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  • Brewers World Baseball Classic Notes: Rodríguez Shines Against Puerto Rico; Frelick Rakes

    Matthew Trueblood

    The Milwaukee Brewers’ delegation to the World Baseball Classic has already yielded some impressive performances, headlined by a prospect who made the most of a rare opportunity Saturday.

    Image courtesy of © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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    Last year, Carlos F. Rodríguez pitched very well in the Brewers system. After being a sixth-round pick from a Florida junior college in 2021, he made the most of his first full season as a professional, moving up from Class-A Carolina to High-A Wisconsin and posting good numbers. He ranked 11th on our countdown of the top 20 Brewers prospects this spring, and FanGraphs has him 20th in the system. 

    On Saturday, though, he got a chance to showcase his talent in a new and challenging way, and he more than met the moment. A Nicaragua native, Rodríguez not only got the invite to represent that country, but was handed the ball to start their first game of the tournament. Facing a Team Puerto Rico lineup stacked with good big-league hitters, Rodríguez threw four strong innings, allowing just one run on two hits and striking out three. 

    More exciting (and more fun, for those who love either prospects or numbers) than the raw results, though, was the fact that Rodríguez’s performance was tracked by Statcast. That allows us to say, definitively, that he was throwing six different pitches on Saturday. 


    While we saw Rodríguez pitch effectively with both a curveball and a slider last season, and while his changeup already had an above-average grade on FanGraphs’s scouting report for him, that cutter is a new and fascinating wrinkle. Its movement is tighter and later than that of his slider, and it’s also about five miles per hour firmer. 

    Less surprising, but also notable, was the fact that Rodríguez utilized his sinker just as much as his four-seam fastball in the outing. He didn’t miss bats with the sinker, and a couple of batters did hit it hard, but they mostly pounded it into the ground. If he’s now a six-pitch guy, he’s increased his chances of sticking in the starting rotation as he rises through the minors, and he should be regarded a bit more highly.

    That doesn’t mean there won’t be things to work on. Though he showed a good plan of attack and got opponents to expand the zone by setting them up well at times, Rodríguez doesn’t yet have the command he’ll need to be a starter in MLB. 


    Still, everything about this outing was encouraging. He handled a high-pressure atmosphere; kept his underdog team in the game; spun the ball well; and touched 95 miles per hour with his heat. If Nicaragua gets eliminated–as everyone still expects, especially after the rest of their pitchers gave up eight runs in five innings when Rodríguez departed–then the young right-handed can return to Brewers camp having done brilliantly in his lone opportunity.

    There were other Brewers active in the early games of the WBC, too, though. Sal Frelick, playing for Team Italy, is 4-for-14 through their first three games, including a pair of doubles, a pair of runs scored, a pair of RBIs, one walk (against zero strikeouts) and one stolen base. The setting and the pool in which Italy was placed are perfect for Frelick, and he’s put on a show, albeit for a team that will not advance out of pool play. 

    In Team Panama’s victory over Frelick’s Italian team on Friday, Javy Guerra also made a statement, coming for a 20-pitch save in which he only threw fastballs; averaged 97.7 miles per hour on them; and touched 99.5. 

    Team México is off to a less auspicious start, having lost a tremendously taut and exciting game to Team Colombia to begin their tournament. We saw launch angle problems from both Luis Urías and Rowdy Tellez in that contest, as Urías had two hard-hit ground balls that killed rallies for México, and Tellez had a couple of popouts. Even more painfully, Urías was charged with what became the decisive error in the 10th inning, on a very tough play at shortstop–a cue shot that took him to his right and took a bad hop. 

    The lone bright spot for either player was a sixth-inning plate appearance by Tellez, who hung tough against a lefty with a runner on second and nobody out, ultimately hitting a check-swing ground ball on a 3-2 count that moved the go-ahead run into scoring position. (Alas, two batters later, it was Urías who hit into an inning-ending double play.)

    As I write this, Team Netherlands is beating Frelick, Brett Sullivan, and Italy 1-0. That’s the delightful nature of the World Baseball Classic; the action is nonstop. Sunday will bring more fun for Brewers fans, as México takes on Team USA (and Devin Williams) in the second game of pool play in Phoenix, while the Brewers who stayed home will play against the Cubs at Sloan Park in Mesa.

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    I asked Eno Sarris (creator of stuff+) about Carlos Rodriguez stuff+ numbers yesterday. His overall stuff+ was 92.5 and his best pitch was the cutter with a 114 stuff+. I loved what I saw from Carlos Rodriguez. The confidence and calm he displayed on the mound pitching against a team with 8 MLB players in the lineup was very noticeable. If he can continue improving the stuff, I definitely think he can be a mid-rotation starter in the MLB.

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    Interesting stuff on Rodriguez. One thing off the bat, in not really sure he's throwing a slider based on this data alone, those seem like they could easily be mislabeled cutters thrown a bit slower. 6 different pitches is a lot for any pitchers to actually use in game, much less such a young pitcher. Lance Lynn and Corey kluber are always the guys that come to mind for me as successful MLB pitchers that rely heavily on multiple different types of hard pitches. That cutter looks really well located. Such a young pitcher being able to bust a guy up inside and backdoor the cutter effectively is very impressive. A lot to like for sure, incremental improvements are probably enough to make the show as his arsenal seems good enough already. Significant improvements on one of his off speed pitches, significant bump in velo, and/or becoming a plus command guy could get him into that #2/3 starter profile...in my opinion.

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