Lefty Rodriguez opening eyes in offseason leagues

Named to AFL's Top Prospects Team, southpaw thriving in Dominican winter ball

Lefty Rodriguez opening eyes in offseason leagues

SAN DIEGO -- The day after getting Francisco Liriano back in the fold, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington turned his Winter Meetings attention to the bullpen. Ground-ball machine Pat Neshek fell through his grasp, evidently thanks to call-waiting, so Huntington on Wednesday kept scouring the suites and lobbies in the hotel.

Liriano is considered to have completed the Bucs' rotation for 2015, because Charlie Morton is expected to be recovered from hernia surgery by May, and beyond, because top right-handed prospects Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon will be soon knocking on the door. But a fresh name to keep in mind for both the bullpen and the rotation is left-hander Joely Rodriguez, who could arrive ahead of them.

A 23-year-old Dominican who created few waves in his first four years in the Pittsburgh organization, Rodriguez has experienced a late-2014 breakthrough that still continues.

On Wednesday, he was chosen by Arizona Fall League managers and coaches to the league's Top Prospects Team. It is an eyebrow-raising honor because Rodriguez was one of five Pirates prospects on the staff of the Scottsdale Scorpions that included Glasnow.

Rodriguez has built on his 3-0 record and 2.38 ERA in Arizona with more excellence in the Dominican Republic Winter League, where he has a 1.38 ERA in three outings with Gigantes del Cibao.

"He's kept coming on, and has shown his best velocity in winter ball," said Huntington. "We'll see if he can sustain it and continue to move forward."

Rodriguez's performances in the two tough offseason leagues represent a huge leap forward from his first season in Double-A in 2014. He was 6-11 with a 4.84 ERA in 30 games, including 21 starts, with Altoona.

"He wasn't the same guy in Spring Training, then had some early challenges in Double-A, but then continued to get better and better," Huntington said.

The Bucs have a well-known aversion to having a prospect skip a Minor League level, and Rodriguez has yet to log any time in Triple-A. However, manager Clint Hurdle and Huntington both consider being competitive in rugged Dominican winter ball meaningful. That could accelerate Rodriguez's timetable.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.