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Red Sox rookie Eduardo Rodriguez and the change of scenery

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Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Red Sox rookie Eduardo Rodriguez made his major league debut last night against the Texas Rangers. It was a very strong one: seven and 2/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts, three hits, two walks in a 5-1 Boston victory.

Marc Normandin at Over the Monster published a detailed "guide to new Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez" yesterday, definitely worth your time to read if you haven't already. It is a detailed description of Rodriguez' trek through the Orioles system and subsequent trade to New England last summer and how he was viewed by various analysts through his career.

In my own work, Rodriguez made a steady progression grade-wise, from Grade C to B- to B to B+ over the last four years. He first appeared in the Baseball Prospect Book in 2012 with the following comment:

The Orioles signed Eduardo Rodriguez out of Venezuela in 2010. He wasn’t a big bonus baby, but he’s performed well, showing off an 88-92 MPH sinker and a workable slider and changeup. His command isn’t perfect yet, but it isn’t terrible, and his K/IP and H/IP ratios have been strong so far. He turns 19 in April and it will be interesting to see how aggressive the Orioles are with him. Some organizations would push him to full-season ball ASAP, but others would be more conservative and give him another dose of short-season ball in the New York-Penn League. I would opt for the latter course of action myself, letting him build up his stamina and experience level gradually. Grade C for now but has potential.

The Orioles took the more aggressive course and sent him to Low-A, resulting in this comment for 2013:

Eduardo Rodriguez has made solid progress over the last two seasons. His velocity has picked up, going from 88-92 in 2011 to 90-94 last year. He gets some low zone action and is a ground ball pitcher. His slider and changeup have also improved, and he did a decent job throwing strikes last year, holding his own in Low-A at age 19. His K/IP ratio isn’t particularly good, but the grounders help mitigate that. Scouts feel his secondary pitches will continue to improve, and we can expect more whiffs if that happens. Although I don’t see Rodriguez as a future ace, he could end up being a solid number three or four starter. Grade B-.

Following a solid campaign in 2013, here was the take heading into '14, making particular note of his increase in size and strength with maturity.

Rodriguez has gained 25 pounds since entering the Orioles system, boosting his fastball from the 87-89 in 2011, to 90-94 in 2012, then 92-95 in 2013, a nice steady progression. He’s gained velocity without losing command of the pitch, obviously a good sign, and he’s made progress refining his slider and changeup. He still needs some polish with his secondaries, which he didn’t always command well in Double-A, but he finished the season on a strong note and impressed observers in the Arizona Fall League. Rodriguez needs another season in the high minors but could make his big league debut in September. He seems like a solid Grade B prospect to me.

As Normandin and others have noted, Rodriguez did not pitch particularly well in the first part of 2014, but that all changed after the trade.

Eduardo Rodriguez was one of Baltimore’s top prospects entering 2014. However, his campaign for Double-A Bowie was mediocre and his stock slipped gradually as the summer progressed. He was traded to Boston at the trade deadline for Andrew Miller, moved over from Bowie to Portland and suddenly looked like a different pitcher. With Bowie Rodriguez was throwing 90-93 MPH, a bit down from the 92-95 marks he posted in 2013. His slider was inconsistent and even his change-up looked a little worse than in the past. After the trade, Rodriguez took a step forward in every way: his fastball was faster, as high as 97 at times. The slider was crisper and the change-up was excellent. His command was much better, too. I know it was just six starts, but something really clicked after the trade and Rodriguez regained all of his lost stock. We need to see if he can maintain that level of dominance for longer than a month, but Eastern League observers seem to think the improvement was real. Grade B+.

It looks like the improvement was real. Some mechanical tweaks and a different change-up grip are credited for his sudden performance enhancement after the trade and he has maintained the progress this spring.

Rodriguez fits into our recent discussion about Baseball Tropes as an example of "Needs a Change of Scenery."  That's a phrase that you hear a lot when a struggling prospect or slumping veteran is traded to a new team. How often does the change of scenery actually help?

I don't know, but it did in this case.