Meet the Cubs' Surprise 40-Man Roster Addition: Hard-Throwing Righty Manuel Rodriguez

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Meet the Cubs’ Surprise 40-Man Roster Addition: Hard-Throwing Righty Manuel Rodriguez

Chicago Cubs

While the Cubs made us wait until past the deadline yesterday to announce their roster protections for the Rule 5 Draft, they did delight with an unexpected choice: reliever Manuel Rodriguez.

A 23-year-old from Mexico, Rodriguez is pretty obscure, with ERAs of 3.94, 7.59 and 3.45 during his three professional seasons (all in A-ball). Also, he’s listed at 5’11” and 205 pounds. Not a guy you’d expect, on paper, to be added to the 40-man roster after his High-A season.

But Rodriguez reminds that in the Rule 5 process, stuff reigns supreme, and he absolutely possesses real prospect stuff. While I would have leaned towards the greater certainty that Dakota Mekkes offers, it’s undeniable that Rodriguez offers an upside not matched by many other relievers in the system.

Rodriguez jumped out to me back in Spring Training, with one of the more impressive outings I saw during my time in Mesa:

Rodriguez wasn’t on the radar with those numbers in 2018, even though many of them were the result of terrible luck. Rodriguez allowed a rather-insane .472 BABIP in South Bend that season, with a 58.1 LOB%. With luck that bad, he could be forgiven for being a bit squeamish pitching inside the zone much. But Rodriguez was committed to throwing strikes out of the gate in 2019, and while his luck hasn’t still regressed all the way to the mean – his BABIP was .372 with Myrtle Beach this year – he showed the ability to trust his stuff when down in the count.

And his stuff got better. The short-and-stout righty was up to 98 mph with Myrtle Beach, with some absolutely nasty movement that easily explains how he went from a mid-40s GB% in 17/18 to 54.5% in the Carolina League.

I mean look at the run on some of these pitches:

After a rough April that drags down Rodriguez’ overall season numbers, he may lay claim to being the Cubs’ best minor league reliever after it.

From May on, Rodriguez pitched 36 innings with a 2.00 ERA, and 53/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. During the three month stretch from May 22 to August 23, he was even more brilliant: 27.1 IP, 20 H, 1.32 ERA, 8 BB, 42 K, 0 HR-A. I say kudos to the Cubs for their ability to scout beyond the numbers here. (But also, where was the August promotion to Double-A?)

On the year, Rodriguez sported a very nice 33.0% K rate, an 8.6% BB rate, and a 2.04 FIP.

Rodriguez does not show a platoon split, with his .624 OPS allowed against lefties actually 77 points better than it was to right-handed hitters. This speaks volumes to a power curveball that he shows the ability to throw for strikes and in the dirt.

While the two pitches may not perfectly tunnel each other, his velocity has hitters so anxious, that the breaking ball produces some truly awful swings:

Signed for $400,000 in July 2016 (a very legit bonus for a teenage pitching prospect), the Cubs are hoping Rodriguez can be the breakthrough prospect for a Mexican scouting operation they poured significant resources into during the middle of the decade.

He will head to Double-A Tennessee to begin the 2020 season, and hopefully he will finally get some batted ball luck to allow the results to match the stuff. The Cubs front office clearly had reason to believe that if they didn’t roster Manny that another team might poach him, and with plenty of 40-man space, they didn’t want to let it happen.

I didn’t see it coming, but now I can see why they pulled the trigger.

Author: Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is a Minor League Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @cubprospects.