Rodriguez is making big strides in first full season
Most seniors in high school think about summer, college and upcoming graduation parties as they’re getting fitted for their tux for senior prom. Lake County Captains’ first baseman Nelson Rodriguez learned he was drafted by the Cleveland Indians during his tux fitting at Men’s Warehouse.
Rodriguez, an 18-year-old from New York, was taken by the Indians in the 15th round of the 2012 draft. He attended George Washington High School in Manhattan and spent part of last season with the Arizona League Indians, where he hit .229 with four home runs, 17 RBIs, 41 strikeouts, 24 walks and an .834 OPS through 32 games.
The 6’2”, 225-pound right-hander was formerly a catcher, but the Indians organization converted him after the draft. Though he had hoped to be drafted a bit sooner, he was excited for the chance to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It was a good accomplishment for my family and myself,” Rodriguez said. “It was something I was really aiming for since I came into high school working for that and now I’m here.”
Rodriguez’s work carried over through the offseason, where he spent two months in the Dominican Republic working with his trainer. There, Rodriguez worked on losing weight, eating healthy, agility and his offense. His hard work paid off as he had a good spring training and was assigned to the low-A Lake County Captains, an accomplishment he had not expected.
“I was surprised when they sent me here,” he admitted.
Rodriguez explained he thought his age would work against him and keep him in Arizona and Mahoning Valley, but because he proved his defensive development and made strides at the plate, he was rewarded with a starting spot on the Captains’ roster.
Rodriguez is presently hitting .203 with four doubles, seven RBIs, 16 walks and 22 strikeouts through 18 games. Though he has yet to leave the yard, the power is there, as he was the winner of the AFLAC All-American Home Run Derby at Petco Park in 2012.
The shift from high school ball to the minor leagues is an obvious leap, and Rodriguez feels the biggest difference between the two is the pitching. Rodriguez noted that pitchers in professional baseball throw with far more consistency and far more off-speed efficiency.
Though his numbers aren’t quite as high as he’d like, Rodriguez is not pressing or concerned. He’s been patient with himself and at the plate – he currently leads the team with 15 walks, and he’s confident he’ll produce once he adjusts to life in Lake County.
“Everything is going to fall into place as soon as I get used to the league, get used to the pitching and all that stuff,” Rodriguez explained. “It’s a different level, there’s better pitching, so you just have to go out there with an approach and a plan.”
For now, Rodriguez’s plan is to improve all aspects of his game. Defensively, he’s working on fly balls while offensively, he’s looking to step into the batter’s box with a good approach every at-bat. Luckily, he’s had a good role model to look to.
Rodriguez attended George Washington High School, the same school that produced former Indian Manny Ramirez.
“Manny was one of my favorites,” Rodriguez said. “I looked up to him since he was in Boston, just for the great hitter he’s been.”
Though he has some big league ties to his high school, Rodriguez must gain the intermediate education of the minor leagues first. The season is young and so is Rodriguez, but the first year in minor league ball is synonymous with growth on and off the field.
Though he just graduated high school last summer, he’s traded in his prom tux for a professional baseball uniform.
Stephanie is a crime and general assignment reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio. She’s an alumna of Cleveland State University with a degree in Journalism and Promotional Communication. You can follow her on Twitter @7thInningSteph.