May 5, 2015 at 11:00 AM
PAWTUCKET, R.I. – 22-year-old left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez began the year as the third-youngest player in the International League and the youngest pitcher in Triple-A. On Saturday, Rodriguez made his fourth regular season start at the level, going six innings, allowing one earned run on seven hits and one walk, notching six strikeouts. In total, he threw 93 pitches, 58 for strikes. Most impressively, Rodriguez was able to generate 15 swing-and-misses, thanks in large part to an overpowering fastball, the ability to throw his changeup in any count and his ability to consistently stay around the strike zone.
Rodriguez threw a heavy dose of his fastball-changeup combination in the early innings before mixing in his slider more in his last two innings. The fastball sat 93-95 mph and topped out at 96. The pitch had late life with some sink down in the zone. It is a plus-grade pitch with the ability to miss bats and overpower hitters at times. He picked up five of his six strikeouts on the fastball, all swinging.
In this outing, Rodriguez’s command of the fastball was not particularly great, and he consistently fell behind hitters early in counts. However, he had great control, consistently staying around the strike zone, and he was able blow the fastball by hitters who had to also think about the changeup that he frequently mixed in. Behind in counts early, Rodriguez was forced to come right over the plate and delivered a number of pitches that were squared up and hit hard. Luckily, Rodriguez was able to avoid much damage.
The changeup ranged from 86-88 mph and worked mostly at 88 mph. While the velocity separation between that and the fastball does not sound ideal, that upper range is where Rodriguez reportedly is most comfortable throwing the pitch, opposed to the 83-86 range in which he used to throw it during his time with Baltimore and latter half of 2014. In the upper velocity ranges, Rodriguez is able to generate more movement and has more control while delivering the pitch with similar arm speed to the fastball, making it hard for hitters to pick up. Rodriguez showed comfort and confidence throwing the change in any count, to all hitters, and worked it to both sides of the plate. The pitch had tight, late-fading action away from left-handed hitters, and he frequently threw the pitch inside on right-handed hitters. Even so, the pitch is too firm with not enough degree of seperation from his fastball for me, even though its where he's most comfortable throwing it in the upper velos and get his best movement. The changeup was an overall average grade pitch in terms of movement and command this outing for me, with a chance to be a plus-grade pitch down the road with overall improved command.
The slider was 83-84 mph and was Rodriguez’s third offering. Developmentally, the slider appeared to lag behind the changeup at this point, and Rodriguez held off from even throwing his first slider until the latter half of the outing. At its best, the pitch showed late, short, darting action coming out of the same plane as the fastball, making it a difficult pitch to pick up out of the hand. It was an overall average grade pitch for me, with a chance to play up a tick down the road with improved consistency, comfort and confidence.
Overall, Rodriguez worked with a plus-grade fastball and two average-grade secondary pitches that still have potential to develop down the road. Rodriguez is the top pitching prospect in the organization for me, and edges out the other Triple-A left-handers, Brian Johnson and Henry Owens, in large part due to Rodriguez’s plus-grade fastball that gives him the ability work with a larger margin of error. It is important—and incredible—to remember that Rodriguez is so young for his level, opening the year as the youngest pitcher in Triple-A. At this point, Rodriguez, who unlike Johnson and Owens is already on the 40-man, could be next in line for a promotion should the need arise at the big league level, with Steven Wright and Matt Barnes obviously considerations as well.
Photo credit: Eduardo Rodriguez by Kelly O'Connor.
Chaz Fiorino is Assistant Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @cbfiorino.