What to expect in 2012: Julio Rodriguez

Welcome to the 4th installment of the “What to expect in 2012” series. We’ve previously covered Trevor May, Jon Pettibone and Sebastian Valle. Today we’ll cover one of the more controversial prospects in the system, RHP Julio Rodriguez. J-Rod was an under the radar 8th round selection in 2008 out of Puerto Rico and since signing, he’s posted big strikeout numbers, low ERAs, and very divergent scouting reports. Some reports had his velocity in the 90-93 range, average for a RHP. Other reports had him at 86-89, far below average for a RHP. I wrote this about J-Rod way back in 2008 after he was drafted:

He’s got a great pitcher’s frame, and his motion has lots of arms and knees, which could probably create some deception. His fastball has decent life, and the Phillies are probably banking on him adding velo as he fills out his frame. The only thing I really noticed, from the side, is that it seems that he hangs over the rubber for a split second, which might be holding back some of his velocity.

he’s obviously a project, I’d bet he repeats the GCL next year unless he just lights up the world in Instructs and looks awesome in the spring. If he fills out his frame and adds 2-3 mph on his fastball and can tighten his curveball, we might have something. The Phillies seem to do a decent job with projectable RHP (Myers and Madson come to mind), so we’ll see what happens here. Its going to be a slow road for Rodriguez, but assuming he’s healthy next year, he should be a fun one to monitor over the summer.

He did repeat the GCL in 2009 and performed well, and he’s moved somewhat slowly, reaching A+ in his 4th pro season (3rd full season) He hasn’t added a ton of velocity, but again, that depends on the report you read. But the results speak for themselves…take a look:

(click to enlarge)

As I’ve said in every top 30 write-up since he was drafted, he’s going to have to prove himself at every level. The jump from A+ to AA is massive, especially in the Phillies system for pitchers, as they go from a pitcher friendly league to a hitter friendly league and a very hitter friendly home park. His GB% plummeted to just 30% in 2011, and that will cause problems next year if it persists. The most impressive stat for Rodriguez has been his opponent’s BA. In 2011 it was .184, and that follows sub .200 numbers in both 2010 and 2009. Hitters are definitely not seeing the ball out of his hand, and it leads to a lot of weak contact. What is the secret? Is it the long arms and legs? Can he continue to repeat it? 2012 is going to be a huge year for J-Rod, in whatever role the Phillies use him. What are your expectations?

75 thoughts on “What to expect in 2012: Julio Rodriguez

  1. I think J-Rod (love the nickname) will finally get the recognition he deserves as a prospect by kicking total ass in Reading. I mean, come on! He lead the FSL in wins last year, and was top five in almost every good category. If he can keep working on his nasty, 12-6 curveball that looks cartoonish, he’ll definitely be known throughout

        1. Wins mean nothing because they’re a team stat. Kyle Loshe had the same amount of wins as Cole Hamels this year… are they the same caliber players? Pitchers don’t control if they get wins or not.

          What matters: His solid ERA, WHIP, Strikeout, and Opponents Batting Average numbers because those are the stats he has some control over.

  2. If ever there was a “mystery man” in the Phils system, J-Rod is him. Opinions seem all over the lot. But so far one thing is true: he’s had success during his several seasons at several levels.

    He certainly is one to watch as he hits the level that separates the MLB real candidates from the also-rans. He could solidify his status as one of the “real” ones in ’12 at the AA challenge in Reading.

    Looking forward to following him in ’12. Bang or bust.

  3. This is the year for Julio. I have confidence that he will assert himself. He has shown that he won’t back down from doing what he has to do (Lakewood/Greenville playoffs) and he has been better than good at every level. The Reading ballpark will provide a challenge as well as the hitters. We will now see if Julio has it for the majors. We will see how consistent his velocity is. We know he knows how to pitch. I can’t wait to see him prove he belongs.

