Ole Miss signee named 1st Team All-American

Craig Rodriguez (LHP, Pearl River CC, MS) - The Rebels lost the majority of their pitching rotation to the pros this offseason when Stephen Head, Matt Maloney, Eric Fowler, Anthony Cupps, and Brian Pettway all signed with the professional franchises that drafted them. It also looks doubtful that Mark Holliman will return, as he was taken in the 3rd round by the Chicago Cubs.

Some might have turned an eye brow when they looked at Ole Miss' '04/'05 class before the draft took place and saw ten pitchers on the signee list. But instead of being caught with their britches down, they simply reloaded.

One of the key pieces for this pitching class is 2005 1st Team All-American (NJCAA), Craig Rodriguez.

For the past two seasons, Craig has simply dominated. Over the two year span, Rodriquez has a17-5 record.

Rodriguez signed with Ole Miss in November after narrowing it down to the University of Mississippi along with Clemson, Alabama, and LA Lafayette.

Craig was a draft and follow prospect for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but Rodriguez declined their offer, and he is currently taking classes at the University of Mississippi.

The following information was revealed during our interview with Craig Rodriguez:

What is your current height and weight? "I am 6' 4", 210."

Where are you from? "I am from Sugar Land, TX. I went to high school at St. Pius the 10th. That is in Houston (TX)."

Talk about your high school career? "I do not know all of my individual stats, but I can name you some awards. I was named 1st Team All-State as a Pitcher and as a First Baseman my junior and senior seasons. My sophomore year, I was named All-District as a pitcher."

Which schools were you considering out of high school? "Out of high school, I was looking at Pepperdine, USM, and Sam Houston State."

And how did you end up at Pearl River CC? "I ran into Coach Arkigues at the Tulane baseball camp in 9th grade. I kept in touch with him ever since. My mother is from Picayune, so it was just down the road."

What are your strengths on the mound? "I do not let the little things bother me. That is where my high school program comes into play. My catcher in my sophomore year plays for the Devil Rays now. He helped me learn the hitter's tendencies, and that has really helped me out a lot. I do not know. I just want the ball. I told our coach at Pearl River CC that I was going to be their workhorse, and I was. I know Coach McDonnell saw me in the State Tournament throw in 6 innings against Holmes CC and then I threw in 7 against Meridian CC the next day. He really liked that. I just want the ball in my hands no matter who we are playing. We have a bulletin board at Pearl River CC that says, 'if you do not think you are better than your opponent, then you do not have a chance.' I try to live by that motto."

What is your best pitch? "I could not tell you. I would be lying if I said just one pitch. I threw the majority with my fastball this year. I might not be just over powering every time, but I like to pitch the fastball. It might not be my best pitch, but it is my favorite pitch to throw. I try to hit my spots."

What does your fastball average? "87 - 89 MPH. I hit 91 a lot this year, but I am going to average in the 87-89 range."

What other pitches are in your arsenal? "I throw a change-up and a curve ball. I am going to talk with Coach Bianco about developing a slider once I get up there."

Which pitch, besides the slider, do you need to work on the most? "This summer, I worked on a two seamer more than anything else. I worked on developing a 12 to 6 break on my curveball too, but not as much as the 2 seamer."

I hear the term "crafty left handed pitcher" when describing your game; is this accurate? "I like to throw the fastball, so not really. In the College Word Series the other week I heard Herald Reynolds say that the problem with today's college pitchers is that they do not like to throw it inside because the hitters can still hit it 400 feet with the medal bats. But, I love to pitch the ball inside. I know what a crafty left handed pitcher is, but I can still touch it 91 MPH. I just hit my spots and keep it low and inside, so I guess they call me crafty."

Tell us about your freshman season at Pearl River CC? "It was incredible. I got a great opportunity to pitch a lot of innings. I pitched in 70 innings and went 7-3 with a 2.60 ERA. I had 88 K's and 15 walks."

You were drafted by Tampa Bay after you completed your freshman season? "Yes sir."

So Tampa Bay held your rights for this year's draft? "Yes sir, nobody else could draft me, yes sir."

What was Pearl River CC's final record that year? "We went 42-10 and finished 3rd nationally in the last poll."

Tell us about your sophomore year? "Well, we went 46-14 and lost in the Regional Championship game against Co-Linn, but we still finished #1 in the final poll."

How did you personally do? "I went 10-2 with a 2.29 ERA. I pitched in 80 innings and had 110 k's and 22 walks."

Awards? "I was 1st Team in all of these; State, District, Region, and All-American."

So where are you now in your negotiations with Tampa Bay? "At the end of the year, they offered me, and I did not sign. It was not enough for me to miss out on a chance to play in the SEC and for Ole Miss. I went up to Oxford in the fall right before I signed with them. They wanted to make sure that what happened with Rhyne Hughes last year (signed with Tampa Bay on the last eligible day) was not going to happen again. I told them it would at least take what Rhyne got before I would even consider. They were comfortable with that, and now it all worked out, as I am already in Oxford taking classes."

Which schools were you considering before you choose Ole Miss? "I narrowed it down to Ole Miss, Clemson, Alabama, and La Lafayette. This is kind of a funny story. I grew up a LSU fan. They were going to all of these World Series. They went to like 7 in 10 years while I was following college ball. Then my sister went to school at Ole Miss, and I started coming up there all of the time to see her. I just fell in love with Oxford and Ole Miss. Oxford is quiet when it needs to be quiet, but there is plenty to do if you want something to do. My dad played for USM. He actually took me to Ole Miss for the first time. We were headed to the Liberty Bowl, and he asked me if I wanted to drive me over there on our way up and spend the day. I told him I wanted to. As soon as we got there, I just loved it. I can not say a bad thing about Ole Miss. It is just the perfect place for me."

Were you aware that Ole Miss was likely to lose the majority of their starting pitchers to the draft while you were being recruited? "Oh, yes sir, Coach McDonnell really sold that to me the whole way through. He said they were going to lose their Top 3 pitchers and Top 2 left handers (Matt Maloney and Eric Fowler). Coming from a major junior college program, I have a chance to produce right off the bat. To have that chance feels awesome."

What are your goals for your freshman season? "I mean, going into the year, it is to get into the weekend rotation. But, I have to size everyone up before I set any numbers. I know a lot about their returning players, but I do not know a lot about their signees, except for Garrett White. My dad has seen him pitch a few times, and he tells me he is the real deal. I just need to see where I fit in, and what I need to work on, before I set any numbers."

To view the list of Ole Miss baseball signees for the '04/'05 class, click here.

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