It's probably not a coincidence that the Dodgers put the lockers of outfielder Yasiel Puig and reliever Paco Rodriguez next to one another this spring. Their journeys, it seems, are running on parallel tracks.
Rodriguez's parents were born in Cuba and met in Spain after defecting separately and establishing Spanish citizenship. The family lived in the Dominican Republic for a while, Canada for a while, New Jersey for a while, then settled in Miami Beach, where Rodriguez's father works as a physician.
Puig left Cuba last year, established residency in Mexico, played in Rancho Cucamonga, in Arizona and in the Dominican. He is now in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was able to get his family out of Cuba and they, too, are now settled in Florida.
As far-flung as their travels have been, a more trying task is establishing themselves as major-league players. Puig has yet to touch the majors, but he is showing signs of forcing his way in the door, batting .538 with a double and home run after four games in the Southern League (this after leading major league hitters with a .517 average in spring training).
Rodriguez is nearly a year younger than Puig, but just made his first Opening Day roster after finishing the 2012 season with the Dodgers. Rodriguez, 21, was the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the majors.
The young left-hander said he already offered Puig some advice about the big leagues.
“Here, you’ve got to be professional, know how to carry yourself and how to act around the older guys. You have to give them their space,” Rodriguez said. “He’s kind of wild, all over the place, but you have to understand that’s more of the culture of baseball in Cuba. Once he tones it down a little, you can tell he’s going to be a great player.”
The Dodgers have sky-high hopes for Puig, but have nowhere to put him because three of their best players, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier, are outfielders.
They must think Rodriguez will be a key part of their bullpen or they wouldn’t have taken him in the second round last year and advanced him so quickly through their system. He pitched in just 21 minor league games.
He'll face some growing pains, of course. Rodriguez has yet to allow a hit in four games this season, but he walked two batters Tuesday in San Diego. After Matt Guerrier allowed both runners to score, Rodriguez’s ERA went from 0.00 to 7.71 though only one batter he faced put a ball in play.
One reason Rodriguez moved so quickly is that he is accustomed to his role. He was a reliever all three years at Florida, making just two starts. He has a good sinker and changeup and is able to reach both sides of the plate with his fastball. He’s more polished than most pitchers his age, in more ways than one.
“Paco, from the time he came up, has been impressive,” manager Don Mattingly said. “He’s a guy you don’t really notice in the clubhouse. He just quietly goes about his work."
When you are a reliever, it's usually best not to be noticed.