Wilking Rodriguez is probably the least well known of the three players added by the Rays to their 40 Man Roster and he is also the player furthest away from making an impact at the Major League level. Initially I was a little surprised that the Rays chose Rodriguez to protect over other talented hurlers in the system like Nick Barnese and Marquis Fleming. But after taking a closer look at him, he is yet another arm in the Rays system to get excited about.
He spent time with both the Short-Season A Hudson Valley Renegades and Low A Bowling Green Hot Rods in 2012, and combined to go 1-4 with a 5.00 earned run average in 11 starts. That stat line isn't going to knock your socks off, but it is important to note that he was battling shoulder issues most of the season, and while his numbers may not impress, his scouting report does.
Rodriguez is your prototypical young power arm, and most scouts are in agreement that he profiles as a top of the rotation starter. He possesses a plus fastball that is consistently clocked at 94-97 miles per hour. He also has a very good curveball and is developing a change-up. He can throw all three pitches for strikes, but his command has been spotty at times, which is fairly typical of young hurlers who are still learning how to pitch instead of throw.
The 21 year old right-hander is a graduate of the Rays baseball academy in his native country of Venezuela. He was signed by scout Ronnie Blanco on February 26, 2007 and spent two season pitching for the VSL Rays, before coming to the US to pitch in 2009.
In his pitching debut in America for the Rookie League Princeton Rays, he went 1-6 with a 3.21 earned run average in 56 innings. He struck out 52 hitters and opponents hit just .213 off of him. He spent all of 2010 at Low A Bowling Green where he was 4-10 in 22 games (19 starts), and struck out 93 batters in 106.1 innings while posting a 4.23 earned run average.
In 2012 his name should begin to surface more in prospect circles, and it will be interesting to see if his addition to the 40 Man roster by the Rays bumps him up in the various prospect rankings that publications will be releasing in the next few months. John Sickles of MinorLeagueBall.com did not have him in his Top 25 for 2012, but other prospect gurus are sure to include him.
Rodriguez is still a few years away from pitching in the Majors, but the Rays obviously feel strongly enough about his stuff and talent to keep him from being swiped by another franchise in the Rule 5 draft. With the organization's tremendous success at developing pitchers, no one should be surprised if he breaks out in 2012 and begins to ascend more quickly through the Rays' farm system.
My best guess is that he will begin next season with the High A Charlotte Stone Crabs, and could make his Major League debut for the Rays sometime in 2013 or early 2014. The shoulder issue from last season is a concern, but it goes without saying that the Rays think it is a non-issue if they were willing to protect him on the 40 man roster. In any case, he is a pitcher that warrants keeping tabs on in 2012 to see how his development is progressing and if the Rays made the right call about protecting him over others.
John Gregg is Publisher and Senior Editor of Rays Digest. You can follow him on Twitter at @RaysDigest. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.