Rays Add Serviceable Arm In Rodriguez

RaysDigest.com
Posted Dec 14, 2008


The Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday added a cheap arm who has the chance to earn a spot in their bullpen, selecting right-handed relief pitcher Derek Rodriguez from this Chicago White Sox.

The 2008 MLB Rule 5 Draft took place last week in Las Vegas during the annual Winter Meetings. The Rule 5 Draft is not normally a pot of gold for eager teams, but a couple of black diamonds can be stumbled upon once in a while. The draft is designed to give players whose development or opportunity may be impeded by their current club a chance to play in the big leagues with another organization that is interested in their services. The selections come from a pool of “unprotected” players, players who are not included on their organizations 40-man roster, and therefore the returns in big league value are typically minimal.

Johan Santana, Josh Hamilton, and Dan Uggla are a few guys who turned out to be Major League All-Stars after being selected in the Rule V Draft, though they are the rare outliers. The Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday added a cheap arm who has the chance to earn a spot in their bullpen via the draft, selecting right-handed relief pitcher Derek Rodriguez from this Chicago White Sox. The Rays, who will pay Chicago $50,000 for his rights, must keep Rodriguez on the big league roster for all of the 2009 season, however, or they have to offer him back his former team for half price.

Chances are that Rodriguez won’t turn out to be the Bentley of Rule 5 selections like Santana was, but there’s no reason why he can’t be a Chevy Tahoe, a cheap, safe and serviceable option in the Rays’ relief corps. The former starter profiles as a middle reliever for the Rays, adding depth to a talented bullpen unit that was among the most effective in all of baseball this past season.

Rodriguez, who will turn 26 in May, was selected by the White Sox in the 14th round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. After struggling a bit as starting pitcher, he was converted to a reliever in 2008. He responded to his new role with an impressive bullpen debut, posting a combined 3.29 ERA with 88 strikeouts over 79 1/3 innings split between Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte. Rodriguez struggled a bit with his command—he walked 33 total last season, with 3.80 and 3.68 BB/9 rates at each level, respectively —but he held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average against him and showed the ability to miss bats.

At 6’1”, 190 lbs., Rodriguez is not the intimidator that, say, Grant Balfour is coming out of the pen, but he brings an aggressive mentality to the mound that should be perfect for chewing up outs and bridging the gap between the starter and the impact relievers for the Rays. He effectively mixes up his looks and uses three different arm angles to attack hitters, making it difficult for batters to get comfortable in the box and get a read on his pitches.

Rodriguez has touched 93 MPH with good life in the past when throwing from a higher arm slot, and has hit 88 MPH with decent sink when he throws sidearm. He features a slider as his second pitch, but it’s almost as if he throws more than two pitches because he changes speed on his slider as well as the varying fastball offerings. Rodriguez will use the sweeping slider against right-handed hitters to get them to chase, as well as back-dooring a sharper version to freeze the lefties.

What’s intriguing about Rodriguez as a valuable middle guy is that not only is his stuff better than the average middle reliever, but he is capable of getting left-handed hitters out just as frequently as he puts away the righties, making him a candidate to work more than one inning in low-leverage situations.

Here are some righty/lefty splits for Rodriguez, courtesy of minorleaguesplits.com:

RODRIGUEZ

IP

H

K

AVG

WHIP

K/9

GB %

RH

39

32

36

.229

1.10

8.31

46.2

LH

44 2/3

23

52

.160

1.01

10.48

39.8

The Rays aren’t going to ask Rodriguez to come into a bases loaded jam in the eighth inning and retire a team’s best hitter like Rays’ manager Joe Maddon did last October with young phenom David Price. Tampa Bay has a plethora of options in the bullpen, though, not to mention a stable of arms in the minor leagues that are capable of making an impact on the big league club come the second half of 2009. With depth as an area of strength of this ball club, this is a perfect situation to step into for Rodriguez as he can carve out a role for himself while there are proven guys around him to help.

Balfour and J.P. Howell have established themselves as the key late-inning arms in Tampa Bay, while Chad Bradford, who has reportedly being shopped by the organization, brings his experience and propensity to induce groundballs. Troy Percival is expected to be fully recovered from leg and back troubles come spring training and he will have the chance to regain his closer role with the club. If Percival falters or is injured again, the Rays have Dan Wheeler, another potential trade candidate, to turn to, a guy who served as a capable closer with the Houston Astros before being traded to Tampa Bay last July for Ty Wigginton and cash.

The Rays currently have several other potential bullpen candidates as well. Jason Hammel and Juan Salas are possibilities, but Salas also could be shipped out in order to make room for Rodriguez. In addition, Jeff Niemann, a potential swingman, and Mitch Talbot could flourish in the right relief role as well, like Howell, who appears to have found his niche, did this year. Andrew Friedman showed that it doesn’t cost a lot of money to build an elite bullpen—with Balfour and Howell coming on the cheap—if a team uses a creative, outside-the-box approach. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see a minor overhaul of the current group. It’s a numbers game, in Friedman’s eyes, and the more quality arms, the better.

Adding Rodriguez does exactly that.

Teddy Mitrosilis is a sophomore baseball player at Long Beach City College in California. To reach him, send an email to tm4000@yahoo.com.


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