We all read about and remember about the Cuban baseball players who have performed well in the United States and became stars.
Then there are the others. Take Ryde Rodriguez.
Back in 2006-2007, Rodriguez, a mysterious Cuban outfielder, passed through Argentina, Nicaragua and then the Dominican Republic before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in July 2007. The 19-year-old’s bonus of $460,000 was the highest paid by the organization for an international signing to that date.
It had taken months for Rodriguez to be cleared to sign. In the interim, rumors were flying, including ones that the Cardinals were hiding him from rival scouts. I had been informed by a media contact in Nicaragua that Rodriguez was telling friends that Albert Pujols had contacted him, encouraging him to sign with the Cardinals and that he had, in fact, come to terms with the organization that February.
Rodriguez was one of the first big international signings by then-Cardinals executive Jeff Luhnow. He was assisted in landing the free agent by scout Charlie Gonzalez, now again with Luhnow in Houston. (member-only article with specifics)
In 2007, Luhnow gushed about his new recruit, Rodriguez.
“We saw him, we saw him again, and again…. We liked him and we signed him. That's how it should work. As for his tools, he has legitimate power to all fields and is a switch hitter. I personally believe he will hit and hit for power, and he should be a good outfielder." - Jeff Luhnow
At 6-foot-3 and 232 pounds, the switch-hitter had the chiseled look of an athlete and the promise of being a five-tool player.
One year later, after Rodriguez was a Gulf Coast League All-Star, Luhnow, who was both scouting and farm director for the Cardinals, said,
"He has matured as a hitter and has big league tools, as well as big league makeup." - Luhnow
Yet, in reality, Rodriguez could never put it together on the diamond.
He advanced only as far as A-Advanced Palm Beach before his release at the age of 23 in May 2011. Rodriguez had played in 259 minor league games over four seasons as a Cardinal with a line of .276/.317/.374/.691. His long-awaited power never developed.
From there, a six-year odyssey through at least six different independent leagues and 11 teams recently put him back in organized baseball – temporarily – at the very highest level.
At the age of 28, Rodriguez scored what seemed a most unlikely invitation to the Los Angeles Angels’ spring camp, as a late minor league signing – on March 16.
Our Scout.com peer, Inside the Halos, had a reporter at Rodriguez’ tryout. According to publisher Taylor Ward, Angels director of baseball development Mike Gallego was among talent evaluators impressed by the Cuban’s arm and glove, but they wanted to see more reps from him at the plate.
The very next day after signing, Rodriguez finally achieved his Major League dream – something he had not been able to accomplish with the Cardinals and must have seemed impossible over the many years since.
On Thursday, March 17, Rodriguez suited up with the Angels’ big leaguers and was called upon to enter the game against the Colorado Rockies in the sixth inning, playing right field.
At the plate, he saw all of one pitch as a Major Leaguer, lining out to the right fielder on the first offering presented by pitcher Jon Gray in the top of the seventh.
Rodriguez made a putout in his only fielding chance, catching Cristhian Adames’ fly ball to end that seventh inning.
Though Rodriguez finished the game, which ended after nine innings in a 4-4 tie, he was not involved in further action.
From there, Rodriguez was apparently sent to Angels minor league camp, where he lasted two weeks before his release from their Double-A roster on Thursday, March 31. He is once again a free agent.
I found this recent chain of events most curious.
Unless Rodriguez’ agent is Scott Boras, who is often seen behind home plate at the “Big A,” how could the 28-year-old progress from playing in an anonymous independent league in Japan last season to making a Major League at-bat one day after signing this spring?
(For reference, here is a video of Rodriguez at the plate with the Musashi Heat Bears of the independent Route Inn BC League in Japan last season. Note there were slightly fewer fans in the stands there than in Arizona on March 17.)
Then the likely explanation came to me like a shot – Pujols.
“Albert Pujols helped recruit and encourage outfielder Ryde Rodriguez, who emigrated from Cuba and was a ballplayer looking for a place to land. According to the club, Pujols and Rodriguez (whose first name is pronounced REE-day) have become friends, exchanging phone calls every week...”
Do I know for certain that the Angels’ highest-paid player helped his friend from a decade earlier make the connection that led to this most unlikely of Major League appearances on March 17, 2016?
No, I do not, but the circumstantial evidence is strong.
Whether or not Rodriguez continues playing in 2016 is anyone’s guess, but my bet is “yes”.
Ryde’s many roads
From leaving the Cardinals in May 2011 through joining the Angels this spring, here are some of Rodriguez’ many stops. I have been able to find at least 11 over the last six years.
He was a Boulder, an Otter, a Skeeter, a WhiteWing, a Roadrunner, a Charro, an AirHog and two different kinds of Bears.
- July-October 2011: Rockland Boulders (independent Can-Am League)
- February-March 2012: Minnesota Twins minor league camp
- April-May 2012: Newark Bears (Can-Am League)
- May 2012: Evansville Otters (independent Frontier League)
- May-July 2012: Sugar Land Skeeters (independent Atlantic League)
- April-June 2013: Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings (United League)
- June-July 2013: Edinburg Roadrunners (independent United League)
- May-July 2014: Brownsville Charros (United League)
- August-September 2014: Grand Prairie AirHogs (independent American Association)
- 2015: Musashi Heat Bears (independent Route Inn BC League – Japan)
- March 2016: Los Angeles Angels minor league camp
Special for The Cardinal Nation members: Derrick May on Cardinals Spring Minor League Standouts
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