Even coming from a tradition-rich high school baseball program like OPRF’s, Keith Rogalla has done things in his baseball career that few are ever able to accomplish.
He’s fully aware, however, that his selection in the 12th round, the 355th player overall, of the 2017 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Angels is just the first step in the hardest test he will ever take.
Rogalla signed with the Angels on June 23, according to senior writer Jim Callis for MLB.com, for $150,000.
“Most people don’t understand the process fully,” said Rogalla, an Oak Park native. “I’ve had plenty of people ask me if I was going right to Los Angeles.”
Instead, Rogalla will find himself far away from the Hollywood lights, settling in Orem, Utah by the end of this week. He’s been assigned to pitch for the Angels’ rookie-ball affiliate, the Orem Owlz.
From there, it could take several years before he sets foot on the diamond at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California. Regardless, it’s a process Rogalla has been dreaming of taking on for a long time.
“[For most of high school] I was just happy to get colleges calling,” Rogalla said. “The first time I thought I could pitch professionally was the very end of summer before senior year. The Phillies [who drafted him in 2014] came out to see me pitch.”
The Philadelphia franchise selected Rogalla in the 37th round that year, but he was intent on attending Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
The decision proved wise as Rogalla dazzled scouts with his power arm during this time with the Bluejays. He posted a 4.54 ERA with 70 strikeouts over 71 1/3 innings en route to Second Team All-Big East recognition.
“I feel like Creighton taught me how to handle myself as a professional. I really feel a difference in maturity now because I am better equipped to handle the ups and downs of the game,” Rogalla said. “The reason I didn’t sign out of high school is that I feel like I wasn’t physically or mentally mature enough.”
Even if he needed time to develop, it really wasn’t discernible at the high school level with the Huskies. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and armed with an electrifying fastball (low-to-mid 90s) and a solid curve, Rogalla succeeded at OPRF following so many great players he admired before him.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be the star of the varsity team,” Rogalla said. “Growing up watching guys like Tim Dennehy, Sam Picchiotti, Jo Jo Maldonado, I always wanted to be like them.”
Rogalla was a four-year letter winner and two-time First-Team All-West Suburban Conference selection. He also led the Huskies to a share of the conference title in 2013, as the Huskies finished 16-9 overall, with an 8-3 record in the West Suburban Silver.
Although his skill level was among the best in OPRF history, Rogalla’s high school career had a disappointing finish. The highly touted Huskies lost to conference rival Lyons Township in a 2014 Class 4A regional final on the Lions’ home field.
During his time with the Huskies, Rogalla kept learning from OPRF head coach Chris Ledbetter and the rest of the staff, which empowered him to grow as an athlete.
“[OPRF] definitely had a big impact on me,” he said. “Led [Coach Ledbetter] and everyone else really helped me figure out that I could do this.”
Like most amateur pitchers, Rogalla had a bat in his hand at one point. In high school, he played well both at first and third base defensively and showed solid offensive skills to boot.
Ultimately, the bat was taken out of Rogalla’s hands, which signaled that pitching would be his calling.
That happened later than most.
“I’d say my junior [high school] summer was when I knew I was a pitcher and not a position player,” he said. “I went to a baseball showcase and college teams started calling me as a pitcher. It just kind of went from there.”
An often overlooked aspect of Rogalla’s time at Creighton was the impact his older brother had on him. Jack Rogalla was a graduate transfer for the Blue Jays during Keith’s freshman year. Having already attained his degree from Binghamton University in New York, Jack had another year of athletic eligibility left.
After that, he stayed on to coach at Creighton for Keith’s sophomore year before departing this past season.
Even before Keith’s time in Omaha, he was a role model in the Rogalla household.
“Jack had a major impact on me,” Keith said. “Watching him play football and baseball [at OPRF] kind of taught me how to take care of business. He helped me learn the ropes of college baseball as well when I got there.”
There is no Jack Rogalla in Orem, Utah. It’s just Keith and baseball, day in and day out.
If he stays the course on his interesting baseball journey, there’s a good chance we will see him in an Angels uniform soon enough.