    1. I know right. He’s been around long enough. The only thing is that any readers on this site who saw him last year seemed to say the same thing: 86-89 or thereabouts. I don’t remember any 90-93 reports from last season and that’s disappointing, so I’m not as bullish on him as I was before. Maybe everybody just saw him on his “off” days though.

    2. I think the velo thing is THE thing with Rodriguez. And the Phils coaching staff probably has a better handle on what his actual velocity is. My opinion, then, is split, depending on what they’re actually seeing. If he really is a low to mid 90s guy, he’ll be fine and move up the ladder. If he’s a mid-80s guy, they’ll end up using him in a trade package while his numbers are still relatively good. He might be somewhere else come the deadline.

      1. If his velocity doesn’t get up to sitting around 90-92, then that makes his best possible ceiling what? Jamie Moyer or Kyle Kendrick?

        1. Well, 267 career wins wouldn’t be so bad for a ceiling, but J-Rod has missed bats in the minors in a way that Jamie Moyer never did. J-Rod is striking out 10.5 per 9. Moyer struck out 6.9 per 9 in the minors. (Kendrick was even lower … 5.8 per 9.)

  4. I expect he will be exposed a bit in 2012 at Reading as being what all the scouting report say, a rhp with fringy stuff.

    By most accounts he knows how to pitch but at the AA level, I’m not sure that will be enough.

    1. Agreed. I would add that his tendency towards fly balls will also result in struggles in Reading. It’s going to be fascinating to see how May, J-Rod, and Pettibone perform in AA

  5. Could end up being a Jamie Moyer type for the Bull Pen with fringy stuff. Or end up being a Happ, Worley type rookie in a year that impacts immediately then falls off the stat sheets. I wish him luck in Reading but many players cut their teeth in the EL and jump to the majors. So how he handles the skill sets of the hitters is how he’ll be looked at not the SAL stats.

      1. I like his stuff better than Happ’s, but being real about it, he’s not going to put up close to a 3.00 ERA again barring some surprising development. More realistic will be league average/ 3.45-3.90 type ERAs.

        I think he’ll have a solid career as a #4/5 type starter, he doesn’t get enough swings and misses for him to be anything more.

        1. Worley showed signs of a league adjustment his 2nd half of the season. He put up a 4.05 ERA in September. After his August 5th complete game against the Giants, his ERA jumped from 2.35 to 3.01 (which is still very, very good).

          Like I said above, he’ll slot in nicely as a #4 or #5 starter for the next six years. I expect his numbers to fall off a little bit, but I don’t expect a Happ type drop off.

            1. I guess we’ll find out but there’s nothing to suggest he’s going to maintain a 2.35 era without rose colored glasses on.

              Could he have tired? Yes, that’s possible but his numbers spiked after July. They were still good, but for a guy who doesn’t get swinging strikes and relies heavily on stranding baserunners, I’d point to more of an adjustment.

      2. Worley’s peripherals were better than Happ’s – but his peripherals were also better than one would expect given his minor league performance. It COULD be simply a case where a young guy was making legitimate progress which can be maintained – in which case, while he will regress somewhat, he will (health permitting) have a long and successful major league career.

        But his minor league record makes some people understandably skeptical about his 2011 performance. Performance somewhat supported by good peripherals is more sustainable than performance not supported by good peripherals (i.e., Happ). But it’s understandable that people aren’t completely convinced base upon 130 IP.

  6. I’ve never seen him pitch but it’s kind of interesting that he hit 13 guys despite having decent control. I wonder if he’s effective in some part because he’s willing to pitch inside.

    Also if he just turned 21 and he’s listed as 6’4″ and 195 lbs, isn’t it possible that his velocity ticks up a few MPH as he fills out? Or is this just wishful thinking on my part?

    I’m really excited for Rodriguez. He had a big year as one of the younger pitchers in the FSL. It’s not like he’s a 24 year old college guy dominating younger competition. He’s kinda of the anti-jiwan james of prospects.

