Profile: 6'5" - 180lbs - Th:L - BT:L - 2011 Age: 23
Repertoire And Grades:
- FB4 95-96: Flat with inconsistent command (50-60)
- FB2 93-94: Average arm-side run, ground-ball neutral. Inconsistent command. (50-55)
- SL 87-88: Flashes plus with good run, could improve depth. Needs to be more consistent. (50-55)
- CH: 86-87: Needs significant refinement. Poor arm speed, lacks movement or consistent command. (25-35)
Signed at age 18 during the summer of 2006 by the Atlanta Braves (the same year Gregory Infante was signed by the White Sox) Santos Rodriguez got his professional career of to a bit of a late start by Latin standard (Latin players generally sign at 16 or 17). After signing the Braves had Rodriguez spend his first two seasons working with their Gulf Coast League affiliate. The Braves had him repeating the level because, despite being old for the Rookie League, he was simply very raw. While with the Braves, the franchise worked aggressively to try and refine his maximum effort delivery and to develop the secondary pitches he'd need to be successful at higher levels. They didn't have a ton of success refining his delivery and to this day it remains rough and difficult to repeat. It's led to persistent nagging injuries that have prevented him from throwing 40 innings in any one season and poor command
Following the 2008 season, Rodriguez's second with the Braves, he was one of the three players sent to Chicago for Javier Vazquez. In him the White Sox certainly saw a power arm who could, with work, develop into a very effective reliever. During his time with the Sox, Rodriguez has continued to develop his slider, which has consistently gotten better and is a legitimate out pitch vs left handed hitters who really struggle against it with Rodriguez's rather extreme 3/4 arm slot release point. The combination of his hard fastball and tight slider would likely make him effective against lefties right now - maybe even very good against them. But he's still got work to do with his changeup which he'll need to keep right handers off balance. One of the benefits of an extreme three quarter / side-arm slot for a pitcher is that it really makes it tough for arm-side hitters to pick up the slider away. At the same time, the same slot that is so useful against arm-side hitters, makes it easier for opposite-side hitters to pick up because the ball is really coming in to their swing and it's more difficult to pitch inside. If Rodriguez can refine his changeup and get some solid arm-side tail on it, it would force righties to protect the outer-half.
One of the greatest problems that Rodriguez has had is that is inability to stay healthy has kept him from getting the repetitions necessary to improve his weaknesses - like those with his command - or to develop his changeup. As you can see, 2010 saw him throw his most innings ever - and still it was just 40 frames of work.
The same problem he faces with development, we as fans face when trying to determine how he grades out. The data sample is unfortunately very small, even by relief standards, and that means that any conclusions we try and draw about him from a pure numerical standpoint need to be taken with a 10lb bag of salt. For what it's worth however, there is little in the data to indicate he's made significant progress in any area. He came into the league as a strikeout machine and he remains one still. He also shows the same inability to control the strike zone.
2011 is going to be an important year for Rodriguez. He's already shown us that his velocity and arm-angle can baffle A-Ball hitters. In 2011, he'll likely open the season in AA, a level that has a tendency to separate the wheat from the chaff as they say. He's going to need to stay healthy and show improvements in his command and with his changeup. If not, there is no amount of bats he can miss to prevent him from being more than a lefty-specialist at the Major League level - right-handers will simply eat him up.
Projecting a guy like Rodriguez is a monumentally difficult task to accomplish. On the one hand, you have a player with a very impressive arm. On the other, you have legitimate concerns about command and health. I'm going to stay conservative with Rodriguez and say that I see him as more of a lefty specialist a this point. Albeit one with the upside to profile as a 7th or 8th inning guy who doesn't need to be utilized in a situational role. But as of right now, that's not something that's on the table. Still, he could be a useful bullpen arm for the White Sox as soon as late 2011.
Corey Ettinger is a proud contributor to both 612Sports.net and 312Sports.com. He also provides extensive analysis of the American League Central Division at his own blog AL Central In Focus.