Indians' Ronny Rodriguez Withstands Early Bumps
Indians Shortstop Takes On Aggressive Assignments
ZEBULON, N.C.—Despite a delayed start to his professional career, Ronny Rodriguez is already ahead of most players his age.
The 20-year-old spent his formative years in two baseball-crazed locales—the Dominican Republic and the greater Boston area. Born in Santiago, Rodriguez moved to Lawrence, Mass., and attended high school in the United States. However, he returned to the Dominican Republic before his high school graduation and had to wait one year before Major League Baseball decided that he could sign as a free agent.
"After I was living in Boston for two years, I went back to the Dominican and was playing there and training. Now I'm here with the Cleveland Indians organization," Rodriguez said with a smile.
Rodriguez signed with Cleveland in October 2010 as an 18-year-old for $375,000 and the Indians aggressively assigned him to low Class A Lake County for his professional debut in 2011. The young shortstop struggled in the Midwest League, hitting .246/.274/.449. He struck out 83 times and drew just 13 walks in 37 at-bats. He also committed 38 errors—tied for second-most in the league by a shortstop—in 97 games.
There were some highlights for Rodriguez that season as well. Despite being three years younger than the average player in the Midwest League, Rodriguez managed to hit 11 home runs and 28 doubles.
Now playing shortstop for high Class A Carolina, Rodriguez has been working hard to iron out some of the issues that plagued him last season. After hitting .203/.241/.304 in April, Rodriguez hit .278/307/.412 in May and .330/.366/.574 in June.
"The first month of the season he was a little bit disappointed and a little bit down, but one day he came in and said 'Let's work on it. Let's work on whatever you want to do with me,'" Carolina manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "So the hitting coach, Scooter (Tucker) and I worked with him. He was listening and he was working on it.
"He has developed a routine, offensively and defensively. With a kid like that you have to develop a routine. Any ballplayer should develop a routine. But being so young, to be consistent at the professional level you have to develop a routine, and he did that and he is still doing it."
Despite a rocky beginning to July (.226/.250/.415 in 14 games), Rodriguez has already hit 11 home runs, matching his 2011 total, and managed to improve his overall line to .269/.302/.437. Still, his approach remains a bit of a question mark, as he has drawn just 12 walks this season.
"He has a lot of work to do but, he is still young," Rodriguez said. "There is a fine line in teaching our young players to be more patient without taking away aggressiveness, so we have to be careful when we say that. He's been developing and getting better in that area, but still he is chasing a lot of pitches. With experience, confidence, and more playing time, it will improve."
Rodriguez's defense also remains a work in progress. Listed at a wiry 170 pounds, Rodriguez is a good athlete with a strong arm and good range, but he has already committed 26 errors this season.
"Sometimes I try to go too quickly," the shortstop said. "Every error is on a routine play, so we are working on that every time that we come out to practice."
Edwin Rodriguez agreed with his player's assessment, saying, "He will make the tough play, the great play, the spectacular play. Count on it. He's going to make it. Now, the routine plays, those are the ones that give him problems. There's a concentration level. He needs to be able to understand and develop that to stay focused on the game. He's been doing it lately—the last three or four weeks of the season he's been doing it.
"Being 20 years old, you are going to see that a lot. It is a matter of him understanding to play in the present moment for nine innings. Any ballplayer, regardless of level, needs to understand that—they have to keep their concentration for nine innings."
Even though his season has been filled with hot and cold spells at the plate and in the field, those involved in the game remain optimistic about Rodriguez's development as he has held his own against older competition.
"The kid has some pop, a good feel for hitting, and he plays the game hard," one scout said.
Rodriguez has plenty of competition for the Indians' future shortstop assignment. Mudcats teammate Tony Wolters, who is currently playing second base, is capable of playing shortstop. Cleveland's top prospect, 18-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor, has held his own in Lake County, batting .267/.360/.386 with 19 steals. But Rodriguez has continued to work hard and remain focused on only what he can control.
"We're working on everything—hitting, my approach, my glove, my throwing. Every time we come to the field I'm thinking about making adjustments," he said.
Edwin Rodriguez says his player reminds him of another up-and-coming shortstop who found success at another position.
"I was with the Tampa Bay Rays organization when they signed B.J. Upton as a shortstop," Edwin Rodriguez said. "I can see some of that (with Ronny). He has power, a great arm, good speed, and is a good athlete. I can picture Ronny as B.J. Upton."