  7. Either J-Rod defies all expectations to become a very good pitcher, or he’ll eventually get figured out and exposed like J.A Happ. He’s certainly one of the most interesting prospects, but it’s hard for me to be too high or low on my expectations..

    1. Happ had a very nice run and may simply have had a bad season for an uninspiringly bad team. Or he could be experiencing some arm woes. We can’t really know. Kendrick’s longevity has been a lot greater than anyone predicted and he seems the least naturally talented of Happ/Worley/Rodrigues. Knowing how to pitch with excellent command of your fastball and a couple quality off-speed pitches goes a really long way, even in the major leagues. The crap pitchers cause the Phillies more problems than the flame throwers. Some guys are a lot better than their velocity suggests and Rodriguez could well be one of those guys. I expect a good season in the Reading rotation. He probably moves up the ladder better than some of the higher rated guys. There is hardly anyone in AA who can’t hit a mid-90s fastball, unless it has a lot of movement. Most of the flailing is at off speed stuff.

  8. I’ve never seen J-Rod pitch but his stats show that he’s very deceptive. He either has Schwimlocity (I think that’s what Schwim called it), or he has very advanced stuff for his age. In either case, it bodes well for him as he advances. If it somehow is just luck then he’s the luckiest b@$tard on the earth. He’s young so he’ll have time to figure things out. He’s also a good size pitcher. He’s no Roy Oswalt in size. He could add a pitch if he needs to. He could tinker with motion, arm slot or leg drive.

    This year, I think he’ll have a less than stellar year but he has the tools to make adjustments and age is on his side. I think he’ll develop into a solid #4 or #5 starter. It won’t be for a while though.

  9. Do you think JRod personally ‘held back’ on his velo most of the time…knowing weakness’ of some of the hitters he was facing…could he be trying to save his arm long-term?

  10. Unfortunately size projection doesn’t always equal velocity projection. By this age your arm pretty much is what its going to be. In other words I wouldn’t look to see him grow into throwing 94-95 4 seamers but then that doesn’t always mean success either.

    I’ll be interested to see his secondary stuff and how he goes about getting lefties out.

    1. I don’t know about that – guys often increase their velocity into their mid-20s, especially if they are growing, getting stronger or improving their conditioning. Madson, for example, added about 6 miles or so on his fastball in his mid-late 20s as a result of should strengthening exercises (which raises the question of why every pitcher out there is not doing these exercises). Other pitchers lose velocity and some (many, actually) are just plain inconsistent until they get into their mid-20s – I think that’s what we may be seeing with pitchers like Biddle and Rodriguez and, certainly, we saw that from Aumont as he bounced from bullpen to rotation and back again and struggled with his mechanics at times along the way.

      So, the long and the short of it is this – nobody knows. Rodriguez’s future velocity is entirely uncertain.

      1. That Madson example, is quite remarkable, I remember watching the games and seeing his velo tick up over the years and almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

        1. Yes, Madson is at the extreme end of the continuum. But an uptick of 2-3 mph happens all the time and could be the difference between J-Rod becoming a #2 and a #5.

            1. He didn’t really increase his velocity, he regained it.

              Fangraphs pitch f/x data:
              Average Fastball Velocity

              2007: 91.1 mph
              2008 89.9 mph
              2009 90.3 mph
              2010 91.7 mph
              2011 91.2 mph

            2. Cole’s velocity probably was downn in ’09 because of the Verducci effect. His innings pitched jumped by something like 70 between ’07 and ’08

  11. Ceiling – Ace (Purely based on stats and age rel to level.) Floor – AAAA Pitcher (Purely based on scouts).

    I honestly don’t think there’s a whole lot of inbetween here, this is the kind of thing I live for in the MLB prospect community…. The struggle between Stats adn Opinion, it’s beautiful.

    It’s why half of this board is hedging their bets and saying 4/5 MLB Starter…

    The optimist in me says “ACE BABY!” The realist in me says “Who the hell knows” and the pessimist in me says “Failure”…

    I got nothing else to say… rock paper scissors anyone?

