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September 21, 2014

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Former CSN baseball players invited to MLB spring training

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Heather Cory

Former College of Southern Nevada baseball player Derek Rodriguez, now a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization, practices his delivery at CSN’s Lied Field. Rodriguez is a part of the Rays’ 40-man roster after being picked up in the 2009 Rule 5 Draft.

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Jordan Smith tosses the ball while waiting for practice to begin at CSN's Lied Field.

Just one month after former College of Southern Nevada baseball player Mike Dunn was added to the New York Yankees' 40-man roster, two more former Coyotes will receive their first shot at making a big league roster.

Pitchers Jordan Smith and Derek Rodriguez will report to their first major league spring training camps in early February with the Cincinnati Reds and Tampa Bay Rays, respectively.

Rodriguez, 25, was taken in the 14th round of the 2005 First-Year Player Draft (425th overall) by the Chicago White Sox, but he struggled to find a place in the organization as a starter. The White Sox converted him to a relief pitcher last year and he blossomed in the role, posting a 3.29 earned run average with 88 strikeouts in 79 innings between the Double-A and Triple-A levels. He held opposing hitters to a .191 batting average.

Rodriguez was claimed by the Rays, the defending American League Champions, in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft — the annual winter draft that redisperses players by allowing teams to claim minor leaguers who are not protected on their team's 40-man roster.

The rules of the draft state that Rodriguez must now be added to the Rays' 25-man roster and remain there for the duration of the season.

"It's an exciting position to be in," Rodriguez, a Bishop Gorman graduate, said. "I'm blessed to have a shot at the big leagues. To be in an organization that's so young and so talented and should remain competitive for years to come is great. I hope they see that I'm a competitor and I want to win."

CSN coach Tim Chambers knew when Rodriguez was a freshman that he had the talent to make it to the big leagues. He said the 5-foot, 11-inch Rodriguez weighed 150 pounds on a good day but had the potential to become a strong pitcher.

"He had a fast arm and he threw for strikes," Chambers said. "We knew he was going to develop; he just needed to grow a bit more. He logged his innings and has improved a lot and worked on some different arm angles. He's a kid that works hard and we're proud of him."

In the months prior to reporting for spring training, Rodriguez trained aggressively at CSN's complex in Henderson.

"I feel comfortable working out at CSN," Rodriguez said, wanting to hit the ground running when he reports to camp. "Chambers and (assistant coach) Cooper Fouts have an intense, aggressive attitude about training and that's what I need right now."

Smith is in a similar situation as the 174th pick of the 2006 draft (sixth round). He is honing his skills before attempting to make the Reds.

Smith compiled a 3.83 ERA with 86 strikeouts in 112 innings between the Single-A and Double-A levels last year and received his invite to big league camp this winter.

"It's great just to be invited this early in my career," Smith said. "I feel like I have something to offer (the Reds) and it's a good feeling to know they have a future for me in their organization. I'm expecting the unexpected for my first time. I'm anxious and excited to show them what I'm made of."

Chambers said Smith, a converted catcher, has the type of intimidating presence on the mound expected from a big league starter.

"He's the type of guy that a lot of teams would be interested in," Chambers said. "He was pretty raw when he got drafted. He could stand on that mound and throw real hard. Now he's had a chance to progress and learn to pitch, and he's still kept that velocity up. We're glad to have him back as an example to the young guys."

Jared Harmon can be reached at 990-8922 or [email protected].

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