Joely Rodriguez will make his first start tonight

Pittsburgh Pirates 2014 Top Prospects: #15 – Joely Rodriguez

The Pirates Prospects 2014 Prospect Guide is now on sale. The book features prospect reports on everyone in the system, the 2014 top 50 prospects, and the most comprehensive coverage of the Pirates’ farm system that you can find.  While the top 50 prospects are exclusive to the book, we will be releasing the top 20 prospects over the next few weeks.  Be sure to purchase your copy of the book on the products page of the site.

To recap the countdown so far:

20. Michael De La Cruz, OF
19. JaCoby Jones, OF
18. Barrett Barnes, OF
17. Cody Dickson, LHP
16. Blake Taylor, LHP

We continue the countdown with the number 15 prospect, Joely Rodriguez.

Joely Rodriguez was added to the 40-man roster this off-season.

Joely Rodriguez was added to the 40-man roster this off-season.

15. Joely Rodriguez, LHP

The Pirates are starting to get some left-handed talent in the lower levels of the system, but they don’t have many lefty starting options close to the majors. That changed this year with the emergence of Joely Rodriguez. He’s been mostly talent and potential prior to this season, but Rodriguez finally put things together in West Virginia, and then again in Bradenton, capping off his season by being added by the Pirates to their 40-man roster.

As an 18-year old, Rodriguez was hitting 88-92 MPH with his fastball, touching 94. The only problem was that he struggled with control at that velocity range, doing better in the upper 80s. The Pirates noticed the skill, and moved him to the rotation in 2011. He missed most of the season with an elbow injury, then returned to the NYPL in 2012 with good advanced metrics but poor overall results.

A big reason why he broke out in 2013 was due to improvements with his fastball command. Rodriguez was suddenly sitting 91-94 with the fastball, touching as high as 96, and commanding the pitch with good cutting movement. He has an above-average slider, which also has cutting movement, but wasn’t as effective when his fastball was sitting upper 80s, due to the slider featuring similar movement in the mid-80s. The changeup made big strides this year, sitting in the low-80s with late cutting movement away from right-handers. The theme with all of his pitches is they all cut.

Rodriguez has the potential to be a middle of the rotation starter, or a dominant lefty reliever similar to Justin Wilson. He should start the 2014 season with Altoona, and now that he’s on the 40-man roster, he could have a shot at the majors by mid-2015 or 2016.

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Tim Williams

Tim is the owner and editor in chief of Pirates Prospects. He started the site in January 2009, and turned it into his full time job during the 2011 season. Prior to starting Pirates Prospects, Tim worked with, providing MLB, NHL, and NFL coverage to various national media outlets, including ESPN Insider, USA Today, Yahoo Sports, and the Wall Street Journal. He also writes the annual Prospect Guide, which is sold through the site. Tim lives in Bradenton, where he provides live coverage all year of Spring Training, mini camp, instructs, the Bradenton Marauders, and the GCL Pirates.

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  • johndw28

    I am very excited about this kid. Have a feeling he puts a great 2014 on his resume.

  • leefoo

    Let’s hope that Taylor and Dickson follow Joely’s example.

  • Matt

    You said the changeup “cuts away from right handed batters.” Wouldn’t that be tail? So, my next question is about the fastball, does it cut (glove-side break like Melancon) or tail (arm-side break like Burnett)?

    • Tim Williams

      Changeup moves away from RH. Fastball moves down and in vs RH.

      • Dean Manifest

        ” He has an above-average slider, which also has cutting movement”

        I had a similar question. Can you elaborate on the movement of Joely’s slider and how it differs from other sliders?

        I also think it could be great if you posted a guide to all the pitches pitchers throw and linked it permanently on the front page. Something along the lines of…..

        “A ______ generally sits 10-15 mph slower than a pitcher’s 4-seam fastball, usually becoming more effective the larger that gap. It moves left-to-right, breaking away from lefties and into the hands of righties when thrown by a RHP. The average _____ breaks about 9 inches horizontally and 3 inches vertically, although some pitchers like Joe Schmo average more like 12 and 5. It’s typically used as a swing and miss pitch to lefties and to endure ground balls from righties. So-and-so is considered to have one of the more effective ______s in the game, generating a swing and miss 70% of the time with a 25% ground ball rate…..”

        Could also include a picture of the grip used, data about how often it’s used, and in what situations, and so on and so forth.

        Would be a big job but I think it could be awesome.

        Just a thought.

        • Tim Williams

          In general, a slider starts off moving like a fastball, but has late break and is slower. There are different types of sliders, depending on how fast they are thrown and how much break they have.

          A cutter is a hard fastball, usually in the 90 MPH range. This is what Gerrit Cole throws. Bryan Morris has also added this pitch in the last two years.

          Rodriguez has more of a hard slider, which features late break. It’s not as extreme as a cutter, but he’ll throw it with good velocity, in the mid-80s.

          Beyond that there’s a slurve, which is slower with more movement from left to right (for a lefty) and moves a bit like a curveball. This is what Jameson Taillon throws (although his moves right to left, since he’s right-handed).

  • PirateFanMan

    Hey Tim, I love reading all of the stuff on the site and I’m a first time commentator. But you said you could see Joely as a power bullpen arm or middle of the rotation arm. Where do you think he slots in more long term? or does he have more value as trade bait?

    • Tim Williams

      The thing about lower level guys is that their upside is in the air. Joely’s future really depends on how he makes the jump to the upper levels, and the consistency of his pitches. I like to mention a lot of possibilities to give an idea of alternate outcomes. The Pirates will give him a shot as a starter until he can’t make it in that role. His upside as a starter is a middle of the rotation guy. However, if he fails as a starter, his stuff is still good enough to be a strong reliever. Right now you can’t give him strong odds of realizing his upside as a starter, simply because of where he is in the minors.

  • hifilofi

    Dickson vs. Joely, if you had to pick one for a long term keeper (which I do), who would it be? I’m guessing you have Joely higher for 2014 not career outlook.

    Dickson seems like a safer bet with lower upside. Joely could be something special but also could flame out and become a lefty specialist. Splitting hairs?

  • Cato the Elder

    Nice to see a gaggle of lefties with starter upside populating the ranks.

    • Tim Williams

      Even better if/when they get Wei-Chung Wang back.

      • elgaupo

        I think he’s gone. The Brewers are going to stink this year. They’ll be able to stash a LHRP all year. He might even be the lone LHP in the pen. Who cares we all know how important relievers are to a crappy team.

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