Between now and the start of the 2011 regular season, the Oakland A's will have a decision to make regarding one of the top arms in their entire organization. Right-hander Henry Rodriguez is in his final option year this season, meaning that in 2011 he won't be eligible to be sent to the minor leagues unless the A's expose him to waivers.
Given Rodriguez's talent, there is little chance that he would clear waivers, so realistically, the team has until next April to decide whether to give Rodriguez a permanent spot in the A's bullpen or trade him to another team.
The A's know that Rodriguez has the potential to be special at the big league level.
"He has some things to work on, but he has the talent," Oakland A's manager Bob Geren said before the A's game on Saturday."I was just talking with him this morning about some things he needs to do and one thing I told him was ‘how many guys can throw 100 miles per hour in the American League?' Really there is only three, if not four, guys who can do that. That's a special talent and we have to do everything we can to get the most out of that arm because you can't find arms like that. They are very, very rare."
Control has been an issue for Rodriguez throughout his career. He was signed by the A's out of Santa Barbara, Venezuela, in July 2003 at age 16. He made his US professional debut with the A's Arizona Rookie League team in 2006 and he quickly opened the eyes of scouts around baseball with his triple-digit radar gun readings. Rodriguez struggled with his command that season, walking 50 in 43.2 innings, but he did combine with Trevor Cahill on a no-hitter.
Despite the command issues, Rodriguez was promoted to Low-A Kane County in 2007, where he was part of the Cougars' rotation. He posted an impressive 3.07 ERA and he struck-out 106 in 99.2 innings while holding opposing batters to a .214 clip. He also improved his walk-rate, issuing 58 free passes.
Rodriguez was added to the A's 40-man roster that off-season and pitched in his first big league spring training camp in 2008. He threw well and it was anticipated that he would have a break-out season. Rodriguez joined fellow top prospects Cahill, Brett Anderson and Fautino De Los Santos in the High-A Stockton Ports' rotation, but was moved to Double-A Midland mere weeks into the season. The command issues finally caught-up to Rodriguez with the Rockhounds, as he posted a 7.46 ERA and walked more batters than he struck-out. He was sent back to Stockton during the second half of the season and was subsequently moved into the bullpen.
Rodriguez remained in a bullpen role in 2009. His 2009 season got off to a slow start, as he missed the first few weeks of the season recovering from a sports hernia he sustained during the Venezuelan Winter League season. After three "rehab" appearances with Stockton, Rodriguez spent the remainder of the season with Triple-A Sacramento, but the numbers for Rodriguez with the River Cats were unimpressive. His ERA was 5.77 and he walked 38 in 43.2 innings, although he did strike-out an eye-popping 71 batters. His season ended on a good note when he was given a September call-up and he allowed only one earned run in four innings for Oakland.
This spring, Rodriguez was given the opportunity to pitch in nine spring training games. In 9.1 innings, he struck-out 11, but he walked eight and allowed nine hits and five runs. He turned it around once the season began, however. In 21.1 innings for the River Cats this season, Rodriguez walked only nine, while striking out 31. He allowed only 10 hits and he had a team-leading 11 saves.
Prior to his most recent recall, Rodriguez had been given a couple of opportunities in the big leagues this season, but both of them were short-lived stints. In mid-May he spent more than a week with the team, but made only three appearances. He also had one appearance in mid-June.
He was recalled once again on July 19 and Rodriguez has already made two appearances. It has been an uneven performance for Rodriguez in those two outings. He has struck-out four batters in 2.1 innings and has regularly clocked at 99 MPH or above. But his command, especially of his secondary offerings, has been spotty, and the White Sox ran wild on Rodriguez in his second outing.Geren has said throughout the season, including on Saturday, that the number one thing he looks for in a reliever is the ability to throw strikes. Rodriguez will have to prove he can command the strike-zone to earn his manager's trust.
Despite the ups-and-downs Rodriguez has had in his brief time in the major leagues this season, his current go-around with Oakland should last a lot longer than the first two stints, as the A's have to have a solid evaluation of the 23-year-old's ability to pitch at the big league level before the season's end.
"He has some things to work on to get that control right and control the running game and things like that," Geren said."The talent is there and we are going to give him every opportunity to get the most out of that talent.
Minor League Notes
* Reliever Cedrick Bowers returned to the River Cats this week after nearly two months in the big leagues, but he only made one appearance for Sacramento before he was recalled back to Oakland on Saturday to replace Ben Sheets on the A's 25-man roster. Sheets was placed on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation. Bowers has a 3.05 ERA with 29 strike-outs in 20.2 innings for the River Cats this season and a 4.85 ERA with a 17:5 K:BB ratio in 13 innings for Oakland.
* Sacramento will have A's ace Brett Anderson on the hill for another rehab outing this Sunday in Tacoma. The A's determined on Saturday that Anderson should have one more rehab outing. He has missed more than two months with a flexor tendon strain in his left elbow. Anderson is expected to throw 85-95 pitches on Sunday and, assuming he comes out of that start fine, he will return to the A's rotation on Friday and will be ready to throw 100 pitches. Dallas Braden will start for the A's on Sunday.
* The River Cats have gone 16-4 in July, which has moved them into a tie with Fresno for the division lead. During the month, Chris Carter (1015 OPS and 8 HR), Steven Tolleson (1002 OPS and 17 runs scored), Josh Donaldson (824 OPS and 6 HR), Michael Taylor (894 OPS and 21 RBIs), Eric Sogard (858 OPS and 4 SB) and Jeff Baisley (852 OPS) have led the way on offense.
* Reliever Michael Benacka has a 1.74 ERA and 13 strike-outs in 10.1 innings this month. He hasn't allowed a run over his last five outings.
