The Angels' 20-year-old rookie Francisco Rodriguez won his third game of the postseason and of his major league career tonight, pitching one scoreless inning with 2 strikeouts against the Twins. This comes from a player who did not appear in a major-league game until September 18 of this year and who has moved up three organizational levels from 2001.
So how does a player go from his second straight year languishing in the Single-A California League to making Torii Hunter look silly on a 59-foot slider in the League Championship Series all in one year. The answer is, in a word, strikeouts.
Rodriguez was signed by the Angels as a free agent in 1999. He labored three years in the minors as a starting pitcher. He did alright his first two years and advanced from Rookie League to Short-Season Single-A to Single-A. But his 2000 California League season was cut short ostensibly by injury. When he came back in 2001, he was still in the California League and his ERA ballooned to 5.38 for the year, but he continued to strike out well over a hitter per inning. Rodriguez was moved up to Double-AA this year despite his poor performance in 2001 and was converted to a reliever. He quickly moved up to Triple-A and finally to the parent ballclub. He also played for the World team in the 2002 Futures Game at the All-Star break. After the All-Star break, there were rumors that Mike Scioscia was ready to promote him to the Angels, but given that he was just getting used to Triple-A, it didn't happen until the rosters expanded. Here is his bio from the MLB Futures Game web page:
Francisco Rodriguez, RHP, ANA, Salt Lake/AAA, Venezuela 2002 stats (23 games with Arkansas): 3-3, 1.96 ERA, 9 saves
After tearing up the Texas League, Rodriguez recently earned a promotion to Triple-A and the PCL. A starter for three seasons, Rodriguez got stuck in the California League for two seasons. But as a closer for the first time, he's been able to use his penchant for strikeouts (301 in 234 IP coming into this season) to his advantage. He struck out 61 in 41.1 innings with Arkansas. He's only 21, so he has plenty of time to adjust to the new role.
I could not find Rodriguez's transcript anywhere. He was not on the 2002 spring training 40-man roster; therefore, he is not listed in TSN's Baseball Register. The ESPN and CNN sites show just his major-league stats. I dug through my old yearly TSN Baseball Guides and formed a picture. Here are his complete major- and minor-league stats through tonight's game:
Those are pretty interesting numbers. Note that he averaged about 12 strikeouts per 9 innings in the minors and is now averaging almost 17 since his call-up. Look at those wild pitch, hit batsmen, and balk numbers in the minors though.
Rodriguez is only 20 and look at the interesting career that he has already had. It will be even more interesting to see what he can do in his first full season next year. By the way, Rob Neyer advocated starting Rodriguez next year. I think his numbers clearly indicate that he would be more effective as a reliever.