basic organization arm and would rate as a Grade C prospect. . .he was a lefty with a pulse and movement on his pitches.
Promoted to Burlington in the Midwest League in 1984, Rogers was used as swingman, starting four games and relieving in 35. He posted a 3.98 ERA with a 93/33 K/BB in 93 innings. His K/IP was impressive, but otherwise he didn't really stand out except as the aforementioned "lefty with a pulse." Grade C.
Rogers returned to Burlington in 1985, lowering his ERA to 2.84 in 95 innings, again used as both a starter and reliever. He also struck out 96. Oddly, his walk rate almost doubled, as he gave up 62 free passes. He actually cut a run off of his ERA because he gave up just 67 hits. . .a combination of better luck and/or better defense perhaps. A late promotion to the Florida State League was a disaster, as he posted a 7.20 ERA in 10 innings. Grade C it seems since he repeated the Midwest League and failed his first shot at a higher level.
In 1986 Rogers moved up to Salem in the Carolina League and was blasted, posting a 6.27 ERA in 12 starts and allowing 75 hits in 66 innings. A 26-inning trial for Double-A Tulsa was an even worse disaster: 9.91 ERA allowing 39 hits in 26 innings. At this point, having failed at every level above low-A ball, there was no reason to think he was much of a prospect at all, aside from the fact that he was a lefty with decent velocity and some movement on his pitches. . .but would that be enough?
It wasn't in 1987. He spent the year at Double-A Tulsa, working garbage relief. In 69 innings he had a 5.35 ERA and allowed 80 hits, with a 59/35 K/BB ratio. . .K/BB, K/IP, H/IP all worse than league average. Grade C at best.
Things began to turn around in 1988. He started off with Charlotte in the Florida State League and posted a 1.27 ERA in 35 innings. Moved back to Tulsa, he was used as a starter and went 4-6, 4.00 in 13 starts, with a 76/34 K/BB in 83 innings. Not great, but better than before and enough to re-establish himself as a prospect, albeit still a Grade C.
Rogers unexpectedly earned a slot in the Rangers bullpen in 1989. Being used as a lefty shortman, he posted a 2.93 ERA in 74 innings. His command gave some trouble as shown by his 63/42 K/BB, but he kept the ball down, kept lefties under control, and threw harder in the bullpen than he had as a starter. He'd never had a year this good in the minors. The next season he won 10 games and saved 15 in relief, with a 3.13 ERA, establishing himself as a key member of the Rangers staff. He entered the starting rotation in 1993, winning 16 games, and has been a mainstay of major league rotations ever since.
Kenny Rogers has pitched far better in the majors than anything in his minor league record would suggest. Note that this guy struggled consistently in high-A ball and Double-A, and never even pitched in Triple-A. Yet here he is, with a 207/139 career record and 3066 innings to his credit. Kenny Rogers is the personification how unpredictable pitching prospects can be.