OAKLAND — Among the contingent of much-hyped, second-generation baseball players to begin this year in the minor leagues, MLB.com’s No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero — has probably made the most headlines. No. 3 prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., No. 7 prospect Bo Bichette and No. 32 prospect Cal Quantrill have followed close behind.
Another youngster with major league lineage has so far outpaced each of those players in actual production, despite less fanfare.
In the San Francisco Giants’ 5-1 win over the Oakland A’s on Friday night, right-hander Dereck Rodriguez — son of Hall of Famer Ivan Rodriguez — again proved himself capable of dismantling a quality lineup. He struck out five and allowed just one run across 6 1/3 innings. In his past 29 innings, he’s now allowed just four runs, posting a 1.24 ERA in that span.
“He’s just giving us quality start after quality start,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “He’s got a lot of confidence, and it’s been a pleasure watching how this guy has handled everything thrown at him.”
Rodriguez leads all rookie starters with a 2.72 ERA. Shohei Ohtani ranks a distant second with a 3.10. Rodriguez’s success comes after never making a top-100 prospect list and spending time as a minor league free agent last November.
On Friday, Rodriguez’s start nullified another strong outing from A’s starter Edwin Jackson, who allowed three runs in 6 1/3 innings.
“Sometimes, you have to give the opposing pitcher the head-nod,” Jackson said of Rodriguez. “He came out tonight and he pitched well. He kept a great team off balance. His record and his numbers show the stuff that he has, and he seems right now to be a really good pitcher. He has a sense of what he’s doing out there on the mound.”
Jackson, who’s posted a 2.93 ERA since joining Oakland, allowed home runs to third baseman Ryder Jones in the fifth inning and first baseman Pablo Sandoval in the seventh, but otherwise looked about as good as he has since making his A’s debut last month, walking only one batter. He’s walked an average of 3.5 men per nine innings over his career.
“If we score some runs, we’re talking about how good a game [Jackson] pitched,” said Oakland manager Bob Melvin. “He’s pitched really well every time out. We just haven’t scored him some runs here, recently.”
Giants right fielder Andrew McCutchen made two sliding catches and went 1-for-3 with a double, a run scored and a sacrifice fly. Catcher Buster Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford added RBI singles.
Rodriguez, though, was the standout performer, with a sacrifice fly allowed in the second inning being the only blemish on an otherwise solid outing. He artfully worked out of potential trouble, keeping four of the five baserunners he allowed from scoring.
That level of poise impressed Posey the first time he caught the right-hander in March. Posey took note of Rodriguez’s demeanor during a spring training game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, when he said Rodriguez pitched well against major league counterparts.
Rodriguez explained his confidence as simply trusting his stuff and attacking the strike zone, even during the times others haven’t believed in his potential. Rodriguez had never pitched above Double-A when the Twins released him eight months ago, following a three-year stint on the mound after he’d converted from the outfield. He signed with the Giants motivated to demonstrate his capabilities.
“I felt like it was a fresh start,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to make a good impression in spring training and start the season strong. My goals that I set for myself from last offseason to this season … they’re doing well.”
For now, Rodriguez has eclipsed Guerrero, Tatis and Bichette as the best son of a former big leaguer in baseball. While that’s largely because those players are much younger and still in the minor leagues, he’s been a revelation for the Giants.
“He’s not in awe of anything,” Bochy said. “I’m sure his dad has been a terrific mentor for him.”
Rodriguez, typically upbeat and talkative this season, hasn’t dwelled on who his father is or what his father did or what his father is up to now. When Ivan Rodriguez attended his last start at AT&T Park, he bristled at postgame questions about the appearance.
“I didn’t even notice [he was on the scoreboard] until after they told me,” Dereck Rodriguez said on July 6. “It is what it is. We have to live with it.”
Rodriguez has done more than just live with the expectations that come with having a Hall of Fame father. He’s now gone six straight starts without surrendering more than three runs. He’s making his own mark. If he continues to mix his fastball, slider and slow curveball the way he’s done through his first eight starts, he could enter the conversation for an award his dad never won: Rookie of the Year.