Hillsboro, Oregon —— I finally got the opportunity to see Chris Rodriguez throw after hearing Nick Stephens talk up the Los Angeles Angels pitcher for weeks now. It was on Tuesday night at the Northwest League/Pioneer League All-Star Game, where Rodriguez threw just an inning. His stuff juiced up a bit with adrenaline in the short stint versus his regular starter role, but that inning spoke volumes about why you can make a legitimate case for him being the Angels’ best pitching prospect despite being just 19 years old and still in rookie ball.
Rodriguez’s stuff is as advertised and then some; Stephens was impressed by the prospect’s fastball early in a June viewing up in Orem, but the pitch was even harder on Tuesday (likely on account of the short stint), sitting 93-95 mph with good late life arm-side and a little bit of sink. It tied up righties in the short spurts of just an inning’s worth of work, and it’s clear Rodriguez absolutely loves to throw it—a good sign for a young pitcher who wants to challenge hitters and show off what needs to be his best pitch. The dual breaking ball look is advanced for his age, too; I’m always skeptical of guys who throw both sliders and curveballs, but he distinguishes the two pitches pretty well. He’ll need to improve both—especially the slider, which could get on a single plane sometimes—but the feel for nuance between the two is undoubtedly there.
Above all that, the things I like most about Chris Rodriguez, as you may have guessed from the title of this post, are intent and intensity. Granted, it’s easy to be intense when you’re throwing in an All-Star Game and you get to show off your stuff blowing it out in a short stint, but even back in his June report on the righty, Stephens marveled at Rodriguez’s pace and ability to get right back on the rubber and challenge hitters pitch after pitch. That’s an intensity that is tough to come by naturally for a teenage pitcher, and the fact that the Los Angeles Angels hurler already has that habit is a very good sign. The other thing—intent—is maybe the most impressive as far as it relates to Rodriguez’s ceiling. He wants to throw hard, he tries to throw hard, and voila—he throws hard. That probably sounds dumb if you’ve never explored the role intent plays in things like velocity, so read this, and then read this, if you’re new to the idea. Put simply, it seems like Rodriguez understands his fastball will more or less be his breadwinner, and the harder and livelier it is, the better he sets himself up for success.
Nick had a full game video of one of Rodriguez’s starts back in June, but it was all pitcher-hitter view behind the plate (you can see that further down this post). As such, on Tuesday, I figured it’d be better to grab a side view of the Los Angeles Angels righty’s arm action and mechanics. You can watch a few pitches of his outing from that POV right here:
And here is the aforementioned game video from Orem in June, showing live at-bats and giving a little bit of insight into how Chris Rodriguez sequences hitters:
I’m most interested in what the Los Angeles Angels have here, because I think he’s actually flying a little bit under the radar (if only because of his age and short-season summer status, not to mention the organization’s poor farm system reputation). With all due respect to Griffin Canning (who was just drafted in June and has yet to make his pro debut) and Jaime Barria (who I have seen several times early this year pitching for Inland Empire), I think Chris Rodriguez is the club’s best pitching prospect and right now has a #2 starter ceiling with a more likely future as a mid-rotation arm, and probably a floor of high-leverage relief because of his max effort intent and funky delivery with power stuff. There’s a lot of development to be had and he’s a few major adjustments in full-season ball away from fully harnessing and actualizing his incredible raw stuff, but the Los Angeles Angels have a very, very good one here and could flip Chris Rodriguez into a nationally well-regarded pitching prospect in another couple years.
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