* The Rockhounds moved to 16-12 in the second half with a 2-1 win in 11 innings on Saturday. It was Midland's fourth win in a row and sixth in the last seven games. This streak comes after back-to-back games last week during which the Rockhounds allowed 34 runs and had to have position players pitch in the final innings of both games.
* Since July 17th when he allowed five runs in 1.2 innings, reliever Mickey Storey has appeared in four games and he has allowed one run on three hits and no walks over six innings of work with five strike-outs.
* A's 2008 top pick Jemile Weeks returned to Midland on Wednesday after missing more than two months with a hip strain. Since his return, he has gone six-for-16 with two stolen bases.
* Val Majewski is batting .316 with 11 RBIs over his last 10 games. He has a team-leading 20 RBIs this month. Overall he has a .291 average and an 841 OPS since being signed by the A's out of the independent leagues in late May.
* Corey Brown (932 OPS, 11 RBIs and 5 SB), Adrian Cardenas (890 OPS and a 15:6 BB:K), Josh Horton (3 HR and 13 RBIs), Shane Peterson (885 OPS) and Matt Sulentic (851 OPS) are teaming with Majewski to lead the Rockhounds' offense this month.
* Fautino De Los Santos has allowed six runs in nine innings, but he has struck-out 18 while walking only three in July.
* Justin Souza has a 0.82 ERA and 12 strike-outs in 11 innings this month.
* Matt Wright is 3-0 with a 2.84 ERA in seven starts since joining Midland in late June. He has walked only four in 31.2 innings. Wright was a non-roster invitee to the A's big league camp. After he was sent to minor league camp, Wright signed a deal to play in Korea, but injury prevented him from competing there. Once healthy, he returned to the A's organization.
* Infielder Brandon Pinckney finished up the Ports' 12-4 loss to Visalia on Saturday when Brett Hunter ran into control problems in the late innings. Pinckney tossed 0.2 scoreless frames and stranded all three inherited runners from Hunter, who walked four in 1.1 innings.
* The outing from Hunter was his worst in awhile. He had walked only four over his last 9.1 innings with 15 strike-outs and three earned runs allowed. Hunter has 40 strike-outs and 19 walks in 24.2 innings.
* Michael Spina hit his 19th homerun of the season on Saturday. He is second in the organization in homers behind Chris Carter. Spina also has 76 RBIs on the season.
* After homering in two straight games, Stephen Parker drew three walks on Saturday. He has 61 walks in 99 games this season and is second on the team in homeruns with 14.
* Grant Green has reached base at a .435 clip over his last 10 games and a .420 pace for July. He has improved his batting average every month and is hitting .392 in July and .329 overall.
* Yusuf Carter has seven homeruns in 11 games since joining the Ports from a rehab stint with the AZL A's.
* Stockton starter Shawn Haviland is leading the Cal League with 120 strike-outs in 110 innings.
* Lance Sewell has not allowed a run in 15 July innings. He has given up four hits and one walk and he has struck-out 14. Sewell has also picked up five wins in relief.
* Paul Smyth (1.46 ERA/ 5 SV) and Trey Barham (0.93 ERA and 1 SV) have continued to impress out of the bullpen.
* Veteran Brett Tomko has struggled since joining the Ports' rotation. In 13 innings he has allowed 22 hits and 12 runs.
* After a hot streak, the Cougars have cooled, losing four straight on their current road trip.
* Ian Krol had his worst start of the season on Saturday. He allowed six runs in three innings and gave-up two homeruns, equaling his season total entering the game.
* Max Stassi hit his 12th homerun on Saturday. He is tied for eighth on the league leader boards.
* East Bay native and St. Mary's alum Anthony Aliotti has a 932 OPS and 13 RBIs this month. He is batting .286 overall with 13 stolen bases and 67 walks in 93 games.
* Michael Gilmartin returned to the field on Saturday after missing nearly a week with a bruised hand. He has been red-hot in July, batting .375 with a 1034 OPS.
* Conner Crumbliss has a .450 OBP and five stolen bases in July.
* Ryan Doolittle has allowed a run in 5.2 innings with four strike-outs and no walks since joining Kane County from Vancouver. Overall this season he has 22 strike-outs and one walk in 21.2 innings.
* Justin Marks has turned it around with a 2.14 ERA and a 35:8 K:BB ratio in 24.2 innings this month.
* Jeff Bercume, who was signed after a tryout during the A's extended spring training camp, is batting .421 with a 990 OPS over his last 10 games. He has a .310 average on the season.
* Douglas Landaeta has been the C's most consistent offensive player. He hit .326 with an 811 OPS in June and is batting .345 with an 836 OPS in July.
* Tony Thompson returned to the line-up on Wednesday after missing a week. He has an 867 OPS in July.
* Matt Thomson hasn't allowed a run over his last 12 innings pitched and he was the NW League's Pitcher of the Week last week.
* Michael Hart got his fifth save on Saturday and he has a 25:5 K:BB ratio in 16 innings this season.
* Royce Consigli is sixth in the Arizona League with a .371 BA. His 1027 OPS is fifth-best in the league.
* Zhi-Fang Pan, the A's first Taiwanese signee, has a .390 OBP.
* Ramon Soto's two-out single scoring Consigli was the walk-off winner for the A's on Saturday.
* Andres Avila, signed out of Mexico, has made three scoreless appearances in his US debut. The 20-year-old hasn't allowed a base-runner in 2.2 innings.
* Seth Frankoff is fourth in the Arizona League in ERA (2.28), third in WHIP (0.97) and fifth in strike-outs (34).
* Omar Duran has allowed only one earned run over his last 9.1 innings with 12 strike-outs.