In recent years, righty hurler Julio Rodriguez has quietly become one of the Phillies’ most promising prospects. Without the hype and buzz that has surrounded other well-regarded youngsters within the Phils’ organization, the Puerto Rican born hurler has proven himself worthy of being ranked among the team’s prospects with the greatest potential.
Selected in the 8th round of the 2008 amateur draft as a 17-year-old, Rodriguez made his professional debut that same year, throwing in seven games with the Gulf Coast League Phillies. However, the 6-foot-4-inch 200-pounder struggled, as he posted a 12.19 ERA and a .383 batting average against.
He followed that up with a return to the GCL the following year. Rodriguez added some strength and made some serious improvements, posting a 1-2 record with a 3.08 ERA and a .197 batting average against in 11 games (eight starts).
In 2010, as a 19-year-old, Rodriguez began the season in extended spring training, but joined the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws in May. He spent time with the short-season Williamsport Crosscutters as well that year, and finished with an overall record of 7-3 with a 1.89 ERA and a .175 batting average against in 20 outings (12 starts). As the season progressed, Rodriguez was a key contributor, helping Lakewood lock down their second consecutive South Atlantic League championship that year.
As a member of the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers in 2011, Rodriguez was named a Florida State League All-Star, as he had a stellar campaign. In 27 starts, Rodriguez finished with a league leading 16 wins, a 2.76 ERA that was second best in the FSL and a .186 batting average against.
This past year in the Double-A Eastern League, Rodriguez had a strong start to his season, going 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA through 10 starts, en route to becoming an EL All-Star. He also represented the Phillies in last year’s MLB All-Star Futures Game. But following an eight game stretch that began at the start of July, during which Rodriguez tallied a 6.81 ERA, he was moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the season. The 6-foot-4-inch 230-pounder wrapped up his 2012 regular season campaign with a 7-7 record, a 4.23 ERA and a .243 batting average against.
This off-season, Rodriguez pitched with Carolina in the Roberto Clemente (Puerto Rico) League. In 10 outings (three starts), he sported a 3-1 record with a 3.67 ERA. If not for one very bad outing in which he allowed five earned runs in 2 1/3 innings, Rodriguez’s ERA would have been a much improved 2.19 for Carolina.
Rodriguez doesn’t sport one of the best fastballs is the Phils’ system. In fact, his fastball velocity resides in the high-80′s and perhaps clocks at 90 MPH on a good day, but the 22-year-old has steadily recorded impressive strikeout totals in the minors. Averaging 10.16 strikeouts per 9 innings over the past three seasons, it is his excellent secondary pitches and his ability to keep the ball hidden from opposing batters with his wind up that helps Rodriguez mow down the competition. His repertoire includes a fastball with some natural cut, a strong curveball that dives away from righty batters and a solid change up that has shown development as he has progressed upward in the minors.
Rodriguez, a fierce competitor that expects to win when he’s on the mound, was ranked higher on this list last year. A difficult second half last year and some uncertainty about his role going forward forced that dip, but expect Julio to be among the next wave of pitchers to become options to fill voids at the big league level from the Phils’ developmental ranks.