In search of the next bullpen guy: Manuel Rodriguez

MLB: Spring Training-Tampa Bay Rays at Toronto Blue Jays
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Rays are known for finding gold among otherwise forgotten bullpen arms. I’m going to make a prediction here: this year’s surprising bullpen arm will be Manuel Rodriguez.

Rodriguez was acquired from the Chicago Cubs at the 2023 trade deadline. He came with a reputation of decent stuff and poor command, just the kind of challenge that the Rays pitching brain trusts loves to take on.

Rodriguez posted a 3.06 ERA with a 1.30 WHIP and a 2.55 FIP in 17.2 innings pitched since pitching for the first time with the Durham Bulls. During those 17.2 innings, he had a 31.6K% with a 10.5 walk%. Throughout his career, Manuel has been very effective at putting batters away through ground balls. His sinker is the main weapon that helps him get such a high ground ball percentage. Last year he posted a 45.2 ground ball% (53.2% for his career).

Rodriguez throws three main pitches. He has a sharp fastball that averages around 95 MPH, a slider with a ton of vertical drop that tops out at 92 MPH, and a sinker that averages 96 MPH. The slider is the main put-away pitch while the sinker is responsible for getting the ground balls mentioned above. Moreover, that slider reminds me of another one that is not too shabby: Pete Fairbanks’. Pete’s slider drops 43.2 inches; with remarkably similar numbers Manuel’s slider has around 44 inches of drop. Both pitches have similar shapes; they both look like curveballs, but originally are called sliders.

Rodriguez had a great Spring Training. He looked sharp and in command, posting a 1 ERA with 14 strikeouts in 9 innings. Let’s hope he can carry this momentum into the first month of minor-league baseball. Manuel will start the season in triple-A, but if he does well look for him to be an early call up. He is going to provide quality innings coming out of the pen, and even has the stuff to be getting high-leverage innings.

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Title: In search of the next bullpen guy: Manuel Rodriguez

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