Is Eduardo Rodriguez Right For You?
Andrew Miller blossomed into one of the premier relief pitchers in all of baseball during his nearly four-year stint with the Boston Red Sox and their patience was rewarded when they convinced their division rivals, the Baltimore Orioles, to give up Eduardo Rodriguez, a 21-year old left-handed pitching prospect, who had posted a 3-7 record with a 4.79 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 16 starts at Double-A leading up to the trade, in exchange for a two-month rental of Miller’s services.
If you’re a dynasty league veteran, I’m assuming you are since you’re reading The Dynasty Guru in February, (seriously, check out Bret Sayre’s Top 500 list if you haven’t already) you’re acutely aware of the phrase “there is no such thing as a pitching prospect” or TINSTAAP. Pitchers break. The most recent example of the volatility and injury risk pitchers are susceptible to is Jose Fernandez. The Marlins did everything in their power to protect their 23-year old stud, but his right elbow exploded last May without warning. Pitchers, especially those who are further away from the Majors are simply a much riskier investment than hitters.
In the age of prospect proliferation, where there is nothing more alluring than the promise of “ace potential or upside”, the demand for premier pitching prospects is at an all-time high, but is the risk worth the potential reward? In the Baseball Prospectus 2015 annual, Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star wrote,
“Prospects are bullshit. You may not agree with it, but I am pretty sure it’s true. There is no better con in sports than rebuilding and there is no greater fallacy than the one built around prospects. Prospects do not always get better. Sometimes they stagnate. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes they just float away. “
Now that’s a hot take. While you’re at it Andy, lets try to convince everyone out there that a hot dog is a sandwich (it isn’t trust me). I agree with the core sentiment of McCullough’s argument, but it’s impossible to deny that prospects, especially pitching prospects, are an essential (necessary evil) part of building a dynasty roster that can compete for a championship every single season. I’m not advocating that fantasy owners go out and construct a roster exclusively of minor leaguers (I’ve seen it done, even in expert leagues) because that can leave you in rebuilding purgatory for years if you end up with a bag of magic beans instead of impact fantasy contributors.
It is often more beneficial if you use your prospects as trade chips. Having the assets to acquire players who can help you win is essential, because we all know that “flags fly forever”, and nobody is going to care how many high ranked prospect you had five years from now if you don’t win. The desire to build around exciting, young pitchers often leads us to make bad trades or reach on draft day, which is a problem.
Often times the only way to acquire young pitching in a dynasty format, unless you’re willing to sacrifice an arm and a leg to get it through a trade, (no, I’m still not interested in trading you Marcus Stroman, but thanks for asking for the hundredth time) is to invest in highly touted pitchers well before they reach the majors (which is extremely risky), or take chances on pitchers like Rodriguez, who are consistently never near the top of any prospect lists (meaning you actually have to scout and work hard to uncover these gems), and have seemingly flown under the radar, but are showing positive skills growth, and are on the precipice of reaching the Majors.
If all prospects are risky and there is no guarantee that even an elite pitching prospect will be healthy or productive, I’m more inclined as a dynasty owner to take chances on unheralded pitching prospects, freely available on the waiver wire (think Shane Greene) than I am to target an elite pitching prospect in a trade, which leads us back to the case of Rodriguez, who is starting to slowly drift away from the raft of underrated pitching prospects, like Wilson did in Castaway. I’m sorry Eduardo, I’m sorry!
Immediately after arriving in Double-A Portland, Rodriguez fastball velocity spiked into the mid-90’s augmenting an arsenal already featuring a plus slider and changeup. The increased velocity translated into immediate results as Rodriguez went 3-1 with a 0.96 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 39 strikeouts and just eight walks in 37 innings of work over six Sea Dog starts. Rodriguez stellar performance earned him a call up to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he pitched extremely well during their Governors Cup playoff run.
The velocity spike combined with his outstanding secondary pitches and improved results in the upper minors have increased Rodriguez’ fantasy stock immensely, but he’s still not even the most highly regarded southpaw in his own organization among fantasy owners, thanks to Henry Owens. Rodriguez checked in at #107 in our consensus starting pitcher rankings and at #340 on Bret Sayre’s Top 500 Overall Dynasty League Rankings. He fits the mold for a potentially undervalued pitching prospect that has the lethal combination of front of a rotation stuff, has seen his performance spike and most importantly is extremely close to making his big-league debut.
Have you taken a look at the Red Sox rotation lately? If their goal was to assemble a staff capable of killing more worms than a two-week bass fishing tournament, they may succeed. Rick Porcello and Wade Miley are solid pitchers, but the rest of that rotation has some serious question marks in the health (Clay Buchholz) and performance departments (Joe Kelly and Justin Masterson). If Rodriguez is pitching well in Pawtucket and the Red Sox are serious about contending for a playoff spot, he may be the first one to get a call this upcoming season.
I’m not the only one who has taken notice of Rodriguez meteoric rise since arriving in Boston. Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs, one of the best prospect analysts in the industry right now, ranked Rodriguez as the 23rd best prospect in baseball. He may no longer be the picture perfect example of an undervalued pitching prospect to target in dynasty leagues if he starts to consistently be ranked as high as McDaniel has him industry-wide, but if Rodriguez is able to sustain the velocity he showed late last season, in 2015, he has the potential be a fixture atop the Red Sox rotation for years to come, and he’s going to cost a lot less on draft day than someone with that kind of upside should.