    1. His ceiling is NOT that of an ace. Even if his velocity does tick up a bit he will never have the three plus-pitch arsenal it requires to be a true MLB ace. True aces throw mid 90s, with a power curve or slider and a biting change or cutter to get opposite-handed hitters out. True aces but up video game numbers in the minors — look at Cole Hamels’ or Matt Moore’s minor league stats on b-ref.

        1. Ah, the inevitable Greg Maddux comparison. Greg Maddux is a once every three generations pitcher as a righty who could dominate with velocity that was, at best, slightly above average. Maddux was able to succeed in spite of this limitation because he had an uncanny combination of movement, pitch variation, pinpoint command, and amazing baseball intelligence.

          Having watched baseball habitually since the early 1970s, the only righty pitchers that I can remember (there may be a few others) who were/are roughly comparable to Greg Maddux in terms of stuff and approach were Rick Reuschel (don’t laugh – he was a lifetime 66 WAR pitcher) and Roy Halladay (it took me a year and a half of watching him for me to figure out that Halladay is really a gigantic, harder throwing version of Maddux) – maybe you can throw Mike Flanagan in there, but that’s a reach. Suffice it to say, there aren’t a lot of minor leaguers floating around that are like Greg Maddux.

            1. Cone and Mussina threw harder, at least early in their careers – both were in the mid-90s. I personally watched Cone go 20-3 for the 1988 Mets – believe me, he was not a junk ball guy, although he did have plenty of pitches.

            2. Mussina used to bring it, particularly in his early years with the O’s. And the high-90’s variety.

      1. Go look at the through age 21 seasons for the pair (cole and Jrod)… they’re really not very far apart.

        I agree hamels took a big step forward at age 22, but Jrod has that opportunity, so as far I’m concerned, there have been pitchers who statistically ended their careers as aces with worse minor league statistics than Jrod.

        As to his Velo and his “Stuff”, I conceeded that when i mentioned (based on scouts take), he’s more fringy. You need to go re-read what i wrote, then we can talk again.


        1. Sorry, at least at this time, you really can’t compare Hamels to J-Rod. At age 21, Hamels was coming off a long string of injuries that limited the number of innings he pitched in the minors. When he pitched, however, he was lights out for the most part. But, more importantly, Hamels was a left with good command, a plus fastball, and a plus plus change. I like J-Rod a lot, but he wasn’t comparable to Hamels – not in the least.

          1. You’re giving scouting reasons why they don’t compare, and yes, catch, I completely agree that they don’t have nearly the same potential, one had injury issues one didn’t, one had a single pitch that was plus plus, one doesn’t, but from a pure “statistical” perspective, they’re really not that far off, take a look. (admittibly a very small sample size for hamels).

            ERA – 1.56 v 2.87
            Whip – .99 v 1.06
            K/9 – 12.2 v 10.5
            BB/9 – 3.8 v 3.2

            Hamels undoubtably is the better overall pitcher, but Jrod isn’t so far away that you can say there is zero chance he can be a top of the rotation starter, his numbers are still excellent and i’m sure I could pull several other ACE pitchers who during their minor league career were much more compareable. (Look at Halladay’s stats, they were fringy at best though his age 21 season). Cliff lee never had a sub 2.8 ERA in any of his 3 years in the minors (age 21-23) and other then his age 21 season in A ball, averaged about 10k per 9.

            All i’m saying is Jrod based on stats could be a number 1, i’m not saying his “scouting” stuff matches up to that, (though i bet it didn’t for roy halladay either)…

    2. Really seeing this as “stats versus opinion” is deceptive. His biggest fans are the “raw stats” crowd, who discount both scouting AND modern statistical metrics. The modern stat guys and the old school scouting guys are actually more or less on the same page on JRod, i.e., somewhat skeptical and seeing his ceiling as at best a 3, if not a 4 or 5, and definitely not an ace.

