Early in the Arizona Fall League, a pitcher that quickly caught my attention was Eduardo Rodriguez of the Baltimore Orioles.
The lanky 6-foot-2, 200-pound left-hander, who is ranked No. 2 among the Orioles' Top 20 Prospects by MLB.com, was signed by Baltimore as an international free agent in January 2010.
Still only 20, Rodriguez shows amazing poise and self-confidence on the mound. He has the type of mound demeanor that can carry him through the best of times and some difficult hiccups, should they arise. He doesn't get rattled.
Rodriguez uses a combination of a late-moving two-seam and four-seam fastballs, a biting slider and a solid changeup as his primary repertoire. He induces ground balls and swings and misses with both velocity and pitch location. In short, he knows how to pitch. And he'll get better with more experience against quality hitters.
Rodriguez began his career with the Orioles in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. Finishing with a 3-4 record, he had a sparkling 2.33 ERA. Only 17 at the time, Rodriguez yielded less than a hit per inning, giving up 48 in 65 2/3 innings. He didn't allow a home run. He did, however, walk 28 batters, showing signs that his command and control were targets for improvement.
The following season, Rodriguez came to the United States and pitched at two Orioles classifications. He threw to a 1.81 ERA for the Orioles' Rookie level team in the Gulf Coast League. Again, he yielded less than a hit per inning in his 44 2/3 innings of work. Lowering his walk rate a bit, his WHIP was only 1.01. He got a taste of advanced play at Class A short-season Aberdeen that season as well, but he pitched in only one game, throwing four innings.
The past two seasons, Rodriguez has faced increasingly more mature and better quality hitters as he has completed a season at Class A Delmarva, as well as spending this past year at Class A Advanced Frederick and Double-A Bowie. So in his four-year career, Rodriguez has progressed quickly and effectively through the Orioles' farm system.
This past July, Rodriguez was named to the World Team for the All-Star Futures Game. He pitched one inning, striking out one and allowing one hit.
When I saw him pitch for the Surprise Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, Rodriguez threw three innings. He had already thrown 145 innings for the season, so I wasn't expecting to see him for an extended outing. But I liked what I saw.
This past season, left-handed batters hit .279 against Rodriguez, while righties hit only .229. That's unusual. In most cases, it would be the other way around. But Rodriguez tends to throw strikes. He's around the plate a great deal, and I didn't see him pitch inside much. To the contrary, he stayed to the outside corner on all hitters. Eventually, he will find the inside of the plate and throw the ball under the hands of the lefty hitters. That will make a difference.
In the Fall League, Rodriguez threw his fastballs at 92 mph, which was 10 mph more than his slider. His changeup did alter the balance of the hitters at 85 mph, but it didn't have the late life or crisp break of the other two pitches. It looked to me to be a pitch in development.
His fastball and slider together form a difficult combination for hitters to read. Given his unusually good pace and tempo, Rodriguez makes it difficult for the hitter to see the ball coming out of his hand.
Other than his advanced composure and nice pitch mix, I was impressed with Rodriguez's uncomplicated delivery and smooth mechanics. He has a very loose and free release, with the ball leaving his hand with ease.
Rodriguez still has progress to make on missing more bats and challenging hitters with inside pitches. Once he is more comfortable with those important nuances of the game, I project him to be a solid No. 3 starter for the Orioles.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.