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02/04/09 2:22 PM EST

Rays eager to see Rodriguez pitch

Rule 5 Draft pick has chance to make club out of camp

ST. PETERSBURG -- A subplot for Rays fans to follow during Spring Training will be how Derek Rodriguez fares.

Rodriguez, 25, is the right-hander the Rays selected from the White Sox with the 19th pick of the 2008 Rule 5 Draft at the Winter Meetings. During the '08 season, he combined to go 5-2 with a 3.29 ERA and one save in 49 appearances for Double-A Birmingham and Triple-A Charlotte.

In 79 1/3 innings, Rodriguez struck out 88, walked 33 and allowed 54 hits, holding opponents to a .191 batting average. Following the season he pitched for the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League and made 13 appearances, going 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA and 14 strikeouts. This was his first season as a reliever.

"We like Derek. We feel like he has an advanced feel for pitching, he changes arm angles, changes speeds, he misses bats," said Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman after selecting Rodriguez. "We've got numerous reports that he makes hitters uncomfortable in the box with the different things he does. We're anxious to get him into big league camp and get a look at him first hand."

The interesting part about the puzzle is the fact the Rays liked Rodriguez enough to risk $50,000 that he can stick with the club for the entire 2009 season.

According to the rules, eligible players to be selected in the Rule 5 Draft are those players not on a team's Major League 40-man roster who were 18 or younger when they first signed a pro contract and it is the fourth Rule 5 Draft since they signed. Also eligible are those players not on the 40-man who were 19 or older when they first signed a pro contract and this is the third Rule 5 Draft since they signed.

Clubs pay $50,000 for the player drafted in the Major League phase, and if the player does not remain on the Major League 25-man active roster for all of the next season, the drafting club must attempt to return him to his original club for a price of $25,000.

A lot would have to fall into place for Rodriguez to stick with the Rays all season given the depth of the bullpen. But talent can change a lot of odds, as can injuries to relievers.

Friedman said Tampa Bay would not have taken Rodriguez if they did not feel he had an opportunity to make the club out of Spring Training.

"We feel like he has a chance, and that's exactly what the Rule 5 Draft is about," Friedman said in December.

Conversely, Tampa Bay fans can monitor the box scores during Spring Training to see how former Rays farmhand Eduardo Morlan fares with the Brewers after being selected during the Rule 5 Draft.

Morlan, 22, went 4-2 with a 3.64 ERA at Double-A Montgomery in 2008. Friedman said the organization knew they had a chance to lose the right-hander when it chose not to protect him on its 40-man roster.

"It's a great opportunity for Eddie," Friedman said. "Selfishly, we hope we get him back. But it's a great opportunity for him."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.