Detroit Tigers Trade Deadline: Dereck Rodriguez

It was a busy Trade Deadline, and the Tigers got in on the action.

Listen, it counts.

Who Is Dereck Rodriguez?

As the above tweet states, Dereck Rodriguez is the son of former Tigers great Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez, and he was claimed by the Tigers after being designated for assignment by the San Francisco Giants.

It’s generally not great business to claim 28-year-old pitchers from other rebuilding teams, but let’s dig into Rodriguez and see if there’s anything more to him

Selected out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Miami Gardens, Florida by the Minnesota Twins in the 6th round of the 2011 draft, Rodriguez originally entered pro baseball as an outfielder. He  spent his first three seasons toiling in rookie ball, where he hit .216 with 6 home runs in 100 games.

He showed a strong arm as an outfielder, and rumors were swirling inside the Twins organization that they may ask him to move to the mound. Chris Gigley wrote about Rodriguez’s decision to try pitching at The Hardball Times:

“He said they were planning on giving me an extra year to hit, but I said if you want to change me you may as well change me now,” said Rodriguez. “As long as I have a uniform on, I’m fine.”

And so Rodriquez became a pitcher. In 2014 he made 17 appearances out of the bullpen for the Elizabethton Twins in the short-season Appalachian League, and he returned there for most of 2015, winning the Appalachian League pitcher of the year award after posting a a 6-3 record with a 2.85 ERA over 12 starts.

He gradually made his way up to Double-A by the end of 2017, but the Twins didn’t re-sign him, and he elected to join the San Francisco Giants organization. He began the 2018 season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, but the Giants needed pitching help and they added Rodriguez to their 40-man roster and called him up in late May.

Rodriguez then stunned just about everyone by pitching well in the majors. The beleaguered Giants rotation needed help, and he provided it, finishing as the second best starter on the team by fWAR, and posting an impressive 2.81 ERA over 118.1 innings.

It really was a great story. The son of a Hall of Famer, who entered pro ball as a hitter, never made a top-100 prospect list, or even a top-30 team prospect list, was now pitching meaningful games in the big leagues. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Nick Ramirez, the former first baseman who converted to pitching and was a decent reliever for the Tigers in 2019.

The fun didn’t last, though. Rodriguez bounced back and forth between Sacramento and San Francisco last year, finishing with a 5.64 ERA and -0.6 fWAR. And then, after just four innings of action this season, he was designated for assignment.

What Dereck Rodriguez Brings the Tigers

Probably just minor-league depth. With Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal already in the majors, and the recent news that Alex Faedo and Matt Manning have been shut down for the season, the Tigers desperately need arms at their alternate training site in Toledo.

Rodriguez has a five-pitch arsenal, but he primarily throws fastballs, changeups, and curveballs. His changeup and curve showed some promise early, but his fastball is a below-average offering that has been very hittable.

He’s a pitch-to-contact type who succeeded in 2018 by limiting walks and home runs. But in 2019 his strikeout rate dropped, his walk rate rose, and his home run rate tripled. In a very limited sample this year he has shown a dramatic rise in the spin rate on his fastball, curveball, and cutter, and the movement on his curve and cutter have increased, so perhaps the Tigers think there is something more here.

The Giants are a pretty smart organization, though, and they probably wouldn’t have let Dereck Rodriguez go if he offered anything more than minor-league depth.