Yesterday the Pittsburgh Pirates added four players to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the upcoming Rule 5 draft. Everyone knows about Gregory Polanco and Alen Hanson. They were two of the biggest breakout prospects in baseball in 2012, and have been two of the top 50 prospects in the game ever since. Readers of this site might know a bit more about Casey Sadler and Joely Rodriguez, but still probably not as much as the other two.
I’ve been doing this Prospect Rewind series in an attempt to go back and review old reports from previous Prospect Guides, as well as providing a weekly reminder that the 2014 Prospect Guide is available for pre-sales, and is set to ship in mid-December after the Winter Meetings. So the series serves multiple purposes, but mostly it’s about the selling of books. With the Rule 5 moves happening yesterday, I figured that it would be best this week to look back at the reports of Sadler and Rodriguez, to give a better idea of where they came from and how they got to the point where they could be placed on the 40-man roster.
Rodriguez is one of my favorite personal stories, because he’s the first sleeper I really “scouted”. I saw him unintentionally at the end of the 2010 season. I was traveling to Williamsport to see Zack Dodson pitch for State College. Later in the game, Rodriguez came on to pitch. I don’t give a high ranking to relievers in short season ball, but there was something special about Rodriguez, enough for him to crack our top 50 in the 2011 Prospect Guide, coming in at number 39 in the report below.
Rodriguez signed with the Pirates early in 2009, making his debut in the DSL later that season. He was surprisingly moved up to the States after just one season, despite not having the best overall numbers in 2009. He worked out of the rotation for most of the 2010 season in the GCL, with good results for an 18 year old. The performance earned him a promotion to State College, where he appeared in two games to end the season.
The big red flag for Rodriguez was the lack of strikeouts, raising the question as to whether he has an effective off-speed pitch. He had a good fastball, throwing it at 88-92 MPH this year, topping out at 94. Rodriguez has good movement on his fastball, although his control can be an issue due to that movement. He’s also not afraid to go inside on right handers, and gets a lot of ground ball outs. He will likely start off in State College in 2011, and could be a sleeper pitching prospect to follow going forward.
The Pirates obviously liked what they saw with Rodriguez. They sent him to State College full time in 2011, and had him ticketed for the starting rotation. Unfortunately he suffered an elbow injury after two starts at the level. I’d post the report from the 2012 Prospect Guide, but Rodriguez was unranked, and the report is similar to the one above, while noting that Rodriguez saw his stock drop with the elbow injury.
The left-hander returned for the 2012 season, and had some decent numbers with State College. There was still promise with Rodriguez, and that was enough for him to rank 40th in the 2013 Prospect Guide.
Rodriguez broke out in 2010 at the age of 18, putting up some impressive numbers in the GCL. What was even more impressive was that he was sitting 88-92 MPH with his fastball, touching 94 at times. The fastball featured a lot of movement, and at times a sharp cutting movement. He went to State College in 2011, was hit hard in two outings, and was shut down for the season with an elbow injury.
After missing most of the 2011 season, Rodriguez returned to State College in 2012. His numbers weren’t as strong, although his advanced metrics looked a lot better than his 4.50 ERA. He had issues commanding within the strike zone, which was due to the movement on his fastball.
Rodriguez returned with his velocity in 2012, throwing 88-92, and touching 93 and 94 MPH at times. His command is better on the lower end of that scale, as he usually runs into problems letting the ball get away from him when he tries to run up the fastball. At times this year he dealt with issues where he caught too much of the plate, leading to some hard hit balls.
He pairs the fastball with a slider and a changeup. The slider is his best pitch, sitting in the 85-87 MPH range. The changeup is his second best pitch, and comes at the same angle as his fastball, making it hard for opposing batters to recognize the offering. He has the tendency to over-throw the pitch at times, getting it up to the mid-80s, which makes it ineffective. He needs to work on adding a bigger gap between his fastball and changeup, otherwise the change will just come in as a very slow fastball.
Rodriguez is a very interesting prospect. He’s young, left-handed, has good velocity, and has two good off-speed pitches. A big issue for him going forward will be his fastball command. All of his pitches have life, but the movement on his fastball can be hard to control at times. If he can learn to command the pitch, he could start seeing better results. The fastball could set up the off-speed pitches better, allowing him to use his slider as an out pitch in more favorable counts.
