Puerto Rican born starting pitcher Julio Rodriguez grew up dreaming of becoming a baseball star. These days, he is among the core of young Philadelphia pitching prospects that have begun to get a lot of attention after some considerable success in recent years and he is happy to now be standing out practically in the Phillies' back yard.
Last year, with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers, the 6-foot-4-inch 230-pounder led the Florida State League in wins when he posted a 16-7 record with a 2.76 ERA and a .186 batting average against. The season before that, Rodriguez split time at short-season Williamsport and with Class A Lakewood, where he combined to post a 7-3 record with a 1.89 ERA in 20 games (12 starts). Prior to that he played two seasons with the Gulf Coast League Phillies. In those areas, fan attention toward rising prospects isn’t very prevalent. Things would certainly change when Rodriguez came north to show what he's all about.
Having never possessed a blazing fastball, regularly registering in the high-80's with his best offerings, Rodriguez still produces big-time strikeout totals that are reflective of a power pitcher. His 10.50 K's per 9 innings mark, in his 4 pro season entering this season, is extremely impressive and indicative of some serious talent.
The 8th round draft selection from 2008 uses a bit of trickery on the mound to draw swings and misses. Rodriguez attributes his deceiving windup with helping to blow away opposing batters.
“I just forget about the velocity and try to make my pitches the best that I can and keep the ball down," Rodriguez stated in an exclusive interview with PhoulBallz.com's Jay Floyd. "I have a difficult wind up. I keep the ball back and hidden from view. I think that bothers the hitters."
Despite a bit of a drop in the strike out rate in the early going this year (8 K/9 IP), for Rodriguez, the success has continued into the new season, as he has been an extremely dependable starter for the Reading Phillies. Through 7 starts in the Double-A Eastern League, Rodriguez sports a 3-0 record with a 2.25 ERA.
All of Rodriguez's minor league success, including the 2010 South Atlantic League title he helped Lakewood win as well as the 2011 mid-season and postseason Florida State League All-Star nods he earned last year, are certainly among
the highlights of his playing career. However, the moment of his baseball life that stands out as significantly memorable came in a contest while Rodriguez was pitching away from the Phillies system, when he was competing for Carolina in the Puerto Rican winter league last off-season. The 21-year-old Phillies prospect faced 40-year-old big league veteran Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.
Julio was not able to bond with the future Hall of Famer. Being on opposing clubs prevented that. However, the younger Rodriguez speaks glowingly about the moment he was able to shine against the Puerto Rican legend that every young player from the same commonwealth grew up idolizing.
"I didn't talk to him, because he was on another team," Julio stated of Pudge. "But I did strike him out the just one time I faced him. It was a big, big experience for me. I was following Rodriguez when I was like 8 years old, and then to pitch against him was a great experience."
Rodriguez, who has previously competed for Team Puerto Rico in the Pan-Am qualifiers, takes great pride in representing his place of birth.
One new thing that ranks up there with the excitement of pitching for his home is the vibe that Rodriguez now gets when he takes the mound in the Philadelphia region with Reading. Located just about one hour outside the home city
to the parent club, the municipality known as Baseball Town provides a taste of the big league life, as fans with generations-old attachments to their Phillies root hard for their team’s star prospects. He hears the attention that well-regarded prospects garner more than he ever did in previous seasons. The high praise that comes along with the “Baby Aces” nickname, given to Rodriguez and his top performing teammates Trevor May and Jonathan Pettibone, is something that flatters Rodriguez.
"It feels good. It feels great when they say that," Rodriguez said with a smile. "I really hope to be an ace in the big leagues for the Phillies some day and live up to it."
With a bright future ahead, Rodriguez will continue to draw from his love of the game that he built as a youth rooting for a local legend from his homeland and now from the fanfare surrounding him in the spirited Philadelphia sports region.
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