How Yariel Rodríguez Could Bridge the Gap to Ricky Tiedemann

Yariel Rodríguez has made his first MLB start for the Blue Jays, beginning what could be an eventual bridge to top prospect Ricky Tiedemann

TORONTO, CANADA - APRIL 13: Yariel Rodriguez #29 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches in the second inning of his MLB debut against the Colorado Rockies at Rogers Centre on April 13, 2024 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Early on Saturday, the Toronto Blue Jays recalled Yariel Rodríguez from Triple-A Buffalo, the Cuban-born international free agent they committed five years to this past offseason.

Back spasms early in training camp delayed his ramp-up towards the regular season but he also didn’t pitch competitively outside of the World Baseball Classic last season as he awaited declaration from the MLB Commissioner’s Office to be designated as a free agent.

So far in Triple-A, the right-hander has been near perfect through the limited sample size, compiling a perfect ERA while allowing just one hit through 6 1/3 innings and two starts. He has three walks on the ledger compared to 10 strikeouts and across 102 pitches, Rodríguez sports a 58.8% strike rate.

Rodríguez arrived in Toronto on Friday but wasn’t officially activated to the roster until yesterday, with Paolo Espino being optioned in his place. During media availability before Friday’s ball game, manager John Schneider outlined the plan for Rodríguez this season, which was attended by Just Baseball’s Kevin Henry.

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Schneider outlined that Rodríguez will be used in a role with the ability to cover some length on the mound but also mentioned his innings circumstance, most likely attributed to how he did not pitch in a competitive game outside of the WBC last year. The Jays’ manager also confirmed that Rodríguez is on an innings limit for this season.

Rodríguez’s situation is unique given he can pitch in both the rotation and bullpen similar to Ross Stripling or Bowden Francis, but is coming off a season where he didn’t chalk up a lot of innings. Considering the arm injuries that exist within the game of baseball, impacting some of the more popular stars across the league, it makes sense why the Blue Jays will likely employ Rodríguez in a more fluid role this year within that innings limit.

In his first start yesterday, Rodriguez pitched 3 2/3 innings and allowed just one run on a home run hit by Brenton Doyle. He allowed four hits, walked two and struck out six in his MLB debut.

Looking ahead, should Rodríguez be used as a bulk starter for the first half of the season and then migrate to the bullpen, the tactic could work out well for the organization’s top-ranked prospect, Ricky Tiedemann.

How Rodriguez Bridges the Gap to Ricky Tiedemann

Entering the 2024 season, Tiedemann is looking to bounce back after an injury-filled 2023 campaign that limited him to just 62 innings split between the regular season and within the Arizona Fall League, where he took home Pitcher of the Year honors.

He pitched to a 3.68 ERA through four different minor league levels while he battled a biceps injury but continued to strike out opponents at a high 16.8 K/9 clip with a 1.227 WHIP. He was a bit wild at times (4.7 BB/9) but he attacked the zone against some of the top prospects in the game in Double-A, where he saw his ERA a bit elevated to the tune of a 5.06 value.

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The southpaw has been down in Triple-A Buffalo to start the campaign and through eight innings, he has allowed five earned runs, three home runs, and nine walks as he continues to battle some command issues at the highest level in the farm system.

He’s had to contend with the cold weather in Buffalo and Worcester through his three outings but has allowed at least 2+ walks in each start, something that he will need to tidy up to make the jump to the next level.

Should the rocky start for Tiedemann turn around and Alek Manoah is still figuring out things in Triple-A, the Blue Jays have set themselves up for a bridge situation later this year if their top pitching prospect is ready to jump to the big leagues.

If Rodríguez continues starting and logging 5+ innings with regularity in the big leagues following today’s outing, the likelihood of him moving to the bullpen to conserve innings towards the midsummer mark allows for the Jays to bring up Tiedemann after the left-hander has 10-15 more starts under his belt with the Bisons.

The club could also do this with Manoah, as the right-hander continues to search for his 2022 form, but given the high ceiling of Tiedemann and his proximity to an MLB debut, it works more in the 21-year-old’s favor unless Manoah starts dominating in Buffalo and forces a return to the Blue Jays.

While the Jays may be conservative with Tiedemann’s innings as well given his injury history, if Manoah is still battling the yips and the top prospect is excelling and going three-to-five innings each start, he can transition to the rotation and at the expense of moving Rodríguez to the bullpen to be used in whichever way Schnedier fancies.

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The move somewhat mimics the return of Hyun Jin Ryu midway through the 2023 season, with the only difference being Tiedemann will have been pitching the full season compared to Ryu who was returning from injury.

The ideology however remains the same, following the premise of a different arm to work with as the season turns over into the latter half, and one that strikes out a ton of opposing batters.

This is all built with the idea that Tiedemann reels in the walks and finds his top prospect form after a few shaky starts to begin the year.

Should the stars align in that Yariel Rodríguez continues to start ball games for the Blue Jays and Ricky Tiedemann finds a groove in Triple-A, the possibility of a hand-off in the rotation towards midsummer could bode well for the Blue Jays and their long-term rotation strategy.