AFL Spotlight: Ronny Rodriguez
The “AFL Spotlight” is a weekly feature piece on a player from the Cleveland Indians farm system that is participating in the Arizona Fall League. League play wraps up on November 15th.
Whether things are going well or bad for highly touted Indians shortstop prospect Ronny Rodriguez, you would be hard pressed to know the difference because he wears a smile on his face from beginning to end each day. It is just the way he is wired.
These days Rodriguez has good reason to be smiling.
Rodriguez, 20, is getting a chance to showcase his talents to scouts and executives around the game in the prestigious Arizona Fall League this offseason. In 13 games to date he is hitting .269 with 0 HR, 6 RBI, 5 stolen bases, and .682 OPS. He’s one of the youngest and most inexperienced players participating in the high profile league this fall, but so far he has fit right in and has not looked overwhelmed at all.
Rodriguez figures to open next season at Double-A Akron, so the AFL experience is good for him to get used to the pitching in the upper levels and to get some pointers from some of the older players he is playing with.
“I see a lot of guys with all the experience here and I am the youngest guy here,” Rodriguez said in an interview with the IPI. “I am learning every day. Older players come to me and offer help. One day I was taking groundballs at shortstop and David Adams from the Yankees came up to me and talked to me and told me I need to do this and this. I feel good when older guys come up to me and try to help me.”
While in the fall league Rodriguez is getting a lot of playing time at second base, a position he has played in 10 of his 13 games this fall. He has more comfort playing shortstop, but was exposed to second base this season at High-A Carolina as he split time between second base and shortstop with Tony Wolters.
“At the beginning of the season I was kind of confused because my first year I only played shortstop,” Rodriguez said. “They said I would play second base and I was okay with trying it, and I played with Tony Wolters who played shortstop and second base too. Now I feel comfortable at second base as I don’t make many errors there and I see my progress.”
Rodriguez shows a lot of athleticism, range and a very strong arm at both second base and shortstop, but he is working on his consistency with his fielding, slowing the game down, and most importantly the accuracy of his throws.
“Mostly it is my throwing,” Rodriguez said about what he wants to improve the most. “Sometimes when I transfer the ball I try to be too quick and with all the adrenaline from the game [the throws ends up off line].”
On the offensive side of things Rodriguez continues to make strides and has really solidified himself as one of the Indians better prospects after a good showing at Carolina where he hit .264 with 19 HR, 66 RBI, and .752 OPS in 126 games this past season.
“It was a good year because at the beginning I struggled, but I made adjustments and we saw the progress throughout the season,” Rodriguez said. “I am making them here too in the fall league. It’s part of the game.”
Those final numbers are a far cry from where they were in mid-May, which is why Rodriguez’s season ended up being such a positive one. As of May 12th, just 32 games into his season, Rodriguez was hitting .221 with 2 HR, 13 RBI and .599 OPS. But from May 13th through the rest of the season - a span of 94 games - he hit .279 with 17 HR, 53 RBI and .802 OPS.
Rodriguez’s turnaround in May was largely the result of some work he put in with Carolina hitting coach Scooter Tucker. His hands were all over the place when he swung, so he worked on placing them back in more of a load position so that as he brought his lead foot down in his swing he could generate a more consistent and level swing path.
“Scooter moved my hands up a little and after fooling around with it they said to try it in the game and I tried it and saw my progress right away,” Rodriguez said. “When I started I was hitting .180-something in May and I had like four home runs, and we saw the progress from there.”
Early on in the season it was not easy for Rodriguez to step up to the plate and take a peek at the scoreboard and see such a low batting average, but his confidence never wavered and he did not let frustration set in. His strong mental component is a big reason why the early season struggles did not engulf him and destroy the rest of his season.
“It is all mental,” Rodriguez said. “You keep working and try to stay positive. I know that I come to the field for something and that it is my dream to do this. Part of what I do is come to the field every day to do my job and learn something.”
While the fall league is set to wrap up at this time next week, Rodriguez’s 2012 campaign is far from over. He plans to continue playing this offseason in the Dominican Winter League for Estrelles de Oriente, the team that drafted him last year. While a lot of player’s dream of playing in the big leagues, an almost equal goal for a lot of young Latin players is to play winter ball for their home country.
“I want to play in the Dominican Winter League,” Rodriguez said. “That’s my dream, to play in the Dominican and for Estrelles de Oriente. Last year in the draft I went in the first round [to Estrelles]. They told me they will give me the opportunity to play this year. When I leave here and go back to the Dominican, if the Cleveland Indians allow me, maybe I will play with them this year.”
The fun – and smiles – never stops for Rodriguez. But he wouldn’t have it any other way than to play baseball every day.
“It’s baseball for me all year,” Rodriguez said. “This is the life.”
Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.