      1. Curious….do you consider the WHIP (1.06), BB/9–3.3, K/9—10.5 ‘raw stats’ vs part of the modern stat metrics?

        1. WHIP is not, at all. Especially after Voros McCracken and the popularization of DIP. The others … a little of both, I guess. It’s true that you didn’t see those specific metrics much 20 years ago, but I’d say that K totals (and BB totals to a lesser extent) have always been in the forefront of player evaluation.

          But my point wasn’t that he looks “bad” by modern statistical methods – I’m talking about the types of people who are skeptical about JRod. Modern stat guys – and honestly, that isn’t the best term for them, for this very reason – are generally very cognizant of fact that velocity is very, very important in predicting pitcher success. Not the ONLY important factor, but important enough that, if he really is in the 86-89 range, he has ZERO chance of being an “ace,” no matter how good his stuff is otherwise. And even at 90-91 the chances of that level of success are pretty low.

            1. This is really what it comes down to. And also why the common perception of the “SABR” crowd is a little off (or in some cases a lot off, cough Marfis, cough). Ideally what we should be doing is considering a whole range of evidence. In this case the evidence is statistical in a sense, but not the kind of statistical evidence that is the stereotypical “stat geek” type of stat.

              Now, to be clear, even if the skeptics are right we could have a nice 4/5 starter, and that type of player has real value. But if the skeptics are wrong, it’s going to be because his velocity is higher than reported. It’s not going to be because he dominates major league hitters with deception & low velocity.

      2. He had a great BABIP (even though against last year of .238 which in combination with him switching to a hitter friendly AA park (and the increase in talent) leads me to believe he will probably take a step back. That said, his 2010 year was literally as dominant as it appeared… his ERA was 1.44 and his FIP was 1.69… so, it isn’t impossible that he’ll continue doing well.

        I personally ascribe to all 3 catigories, I think there is some value in looking at hard metrics (and i don’t mean wins and losses, i mean more like Walks, Strikeouts and ERA), it’s the only way i can justify pitchers like Matt Cain, at the same time, I look at advanced metrics, my favorite of which is probably BABIP for hitters (and no, i don’t want to strike up the conversation about what it’s a flawed stat because of the angle of the ball off the bat and it’s velocity after contact), and FIP for pitchers. As for scouting, scouting in the majors carries much less value to me then it does in the minors.

        In Jrods case, he’s got 1 vote for his ceiling as a #1 pitcher (hard stats), 1 vote for him as a 5th starter or AAAA player (scouts) and 1 as a 3rd/4th we’ll say (hard metrics). That’s what makes him particualrly interesting to me, and super entertaining to see play out. I’m not saying he’s a blue chip prospect, just that 3 different philosophies view him very differently

        1. yes..that is why this is such a wide-open debate. IMO, if his ‘velo’ sat steady at 92/93, touching 94/95…there would be no debate,either raw stats or mod stat metrics.

          1. Well yes. I think that there are plenty or reasons to doubt that his velocity is consistently (or even often) at that level. Even if it is, I think people underestimate the kind of talent/stuff/performance that an “ace” type pitcher typically demonstrates in the minor leagues, but certainly if his velocity is that high his ceiling is probably an “ace.”

        2. I don’t really think you can break it down that way though. The way I see it … IF his velocity is as slow as reported … that pretty much trumps everything else – at least in terms of the more optimistic projections (“ace”). Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t, even if his velocity is that low, have a chance of making it as a 4/5 starter.

          Relatedly, I tend to think that, in evaluating pitching prospects especially, scouting generally trumps everything else. That’s not true of hitters. I have no logical reason why that should be the case, just observing that in fact it does seem to be the case.

          1. yes agree,,,scouting on the pitchers apparently has more of a hgher value vs that of the hitters…and we see somewhat the opposite of JRod in Brody Colvin. Scouts seem to be higher on him and Colvin’s stats relatively pale in comparsion to JRod.

