Of all the prospects in the Cincinnati organization Henry Rodriguez has the most MLB-ready bat right now. The Reds signed him as a seventeen year-old free agent out of Venezuela in 2007 and he immediately went to work in the foreign leagues. He hit .265 that year which was the last season he would fail to crack .300 until 2012 and he torched Southern League pitching at a .348 clip last year before a hand injury and midseason promotion. He finished the regular season with a MLB debut after roster expansion and then hit .288 in the Venezuelan Winter League.
Rodriguez is a switch-hitter with a career .303 average and surprising power for his stature (5'10"/150), slugging over .400. Even though he makes good contact, striking out once every 12 PA on average, the biggest question offensively is plate discipline. Oddly that wasn't the case earlier in the foreign leagues when he walked in over 10% of his plate appearances. However, when he started facing more advanced pitching stateside he never met a pitch he didn't like and his free pass rate plummeted below 4%. Basically, when he steps into the box everyone can expect wood to be put on the ball.
Thus far his generosity hasn't caused a huge sacrifice to OB% which is still .350, but his production dropped to .244/.264 in 221 plate appearances against AAA pitching in 2012. On the other hand, because Rodriguez is a six-year minor league veteran it's easy to forget that he's still only 23 years old so there's time to work on selectivity before it gets exploited against MLB pitching. As he prepares for 2012 he already knows what to expect from AAA pitchers before he returns to Louisville to start the season.
There are some questions about his position defensively where most of his action has been at second base. He's played a little at shortstop, but his arm strength makes it a stretch for him so see a lot of action there. Last season the Reds moved him to third base, but that makes his plus power for a middle infielder becomes suspect for the corner. On the other hand the movement will create versatility which could enable him to secure a job as a utility infielder in the majors.
The Reds lost two utilitymen, Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo, from last season and likely suspected Rodriguez's readiness when they brought in replacements from outside of the organization. He's looking at a full AAA season and with ample opportunity to stake a claim if one of them falters. He made the show as an expansion call-up in 2012 and if he improves his ability to work a count for a better offering he could make it back sooner in 2013. Until then it will be very interesting to watch him make contact behind Billy Hamilton atop the Bats lineup.
Top 30 Reds Prospects: No. 7
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