One player I've been getting a lot of questions and comments about of late is Carlos A. Rodriguez. He is a LHP out of Venezuela who had great success as a 17 year old in his debut season in the DSL.
Rodriguez went 5-3 with a 2.01 ERA, had a strikeout rate of 9.2/9 IP and solid walk rate of 2.5. He allowed just 52 hits in 71.2 IP and had a 1.00 WHIP overall.
Those numbers are insane for a 17 year old. So the question then is this:
Is Carlos A. Rodriguez a top prospect?
The honest answer is...
No. It's early. Way too early to give him that kind of status.
That's not to say he isn't a prospect worth monitoring, but let's take a look at this with some perspective. Rodriguez put those numbers up in the DSL, which is the lowest level of competition in a typical MLB organization. As you move down the levels, statistics become less and less significant. In fact, Theo Epstein himself has said statistical analysis doesn't become 50% of the equation until about the AA level. I have heard similar ratios from others in the industry -- and I'm not talking about old school guys here, I'm talking about some pretty progressive baseball minds. The importance of stats as compared to scouting info dwindles as you move down the ladder. By the time you get to the DSL, there really shouldn't be a whole lot of emphasis put on those numbers.
There are too many variables to consider at this stage for Rodriguez. You cannot take the numbers at face value. At this level, you have to ask yourself why he is putting up those great numbers. Is it because he has good velocity and is overmatching hitters? Is it because he has uncanny command for his age? Does he have a wicked breaking pitch that younger players can't help but chase? Does he have an advanced feel for pitching that is beyond his level of competition?
Much of the time, this information is hard to come by, which is why you won't see me rank DSL prospects unless they are high profile signings who immediately perform at a high level, much as Jeimer Candelario did 2 seasons ago. This isn't because of any hype factor. This is because there is simply more information available on those players.
Other than his raw numbers, we do know this about Rodriguez from his stat sheet: He is about 5'11" and 180 lbs. This does not doom him, but it is less than ideal size, even for a LHP. He's young, so there is the possibility of physical projection, but that is somewhat speculative. Luckily we have some help from BA's Ben Badler, the best source of international baseball information in the media today. Badler writes some great stuff on the Cubs most recent international prospects class. In that piece, he mentions that Rodriguez has a "strong frame". That description, coupled with the fact that he is already carries a solid 180 lbs. on a 5'11" frame, indicates to me that there isn't a lot of room to fill out. Again, if true, it's not the end of the world, but it implies less projectability overall. Rodriguez has done very well, but there's a good chance he isn't going to get a whole lot bigger and start throwing significantly harder, even though he's just 17. In short, he seems quite physically mature for his age.
But he's not just physically mature...
Thanks to Badler, we have even more information on Rodriguez. He also offers some scouting info on the Cubs young LHP. Here's a breakdown:
- He has an advanced feel for pitching despite his young age.
- Scouts praise his competitiveness and ability to hit both sides of the plate with his fastball.
- He throws in the high 80s.
- He has a good change-up for his age.
- He has a curveball that he can throw for strikes.
- Does not have a clean delivery, though it hasn't affected his command.
In summary, we are talking about a kid who has an idea how to pitch, can hit his spots, and already throws 3 solid pitches. At the DSL level, those advanced skills will go a long, long way. You can keep very young hitters off balance routinely with those abilities. His numbers in the DSL are evidence of that.
The question then becomes, will this assortment of skills continue to play at the higher levels as hitters become more experienced? Again, the only honest answer is that it's too early to know. We know hitters will get better, so Rodriguez will have to get better as well. At some point soon, hitters are going to catch up to him in terms of maturity -- both physically and in their approach.
That will be when Rodriguez gets his toughest test. If he's still putting up some insane numbers as he moves up the ladder, that's when things will really start to get interesting.