Jul. 15—CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa. — Mark Moriarty still had Aaron Rozek's cell number after recruiting him in college.
Moriarty was a coach at Augustana, while Rozek ended up going to Minnesota State. But Moriarty is now a pitching coach for the Cedar Rapids Kernels, a Class A affiliate for the Minnesota Twins, and he was excited when he learned that Rozek would be pitching there this summer.
"He was always tough to hit against," Moriarty said. "Whenever we saw him (at Augustana), nobody could hit him. Independent ball really helped him a lot because he was able to keep pitching and develop his craft and get stronger."
Rozek was recently named the Twins' Starting Pitcher of the Month for its minor-league teams in June. In four starts in June, he allowed three earned runs on nine hits with six walks and 16 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.
"It's always nice to get the recognition, but I don't think much about it," Rozek said. "I just focus on what I need to do every day and control what I can control."
Rozek was a four-year letterwinner at Minnesota State from 2015-18, going 20-4 with a 3.24 earned run average in his career. The lefthander didn't throw hard enough to catch the attention of professional scouts, so he spent a couple of seasons with an independent league team at Schaumburg, Illinois.
Last summer, he signed with the Twins, spending a few games with four different teams and posting a 3-2 record with a 2.40 ERA.
"He just kept working after college and kept working," Moriarty said. "He has five pitches that he can throw for strikes. You don't know if the catcher has enough fingers for all of his pitches."
For the season, Rozek is 6-3 with a 3.97 earned-run average in 13 games, 12 of them starts. He has struck out 53 in 56 2/3 innings. He missed his last start because he tested positive for COVID.
Rozek has spent a lot of time working on mechanics, adjusting the angle of his hips during the delivery to get the most out of his left arm. He was a mid-80s pitcher at Minnesota State, but he's touching 93 mph on occasion this season.
Rozek is realistic about his journey. He's not going to add 5 mph to his fastball in one offseason. Instead, he's hoping to add a 0.1 or 0.2 mph at a time, and in time, he'll reach his velocity goals.
However, he'll turn 27 in August, quite a bit older than other players at high Class A. He manages his workload, unable to throw as much as he did in high school.
"He's 4, 5 years older than some of the guys, but he's still young in baseball," said Moriarty, who was born in southern Minnesota and has relatives in Mankato. "The cool thing about baseball is that each guy develops differently."
Rozek will start Sunday's game at Beloit, Wisconsin, and at some point, he may get promoted to Class AA Wichita, where he pitched a couple of innings last summer.
If not, Rozek is still living a childhood dream of being a professional baseball player.
"I get to live every kid's dream and get paid for it," Rozek said. "It's not as glamorous as the big leagues, but it seems pretty glamorous to me.
"Going to Schaumburg (in 2019), I thought that was going to be my last year of playing baseball so this is just icing on the cake. I'm a little older, but I'm still having fun. I try not to worry about thigs that are out of my control."
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.