  12. I’ve read all the same stuff as anyone else but what keeps getting me excited about JRod is the few number of guys that get on base off him. I expect that he’ll give up more homers in hitter friendly Reading and his ERA will be a bit higher but if most of those dingers are solo shots, it shouldn’t hurt too bad. I expect JRod will spend the entire season at Reading and win 12-14 games with an era just under 3.00. I always remember that Trevor May once commented that he couldn’t understand why JRod wasn’t thought of more highly because the guys on the team thought very highly of him. Pitchers know pitchers….

  13. The deceptive delivery and BAA tells me this guy has some kind of future in the bigs. He’s a mystery, but a really fun mystery. I’m excited to see what happens with him!

    1. I agree, I’m excited to see him pitch in Reading. I think this is the year we truly find out what we have with him.

  14. The only problem i see with some of these comparisons is that, and i am no expert, but everything i read and witness watching baseball is lefties can get away with less velocity than righties. You can’t use a hamels, happ, moyer comparison. If JRod is going to be a good pitcher he needs to be in that 91-93 range, continue fooling guys with his deceptive curveball, and get a third pitch. I don’t what to expect but after this year we will have a much more realistic picture.

    1. Two reasons lefties get away with less velocity:

      A. Most hitters face WAY more righties than lefties in their amateur careers. They have less seasoning against them.

      B. There are less lefties that throw hard than righties.

      1. That may be part of the reason but I think the biggest reason is that most lefties throw at about 3/4 to 7/8 of their top arm slot, thereby hiding the ball better and getting better lateral movement on their pitches (hence the LOOGY). I don’t know why typical lefties throw at a different angle than typical righties, but they do.

    2. I could see maybe a Bronson Arroyo comp. About the same height and velocity, J-Rod apparently throws a loopy curveball like Arroyo does. Arroyo has had some good years and bad years and has worked out to be about an average starter in his career. I think that’s what we can hope for from J-Rod if his velocity routinely sits 86-89.

  15. Its fun that these guys are getting closer to the bigs. If the Phils resign Hamels they are pretty well set up for the next few years in terms of starting pitching depth if just a couple of them pan out.

    2012: Doc-Lee-Hamels-Worley-Blanton-Kendrick
    2013: Doc-Lee-Hamels-Worley-Kendrick-May-Pettibone
    2014: Doc-Lee-Hamels-May-Worley-Pettibone-J-Rod-Colvin-Biddle
    2015: Lee-Hamels-May-Biddle-Worley-Pettibone-J-Rod-Colvin

    Of course they will probably trade some of these guys, so take it with a grain of salt.

    1. Just you watch – Doc will pitch for the Phillies until he’s 40 and, get this, he’s still going to be really good as he gets to that point. He’s a unique player with a unique skill set (gigantic, hard-throwing, control pitcher) and a unique devotion to conditioning. Just amazing.

      1. Yeah, I don’t see him going anywhere. He’s got the type of arsenal that doesn’t fade away. Just a matter of when all the innings he’s thrown are going to catch up to him.

      2. Good point, Catch.

        The Phils should ride Doc until, inevitably, he hits the wall. I think that after the 2014 season he will still be very good and entitled to a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third year that will keep him with the Phils until age 40.

      3. While not having Doc’s prowess Jim Kaat pitched to 43. He was a fitness devotee. I did meet him once and at first thought he was a football player , Too bad he never had much post career doings with the Phils

  16. I like J-Rod. A great curve ball can be just as effective as a good fastball, which may explain his success to date. There are plenty of major leaguers who are great fastball hitters but who can’t hit a curve ball. J-Rods’ put up Bastardo/Hamels-type minor league rate stats, but without the injuries. He’s gotten a lot of professional innings, both in the regular season and at winter ball against older competition. At 21 he’ll be young for AA, so he might struggle this season and he may have to begin 2013 in AA again, but with his durability and track record I think he will be a big league starter. How good is just a guess at this point, but I think he is as good a prospect as Pettibone and Colvin.

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