The Astros are no stranger to protecting premier but largely unproven talent from the Rule 5 draft. Righthander Bryan Abreu was added to the 40-man roster last offseason despite never throwing a pitch above Class A.
Nivaldo Rodriguez continued the trend this winter—but without any of the fanfare associated with Abreu, who was a top 10 prospect in the organization. Rodriguez, a 22-year-old Venezuelan righthander, was a relative unknown before his name appeared in the organization’s official announcement on protection day.
Abreu’s nasty breaking pitches are among the organization’s best, giving it comfort that he can pitch around occasional fastball imprecision.
Rarely will the front office worry about such a situation with Rodriguez. He earned a somewhat surprising place on Houston’s 40-man roster after just 74 innings at high Class A Fayetteville, where he was an excellent strike thrower.
“I think he’s attractive in a different way, probably a quieter way,” assistant general manager Pete Putila said. “He’s a guy who throws a lot of strikes and has pretty good stuff.”
“He’s developed physically, gotten a lot stronger and that’s allowed him to throw harder. He’s starting from a better foundation in terms of strike throwing.”
Signed for $10,000 in 2016, Rodriguez has walked just 2.8 per nine innings in his first 225.1 professional innings. He struck out 75 in 74 innings at Fayetteville this season while walking 31 and allowing 46 hits, which was good for a 1.04 WHIP.
Rodriguez’s fastball hovers around 93-95 mph. A firm, well-located curveball is his best out pitch, but he can also spin a slider and changeup.
“We think he could pitch in the big leagues and not be one of those guys who you’re worried is going to walk three in a row,” Putila said. “It’s probably not as obvious as some of the other guys who were in that discussion (for Rule 5 protection)—guys throwing up to 98 or 99 (mph).”
“We just liked the nice balance between stuff and strike-throwing ability.”
— General manager Jeff Luhnow gave a favorable review of former top prospect Francis Martes, whom Luhnow often calls the “forgotten man” in the Astros’ search for back-end starting pitching. The righthander will be fully healthy for spring training and will push for major league innings after having Tommy John surgery and incurring a drug suspension last year.