Family ties: Pudge's son looks to make a name for himself
Dereck Rodriguez is a converted Minor League pitcher
By Jesse Sanchez
CULIACAN, Mexico -- Puerto Rico right-hander Dereck Rodriguez was in the room when the National Baseball Hall of Fame came calling for his father, former catcher Ivan Rodriguez.
Dereck was there when his father cried tears of joy. He shed a few tears, too.
"When he finally got the call, it was something amazing to see after all of the sacrifices that he made and the sacrifices we made as family with him traveling," said Rodriguez, 24, a Minor League pitcher for the Twins. "Seeing him get that call was nice."
The younger Rodriguez, who is pitching for the Criollos de Caguas in the Caribbean Series this week, grew up in clubhouses across the Major Leagues and around some of the biggest names. Now, he's determined to make a name for himself.
"It's a different lifestyle, but it's been fun," Dereck said. "You grow up around baseball, and you learn a lot. I love it. There is no pressure. [Ivan] was a catcher, and I'm a pitcher. I was an outfielder. If people do put pressure on me, I don't feel it. I've learned to ignore it."
The Twins selected Dereck as an outfielder in the sixth round of the 2011 Draft out of Monsignor Edward Pace High School in Florida. The plan was to groom him as a five-tool outfielder.
Rodriguez hit .216/.279/.336 in parts of four seasons in the Twins' system, eventually moving from the outfield to the mound in 2014 because of his struggles at the plate. Having a strong right arm didn't hurt, either.
A quick study, Rodriguez was named the Appalachian League's Pitcher of the Year in 2015 after going 6-3 with a 2.85 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 12 starts for Elizabethton in Rookie ball.
Last season, Rodriguez went 1-2 with a 2.56 ERA, 18 strikeouts and two walks for Class A Advanced Fort Myers in the Florida State League, and 4-11 with a 5.08 ERA in 18 starts for Class A Cedar Rapids.
"It's been a fun ride. A fun three years so far," Dereck said. "In the beginning, it was a little tough, but I just kept working hard, and now I'm here pitching in the Caribbean Series for the first time."
Rodriguez posted a 2-1 record with a 1.02 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 relief appearances this winter for Mayaguez in the Puerto Rican League. He gave up one hit in one scoreless inning of relief against Venezuela in his first appearance of the tournament on Thursday.
"It's a great experience. The people and the fans are amazing," Dereck said. "There are no words that can express being on that mound and representing your country against other guys that are also representing their country. There's a lot of heart that goes into these games."
Rodriguez has a fastball that hovers in the 90-93-mph range. He has only been on the mound for a few years, so his secondary pitches are understandably a work in progress. However, unlike most Minor League pitchers, Rodriguez has a Hall of Fame catcher for a father who can show him the ins and outs of being a professional pitcher.
"Hopefully, I can go in and compete for a Double-A spot, and then after that, we'll see what happens," Dereck said. "Everybody's goal is to make it to the big leagues at the end of the year. I can control what happens on the field and leave the front office to their decisions."
At least one thing is certain: Dereck will be there when his father is inducted into the Hall of Fame in July.
"It's going to be really fun," Dereck said. "I get to spend a couple of days in New York, in Cooperstown. I'll take it all in being around all of those legends."
It will be just like old times.
Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.