How might Yariel Rodriguez fit into Toronto’s plans?

On what felt like day No. 1,000 of a disappointing offseason, the Blue Jays made a deal with Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez, a player who brings a lot of intrigue to the organization.

Rodriguez is only 26 years old, and he signed with the Blue Jays at the peak of his career, but there are many things that are still unknown about him. After pitching professionally as a starter in Cuba, Rodríguez had mixed results in Japan before having a breakout season as a reliever with the Chunichi Dragons in 2022, for whom he pitched 54.2 innings with 60 strikeouts. Posted a 1.15 ERA. Rodríguez last performed competitively about a year earlier, when he represented Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, but he did not return to his Japanese team and was eventually declared a free agent in MLB.

All that brings us here. Although some clubs looked at Rodriguez as a reliever, the Blue Jays are in a good position to be flexible, as they will be able to use him in a hybrid role while preparing him to become a full-time starter in 2025. On that note, think of Rodriguez as an advanced and experienced prospect. There will be a plan A, but if there comes a point where things are not going as expected, the right-hander has already shown the versatility to succeed in multiple roles.

What does it mean: depth in rotation finally

Toronto’s rotation depth wasn’t good enough. Neither was it in 2022 or 2023, but the combination of the good health of Ross Stripling and experienced starters masked the problem in each of the last two seasons. The Blue Jays are extremely fortunate that this weakness has not been further exposed, but now they have finally better protected themselves against it.

Although he is too quick to trust Rodriguez as a major league starter, Cuban is now part of a group that is growing in depth. This includes Bowden Francis, who this organization has great confidence in, and Ricky Tiedemann, the club’s No. 1 prospect, who could make his big-team debut early in the season. In the modern game, “depth” comes in many forms, as we saw with the combination of Francis and Trevor Richards who were used to replace Alec Manoah last season, so Rodríguez had to pitch many innings. The ability to do provides value. Immediately.

Or that it doesn’t (…necessarily) mean: a change

A pitcher enters. Another one comes out. Truth?

The Blue Jays should not be forced to make the move in question. The addition of Rodriguez gets their rotation depth to a slightly more comfortable place, but certainly not in a world of redundancy. Toronto’s veteran starters and this club’s coaching staff deserve high praise for the health of the group last season, but a part of the rotation’s success will always be luck. Sooner or later, there will come a season where the Blue Jays will need 10 starters, and they need to be ready for it.

MLB management has evolved in a similar manner, but if I had to characterize this group specifically, I would say they like to do things up front. It is no coincidence that Rodriguez could be used as a full-time starter by the time Yusei Kikuchi entered free agency.

It all depends on what version of Rodriguez can develop with the Blue Jays. As a reliever during his dominant 2022 season in Japan, Cuban consistently hit 90 mph uppercuts, and paired that fastball with an impressive arsenal of breaking pitches. The bullpen version of Rodriguez can continue to rely on three pitches, but the Blue Jays will have to monitor his long-term development at the same time, which means they’ll have to look to his splitter and slider pitching to supplement his arsenal. .

In the long run, it will be exciting to see if Rodriguez can continue to throw 94 mph fastballs while still having the ability to appeal for more in a pinch. He has shown that he can strike out professional hitters with good rhythm, but his control and walk rate may be the most decisive factors in his success in the Major Leagues.

The most interesting detail? How the Japanese baseball style has influenced Rodriguez during his time in the Asian country, especially when it comes to generating power from his lower body and using different angles with his arm to keep opponents off balance .

Rodriguez’s situation with the Blue Jays is interesting. He’s not a Major League player yet, but he’s not likely to improve much, rather it’s an intermediate case. But that’s what makes it one of the most impressive stories on this roster.

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