Far from being a “league of last resort,” the Atlantic League is a place for veteran players—many with MLB experience, and all with previous ties to organized baseball—come to showcase their skills to major league scouts in an effort to get another crack at organized ball. While minor league farm teams serve as a pipeline for pumping young talent into the majors, the Atlantic League—along with other independent circuits—fill a void for veteran players not considered “prospects,” but nonetheless invaluable in filling holes that inevitably pop up in organizations during a long, hot baseball season. That dynamic was on display yesterday when the Chicago Cubs purchased the contract of pitcher Julio Rodriguez from the Bridgeport Bluefish.
Rodriguez, who spent last season at the A and AA levels in the Baltimore Orioles’ system, signed with Bridgeport in mid-April. The 6-4, 195-lb. right-hander started three games and appeared in one game in relief for the Bluefish in the still-young 2014 season. He posted a spotless 2-0 record and a 2.59 ERA, allowing seven hits and striking out 18 in 17.1 innings.
In 2011, Baseball America ranked him as the 17th best prospect in the Philadelphia Phillies’ organization, and that year Rodriguez was selected to the Futures Game and Eastern League All-Star Game. Overall, the 23-year-old native of Bayamon, Puerto Rico has appeared in 105 minor league games. In 79 starts he has pitched 486 innings with a 33-23 record, 540 strikeouts and a 3.61 ERA.
“Julio is a very talented individual,” said Bluefish manager Willie Upshaw. “We appreciate his hard work this season and wish him the best of luck with his new organization.”
Taking Rodriguez’ spot on the Bluefish Roster is 31-year old outfielder Joe Mather. A four-year MLB veteran who has played for the St. Louis Cardinals (2008 and 2010), Atlanta Braves (2011) and Chicago Cubs (2013), Mather played briefly in the Atlantic League for the Lancaster Barnstormers last season.
Mather, who was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round (104th overall) of the 2001 MLB Amateur Draft, is currently in his 14th season of professional baseball. Overall, Mather has a .258 batting average with 502 runs scored, 203 doubles, 20 triples, 128 home runs, 488 runs driven in and 70 stolen bases in 935 career minor league games.
Mather is the second member of the Bluefish to be signed by a big league organization this year. In May, outfielder Brandon Boggs was signed by the Atlanta Braves, and is currently hitting .400 (10-for-25) with the Gwinnett Braves of the AAA International League.
After starting the season with such promise, the Bluefish, amid a 10-game losing streak, return from a dismal eight-game road trip to entertain the Sugar Land (Tex.) Skeeters on Tuesday night. First pitch is slated for 7:05 p.m. The Skeeters feature former NBA star Tracy McGrady and Roger Clemens' progeny Koby Clemens.
Tuesday nights are 2-for-1 Tuesday Admission Night, where fans get get two box seats for a single admission. The game will also be broadcast live on WGCH 1490 AM.