Rodriguez had a big year in 2013. He improved his command, which allowed him to consistently throw 91-94 MPH. That provided separation from his slider and changeup, which only improved the secondary pitches. He had a great half-season in the West Virginia rotation, then carried his success over to Bradenton for half a season. It’s possible that he could start the 2014 season in Altoona. If he doesn’t start there, he should finish the season at the level. He’s a lefty who now sits 91-94 MPH with good movement, has above average off-speed pitches, and improved control. I don’t expect him to reach Triple-A this year, but he could reach the level in 2015, and might be an option for the majors by the end of the 2015 season.
The Pirates spent a lot of money on over-slot players from 2008-2011. Most of those players came from high school, but not all of them. Sadler was drafted out of the JuCo ranks, taken in the 25th round and given a $100,000 bonus, which is high for a 25th rounder. He started his career pitching out of the bullpen for State College in 2010, then West Virginia in 2011. We had him unranked in the 2011 and 2012 Prospect Guides, although he did draw top 50 consideration in 2012 after we got the chance to see him more often. Here is that report:
Sadler gets lost in the mix pitching on the same team as the big bonus pitchers from the 2009 and 2010 draft classes, but he’s as legit of a pitching prospect as anyone else who was in West Virginia this year. He has a projectable frame, and already throws with good velocity, working in the 91-93 MPH range throughout the second half of the 2011 season.
Sadler pitched out of relief, usually working multiple innings in each outing. Innings were hard to come by in low-A this year, so the fact that Sadler was just outside of the top five in innings pitched says a lot about how the team viewed him. He put up some of the best numbers in the system, with a low WHIP thanks to the huge cut in his opponent’s average from 2010 to 2011. If he can add some velocity to his fastball, Sadler might have a shot as a late inning reliever. Even without the added velocity he’s a good pitching prospect.
The 2012 season saw Sadler go from a talented reliever to a starting pitching prospect. The Pirates moved Sadler to the Bradenton rotation after Gerrit Cole was promoted to Altoona that season. His transition to a starter was impressive, and he looked great when I had the chance to see him pitch out of the rotation. The result was that he took a big jump in the rankings, coming in at number 32 in the 2013 Prospect Guide.
Sadler had worked as a reliever his entire pro career, pitching multiple innings with West Virginia in 2011 and putting up some strong numbers. He started off in a similar role in the Bradenton bullpen in 2012, but moved to the rotation after the promotion of Gerrit Cole to Altoona. He handled the move well, putting up a 3.93 ERA in 91.2 innings as a starter. Those numbers were inflated by a few bad outings in August, which might have been due to the fact that Sadler doubled his innings totals from 2011 to 2012.
He wasn’t one of the big bonus pitchers from the 2009 or 2010 groups, but Sadler has pitched just as good, or better than all of them. He’s got a good frame, and throws his fastball in the 89-93 MPH range, consistently sitting 91-93.
Sadler pairs the fastball with a hard breaking slider and a changeup. The slider can be inconsistent at times, flattening out when Sadler gets too relaxed with the pitch. He shows confidence in the pitch, throwing it in any count. The changeup really improved for him in 2012. He always had the pitch, but never really threw it a lot. Moving to the rotation forced him to throw it more often, and the pitch was a reason for his success as a starter.
With all of the big bonus pitchers in the system over the last few years, Sadler has gotten lost in the mix. He’s out-performed almost all of them, and has done so at a level higher than most of the 2009 and 2010 prep pitchers have reached. His numbers this year were legit, and should keep him in the rotation going forward.
Sadler has a good foundation. His fastball is strong, but could see more velocity in the future since he has a tall, projectable frame. He’s got two good off-speed pitches to work with, giving him a nice three pitch mix. His control is solid, and he gets a good amount of ground balls. He also puts up a decent amount of strikeouts, mostly due to the slider. He’s got a shot to remain as a starter, and could eventually become a number four or five starter in the majors. If he can’t cut it as a starter, he could make it as a power reliever, working with his fastball/slider combo. Expect him to move up to Altoona in 2013, where he should remain in the rotation.
Sadler continued as a starter in 2013, pitching out of the Altoona rotation and putting up some impressive numbers. He had a 3.31 ERA in 130.1 innings, then finished the season with Indianapolis. He didn’t dominate with a 4.8 K/9 ratio this year, but he was a ground ball machine, with 56% grounders due to his sinking fastball and his pitch to contact approach. He could start in the Indianapolis rotation, although it’s more likely he will move back to Altoona’s rotation due to the amount of starters who project to be with Indianapolis. His long-term role with the Pirates is likely as a reliever. The Pirates could keep him as a starter this year and use him as depth in the second half of the season. If they want to move him to the bullpen now, then he could start with Indianapolis, and would have a better chance of reaching the majors in 2014.