Analyzing Yariel Rodriguez's fit on the Blue Jays

World Baseball Classic Quarterfinals: Australia v Cuba
World Baseball Classic Quarterfinals: Australia v Cuba / Kenta Harada/GettyImages

As per a recent report from Enrique Rojas of ESPN, the Blue Jays have taken the lead in the sweepstakes for young Cuban right-hander, Yariel Rodriguez. This report puts the Blue Jays ahead of the Pirates and Red Sox. The aforementioned clubs - including the Blue Jays - are viewing Rodriguez as a starter, a role that he himself would like to step into after having relieved during his time in Japan.

Rodriguez began his career as an eighteen year old in his native Cuba, working primarily as a starter while compiling a 3.30 ERA. He joined the NPB of Japan in 2020, where his role would primarily shift to that of a reliever. Rodriguez broke out in 2022, posting a lowly 1.15 ERA to go with a 0.915 WHIP across 56 games. He limited hits to the tune of a 5.3 H/9, didn’t give up a home run that entire season, and was consistently striking out hitters while posting a 9.9 K/9. 

The now-26-year-old righty works with a fastball in the mid-90s, as well as a wipeout slider, curveball, splitter, and a change up. Rodriguez was last seen pitching for Cuba in the World Baseball Classic, where over 7.1 innings he struck out ten, walked six, and gave up two earned runs. Rodriguez sat out the 2023 regular season in Japan, and has since been granted a release in the hopes of securing an MLB contract. 

Where Rodriguez fits with the Blue Jays is puzzling. While he poses as a high potential addition to any teams pitching staff, his desire to start games could be an issue in a crowded Blue Jays rotation. The Blue Jays have five starting pitchers as it stands, with four of them being a lock for the 2024 rotation and the other being Alek Manoah. While Manoah’s situation needs little reiteration, it’s still worthwhile to note that both Ross Atkins and John Schneider view him as the likely fifth starter come Opening Day. 

This scenario, paired with Rodriguez’s desire to be a starting pitcher in MLB, poses a dilemma. There exists the scenario of a “battle” throughout spring training for the last spot, of which Manoah would still be the likely victor. Should Manoah win the spot with Rodriguez on the roster, it’s foreseeable that he could make an exceptional relief pitcher with the potential to work multiple innings. Having Rodriguez’s makeup in a role that Trevor Richards occupied last year could serve as an unexpected but welcome boost to a bullpen that’s already strong.

With Rodriguez’s desire to come to MLB paired with the Blue Jays interest, it’s clear there’s a fit in Toronto. The question becomes what would that look like for Rodriguez, and what could his role evolve into if he were to join the Jays?