The LA Angels might not have the flashiest starting rotation at the MLB level, but they’ve seemingly added enough veteran arms this offseason to give them a fighting chance in 2021. While there is still a lack of “explosive” pitching talent, there is potential to see high-performance seasons from a few different Angel pitchers. There’s the promising trio of Andew Heaney, Griffin Canning and Patrick Sandoval to back up the return of ace Shohei Ohtani, who will hopefully stay healthy for a full season this time, as well as the 2020 hero Dylan Bundy coming back for seconds in 2021. Other than the potential of these aforementioned pitchers, there isn’t much to strike true fear in the hearts of opposing hitters, but this won’t be the case for much longer, as the Angels have quite a bit of help that is just about ready down in the minors. One of those pitchers coming up as reinforcement is the 2016 4th-round draft pick Chris Rodriguez, who has shown in his three minor league seasons that he is well on his way to becoming “the guy” for the big league club. What exactly does the right-handed flamethrower Chris Rodriguez have in his developing arsenal that will put him, and the Angels, over the top?
Chris Rodriguez may only have 77.2 innings of work under his professional belt, but that’s all he’s needed to inspire confidence in both the front office and the fanbase in his ability be a top dog not just with the Angels, but in all of baseball. Rodriguez has only pitched 9.1 innings since 2019 due to injury, but that’s all he needed to show that he is a dominating a force on the mound. Before going down with a back injury in 2019, C-Rod absolutely outclassed each and every hitter he faced with his 12.5 K/9 and zero earned runs in that short 9.1 IP of work. I understand that is an incredibly small sample size, but coming from someone who followed all 9.1 of those innings in person and had face to face time with Rodriguez to discuss his pitching development, I can attest to the fact that Rodriguez has all the physical, mental, and toolbox makings of an ace bulldog.
Chris Rodriguez comes armed with an electric fastball that plays in the high 90’s and runs with nice late life, a heavy curveball that drops sharply out of the zone, a slider that sweeps across the zone with violent movement, and a nice changeup that comes with real whiff-ability. He has everything in his toolbox and more to keep hitters guessing and lock them up or catch them swinging. All in all, Rodriguez has all the packaging of an ace wrapped up nice and tightly with a bulldog presence that is the textbook definition of big and imposing. Rodriguez has an impressive motor that allows him to drive his big body across the mound with consistent and reliable force. His delivery is sharp and every day he’s getting better at using his lower body as the motor to the full-body force that he projects through his arm. There’s almost no difference between a baseball being shot out of a shotgun and a pitch leaving the hand of Chris Rodriguez.
An unfortunate lack of experience is what’s going to keep Rodriguez behind in 2021. If he had been able to pitch a full and healthy 2019, there is little doubt he would have shown his face in the Majors at some point in 2020, but as it is now he is about a season and a half behind in terms of experience. However, in terms of raw talent he is within a season’s reach of making the majors. It’s likely the Angels will look to bring him up to speed with an MLB callup sometime late in 2021, probably very late if I were to guess. He still needs to show his health and that is something that cannot be rushed in any way. However, he is getting Spring Training looks (and impressive ones at that) which should cut down on the amount of time Rodriguez will probably need in High-A. Again, he’s pitched just 9.1 High-A innings in his entire career, with that being the highest level he’s hit, and will likely start there as a comfort zone until he can comfortably throw a minimum of 60-70 pitches across multiple starts. You don’t want to make a guy subconsciously strain himself trying to compete at a level he’s never seen before by starting him out in Double-A, so the smart move would be to put him in High-A, where he’s physically comfortable, before he works to get mentally comfortable.
All in all, I would peg Chris Rodriguez’s Major league comp at an absolute best as Max Scherzer. He is naturally a headhunter in terms of strike throwing, and he doesn’t have to extend himself to pitch for strikeouts because his entire foundation is built on getting hitters locked up in the box or swinging and missing entirely. His breaking pitches dance violently down and across the plate and the change of speeds between his fastball and secondary has hitters off-balance almost the entire at-bat. He can punch his fastball high and tight to finish hitters off, and his command is defined enough that he can consistently threaten the zone with his arsenal. His Spring Training battle with Joey Votto, which resulted in a swinging strikeout off a failed check swing, shows picture proof of the quality of C-Rod’s arsenal. It has even the most professional hitters guessing the whole way through.
The road to the Majors will not be long for Rodriguez. Like any 22-year-old, there are still some kinks that need to be worked out, but all in all he just needs to stay healthy and he’s made. His Golden Ticket is practically already punched, we just need to see him stretch his health out in the minors. Give him a half-season of consistent minor league innings and he should be in the conversation for a Triple-A callup, and once he gets there it’s less a matter of “when will he be developed enough” and more of “when can the Angels comfortably make a spot for him to get looks.” This is more Triple-A watch for C-Rod than it is MLB watch, but once he hits the upper minors, it’ll just be a matter of making space.
MLB ETA: 2021