The Boston Red Sox last night debuted one of their prized prospects to a strong debut. Pitching for 7.2 IP with seven strikeouts, three hits, and 2 walks in a scoreless MLB debut is impressive. Unfortunately for Orioles fans, the prospect in question had originated from the Baltimore Orioles organization. Eduardo Rodriguez pitched a gem yesterday and it has led to many fans to question why he is no longer in the organization.
As a reminder, Eduardo Rodriguez was traded last July for Andrew Miller. The Orioles were trying to win the division for the first time in seventeen years at the time of the trade. As of July 31, the Orioles (60-47) held a 1.5 game lead in the AL East over the Blue Jays followed by the Yankees that were 5 games back. The Orioles were certainly in decent position, but wanted some insurance coming down the home stretch. The player most effected by this move was Ryan Webb, who lost his spot in the bullpen for all of August until rosters expanded. However, he could never find his way back into the bullpen and ended up being traded to the Dodgers this year. That trade of Webb was especially bad since it cost the Orioles a compensatory pick in this year’s 2015 MLB Draft. Webb during the 2014 season was good for a .7 WAR with about 87% of his value coming before the trade for Miller. Miller in comparison was worth about .9 WAR during his brief two month stay in only 20 IP representing a dominating performance.
While the performance was dominant, the cost seemed great for a set-up reliever in an already strong bullpen. When the trade was announced, Orioles fans were polled over at Camden Chat and many believed that Miller was a good pickup, but the cost of Eduardo Rodriguez was too high. Though Rodriguez has struggled during 2014 in Bowie, he was still believed to be a Top 100 prospect and more value was expected to be garnered from him. In addition, the trade occurring in the division had many folks nervous of his success.
While Eduardo Rodriguez may have struggled in the Orioles organization during 2014, he flourished in the Red Sox minors posting a 9.4 K/9, 1.93 BB/9, and .96 ERA. That trend continued this year in AAA where he has posted an 8.19 K/9, 1.30 BB/9, and 2.98 ERA. The command issues seen in the Orioles organization were gone with the 3+ BB/9 plummeting dramatically once getting to the Red Sox. We’ve seen this occur in other pitchers leaving the organization, such as Jake Arrieta. Arrieta went from posting 4+ BB/9 to a 2.36 and 2.17 in 2014 and 2015 respective. This increased command also increased his strikeout rate from 8.5 K/9 to 9.5 K/9 by switching organizations.
Fangraphs put together a great article on the resurgence of Arrieta and what has changed since being with the Orioles. Arrieta seemed to indicate that the Orioles may have been pushing him to fit with certain mechanics that he wasn’t comfortable. This might explain issues where once Arrieta lost the feel for his mechanics, it was difficult for him to regain them as they didn’t come natural to him.
This failure of the organization has to raise flags for fans especially after the resurgence of Eduardo Rodriguez in another organization. However, I would exercise caution here as the resurgence of Eduardo Rodriguez has now occurred in less than a year. His resurgence has started with an elevated fastball velocity that was in the low 90’s in Bowie and now have been touching near 96-97 mph. He combines that with a changeup and slider that is released from a similar arm slot to allow for a high degree of deception. However, these pitches are certainly not dominant and will need to be mixed further in order for him to turn over most MLB lineups. As scouting reports continue to come out, Eduardo Rodriguez is going to have to show he can adapt to be effective. Those three pitches are not going to make him into an TOR pitcher or even All-Star starter. However, it could easily translate into a #3 pitcher at best and more likely a back end pitcher. If that’s the case, than why did the Orioles trade him away? Did they think that he couldn’t be fixed like Jake Arrieta within the organization?
Even Top 100 prospects like Rodriguez have a tendency to fail. Publications such as Baseball America provide great information on a wealth of young players, but a significant number of those players covered never amount to anything of significance at the major league level. Matt Perez of Camden Depot concluded that from 1990 through 2006, approximately 70 percent of Baseball America Top-100 prospects failed. Over at Royals Review, Scott McKinney conducted a similar study that came to a couple of conclusions: A) 70 percent of Baseball America Top-100 prospects fail. B) About 60 percent of position players ranked in the Top-20 succeed in the majors C) About 40 percent of pitchers ranked in the Top-20 succeed.
Rodriguez may buck this trend with the Red Sox. However, there is a good chance that he flames out like most young pitching prospects. Even if he ends up as back end starter or bullpen arm, the value associated with having a 22 year old LHP under club control until 2021 will be much more compared to a dominant performance bullpen arm for two months even with a .9 WAR. The Orioles though have a pennant to show for it and some fans, including this one, are fine with that decision. The bigger issue may be what the Orioles are missing in the development of their young arms in their farm system. That issue is something that will have to change if the Orioles plan to have a future of competing in the AL East.