Making adjustments key Rodriguez toward big season
Aeros shortstop changes swing and finds results
When it comes to finding success on the diamond, Akron Aeros shortstop Ronny Rodriguez is acutely aware of what he needs to do.
"Adjustments," he said. "Every day. Adjustments, adjustments."
Rodriguez made a significant adjustment to his swing in mid-May, something that clearly shows up when taking a look at his month-to-month stats:
April: .245/.250/.351 line, .601 OPS
May: .262/.296/.437 line, .733 OPS
June: .392/.405/.532 line, .936 OPS
Now, those June stats are pretty unsustainable, but clearly something started working for the 21-year-old. But just what was that change?
"It wasn't really any huge change," Akron hitting coach Jim Rickon said. "I think it was more getting him more athletic in his posture and getting to that athletic position where he can actually read the pitch instead of predetermining swing or take... It wasn't a huge change as far as a huge adjustment. That's why he took to it pretty quickly."
The phrase "athletic posture" is a little vague, so Rickon explained further what he and Rodriguez did in more layman's terms.
"So when I say 'athletic posture,' I mean he was on his heels a little bit," Rickon said of Rodriguez's swing earlier in the season. "Now we're trying to get him more on the balls of his feet, a little stronger, more of an athletic position rather than just kind of standing in the box."
In other words, instead of standing loosely, Rodriguez has tensed his body more before the pitch, adding some potential energy to his swing. Now, when he swings, there is more firm power behind it.
A byproduct of this approach is that Rodriguez's hands have quieted down. Earlier in the season, Rodriguez would churn the bat in a circular motion across his chest, but now it stays pretty stationary.
"That actually happened a little more naturally without even addressing it," Rickon said. "He's got his legs connected a little more, so now he doesn't feel like he has to generate as much with his upper body."
In addition to the mechanical change to his swing, Rodriguez is also looking to make more contact while at the plate. The shortstop's 19 home runs in the pitcher-friendly Carolina League last year may have put him firmly on the prospect map, but Rodriguez realizes that without making enough contact, the power is useless.
"In Carolina last year, I was pulling balls," Rodriguez said. "There I showed my power. But here, I don't think about my power. I just try to stay in the zone and I'm really thinking 'to right field' and I see my progress in that...
"The organization knows that I can hit home runs and I have a lot of power, so I need to focus on adjustments [to] my hitting now."
In order to focus on his hitting, Rodriguez tries to simply stay out of his own head and let it happen.
"I don't try to think," Rodriguez said. "I just try to get a good swing, [a] good [pitch], and see what happens."
Walking has never been a particular skill for Rodriguez, as he only has 40 in his professional career (295 games). However, that is not something that particularly bothers his manager, Edwin Rodriguez.
"It doesn't mean drawing walks," E. Rodriguez said of R. Rodriguez's adjustments. "It means not swinging at bad pitches. If that means the outcome of the at bat will be more walks, [that's okay]. But you don't teach a guy like 'hey, let's try to get more walks.' No, no, no. Let's try not to swing at bad pitches and then whatever happens, happens."
The manager also observed that when making these adjustments, it is not as simple as it seems. It often entails taking a step back in another department. In R. Rodriguez's case, that department is power.
"To make adjustments you have to be willing to give something to get something," E. Rodriguez said. "Like Ronny, [he's giving up] his power. But he's becoming a better hitter."
R. Rodriguez may be giving up some power in the short-term, but his manager thinks that thanks to these adjustments, it will come back.
"Most of the time, powers hitters become good hitters first," E. Rodriguez said. "Then the power will show up. That's his case. He already showed that he has the power, that he has plenty of bat speed. It's a matter of him learning how to hit, learning the strike zone, pitch recognition, and all that. The power will take care of itself, and he's agreeing...
"He's seeing the results. He's getting more hits and he's making good contact. Eventually, those hits and those line drives, they're going to start going over the fence or going in the gap. But definitely he's concentrating more [on] using the whole field and trying to have good at bats."
R. Rodriguez missed some time recently with a sore hamstring, but the shortstop is back now and still mashing. His goals for the rest of the year are to stay healthy, finish the season well, and -- just like every other minor leaguer -- play in the major leagues.
He may still be a little young and fairly far from Cleveland, but there is no doubt that Rodriguez is turning heads in Akron and one of the best talents in the whole organization.
If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at email@example.com. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.