Gabriel Rodriguez Finds New Life On The Mound
Of the nine Miami Dade JC regulars in 2018, outfielder Gabriel Rodriguez had the lowest batting average. He also had the worst slugging percentage and the second-lowest on-base percentage.
So it may have been a bit of a surprise when the 19-year-old was one of four Miami Dade position players to hear his name called during the 2018 draft. But when the Braves announced Rodriguez as a lefthanded pitcher when they made him their 31st-round pick, it all started to make sense.
In January, at the very start of the junior college season, Braves area scout Lou Sanchez and scouting director Brian Bridges were watching the Sharks take infield before the game. When Rodriguez let fly on his throws from right field, his arm made them stop and take notice.
At the time, it was just a minor note to remember, but later in the season Sanchez managed to see Rodriguez get on the mound for his only two appearances of the season as a pitcher.
When Rodriguez did pitch, he was quite raw, as expected. But arm strength is arm strength.
“Lou said, ‘I saw him touch 94-95 (mph). His fastball is not straight and he has a feel for a breaking ball. Let’s take a chance and let’s see what we’ve got,” Bridges said.
It wasn’t much to go on, but it was enough. So when day three of the draft rolled around, Bridges and the Braves decided to take that chance.
“When you see a lefthander pitching with a double-plus fastball you have to give him a chance,” Bridges said.
Once he signed, Rodriguez was assigned to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, where he quickly showed even more the the Braves expected. The 6-foot-1 lefty was raw, as expected. He often lost the strike zone for batters at a time.
But when he did get the ball over the plate, almost no one could hit him. And that 94-95 mph velocity he had shown briefly in junior college quickly turned into 94-96 with the occasional 99 mph heater.
Pitching roughly once a week and an inning or so at a time, Rodriguez faced 60 batters in the GCL. He walked 22 of them, but he also struck out 22. Just three batters managed to get a hit off him, which worked out to an .083 opponent average.
Rodriguez has a long way to go, but he has the kind of fastball that is hard to find. Now the Braves will see if they can help him refine it.
“Lou Sanchez did a great job. He scouted the kid. That’s a scout’s draft. I’m glad he pushed for him in the draft. It was a great job of him,” Bridges said.