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LA Angels Prospect Chris Rodriguez dazzles with 66ers

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ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 22: Owner Arte Moreno and general manager Billy Eppler look on as Brad Ausmus, new manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim answers questions during a press conference at Angel Stadium on October 22, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CA - OCTOBER 22: Owner Arte Moreno and general manager Billy Eppler look on as Brad Ausmus, new manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim answers questions during a press conference at Angel Stadium on October 22, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)
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The LA Angels MiLB affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers, hosted the Lake Elsinore Storm this past Friday for Harry Potter night. A magical night of festivities was abound, but nothing struck with more wizardry than the Angels top pitching prospect Chris Rodriguez.

His imposing 6’2 stature was made more intimidating by his overpowering repertoire. Armed with a fastball that hits up to 97mph and a bundle of plus-pitches in his secondary, is Chris Rodriguez is quickly cementing his status as the best pitching prospect in the LA Angels system?

Better than Griffin Canning? The only answer I can give you is that his ceiling looks to be higher than the Angels #1 prospect Canning. Rodriguez’ start on Harry Potter night saw him go 4 IP and strike out 7 while walking zero hitters, his best start of the season. Rodriguez missed all of the 2018 season with a back injury and as of now the Angels are taking it slow with getting Rodriguez back into full form.

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What makes Rodriguez such a formidable pitcher isn’t just his stature or the depth and lethality of his repertoire, it’s his dominating demeanor on the mound. His style is akin to Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer, the intensity he puts into every single pitch can be felt from the stands. His competitive nature is greater than anything the Angels have nurtured in quite some time.

To say that he is special is an understatement; watching him at work makes it clear to understand why the Angels were over the moon excited to catch him in the 4th round of the 2016 draft. He is very much a first rounder in talent and the Angels couldn’t be luckier to have him

His recovery is moving smoother than ever; the Angels are slowly stripping the training wheels from Rodriguez and soon we will be seeing him flying at full speed. His first two starts with the 66ers saw him pitch just 2.2 innings while throwing in the neighborhood of 45 pitches each start.

His past start on Harry Potter night was magical to say the least and it wasn’t just his 4 IP of 7 K baseball. Rodriguez looks to have the highest ceiling of any pitcher within the Angels system, at best he can be an undisputed #1. It’s not just his stuff that puts his ceiling so high, it’s his demeanor and mentality as he goes about the game.

Chris Rodriguez: “Everything felt great off the hands. No walks, which is really important. Just gotta keep building on this one and we’ll go on to the next. [My fastball] felt good, it was coming off my hand well. I got more in the tank and as the season progresses I will get better and better.

On the night Rodriguez threw 56 pitches, 40 for strikes, and looked as efficient as he looked dominating. This was his third start with the 66ers and he still hasn’t allowed a run in any of his outings, not only is he looking better and better each start, he’s looking like Class A Advanced is childs play to him.

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Let’s not forget that the Lake Elsinore Storm is the affiliate of the San Diego Padres who are currently regarded as the best farm system in the MLB. Rodriguez wasn’t facing just any High A lineup, he was facing the best High A lineup around.

And they still looked grossly outmatched compared to Rodriguez.

Chris Rodriguez: “I was feeling good, God blessed me today with a great outing today. Everything felt good, everything felt healthy. Obviously there’s a big step to go 4 innings instead of 2 or 2.2, it’s a huge accomplishment.”

The one thing you’ll notice about Rodriguez is how “into it” he is on the mound. Every single pitch, every single at-bat; all of his adrenaline and dedication is funneled economically into every single pitch delivered. Chris Rodriguez works with 200% intent on every pitch.

You can see how much of a competitor he is by observing his demeanor on the mound, he’ll come off the mound pounding his fist into his glove and shouting to himself after getting an inning ending K. The energy he exudes on the mound is undeniable, the talent he displays is unbeatable, the only thing keeping Chris Rodriguez from fully dominating the MLB is time.

How much time? We won’t know fully until the Angels take the training wheels of Rodriguez and let him fly. The road to recovery is being taken with a steady hand in Rodriguez’s case, he is looking like the best pitcher hands down in the Angels system and with a talent like that you want to take it as surely and slowly as possible. Especially after coming off such a tough 2017 injury that kept him sidelined for a year.

Chris Rodriguez: (on his recovery) “It’s just step by step. We’re not trying to rush into things, just build my ay into it. Hopefully it continues growing and I keep getting better and better 

Rodriguez is only 20 years old, but you wouldn’t know it by watching his play. There is a distinct, observable level of maturity within Rodriguez and if you look at his stats within the Angels organization you’ll begin to understand where his mature disposition has come from.

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After a fantastic 2016 season with Rookie level Orem, a season in which Rodriguez pitched 11.1 IP of 1.59 ERA baseball with 17 K’s to 3 BB’s, Rodriguez struggled deeply in 2017 with  57 IP split across Orem and Low A Burlington. In 2017, Rodriguez’ age 18 season, Rodriguez posted a total 6.16 ERA in 57 IP. While he dominated Orem in 2016 his 2017 saw him fall into struggles with a total 6.68 ERA in 32.1 IP.

Chris Rodriguez: “(on his mechanical development) It’s a lot smoother than it was in 2017, I’m just blessed to continue to be able to throw and God willing I just keep getting better.”

The issue with Rodriguez’s 2017 season happened to stem from unpolished mechanics. Rodriguez is coming around with understanding the usage of his lower body in relation to powering his pitches/taking pressure off his body. Early on Rodriguez displayed high-effort upper body mechanics which put too much pressure on his upper body which eventually ended left Rodriguez with a stress related upper body injury.

Those very same mechanical struggles in 2017 led Rodriguez to understanding the road to success just a bit more and after spending his 2018 season recovering from back injury he now understands how to use his body better and take pressure off of the various moving parts.

Chris Rodriguez: (on his recovery)  When something happens to your back, no matter how little it is, there’s gonna be a bunch of core work. You just gotta keep it monitored and you’re going to continue working on that core and continue lifting and it will get better and better.

There might not be much to get excited about with the Angels big league club as of right now, but that in itself is what makes the excitement around Chris Rodriguez so great. His phenomenal talents are something that will grace the Angels soon. I don’t think performance will be the issue for him, it will be the confidence in the progress of his rehab by the Angels brass.

Despite his talent being far and above what he is currently competing against in Class A Advanced there is still the pitch count on Rodriguez that needs to be lifted before he can get fully stretched out.

Rodriguez won’t be sent to Double A while still on a pitch count, so until that is shed he’ll be spending his time in High A. Exactly how long will that be? Who knows, maybe the end of this month or sometime in May. Maybe longer. He still hasn’t thrown 60 pitches in a start and will likely need to go 70-80 before the Angels brass decides to take the kiddy gloves off and let him run wild.

Next. Griffin Canning is the Answer for the Halos' Rotation Woes

Just imagine how much better the Angels 2019 season would be with talents like Rodriguez. We likely won’t be seeing him up in the Majors until late 2020 unless he blows his way through the Angels system. He is already destroying the best teams in Class A Advanced so if he can translate that into Double A he won’t be spending much time there at all.

The Angels 2019 season may not be the most exciting thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that within the Angels organization there are some amazing things happening.

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