In part one of a two-part series, we will first look at Rodriguez.
The native of Cuba has been a high-profile player even before coming onto the Cardinals' radar screen in the winter of 2006-2007. After months of speculation, the organization finally announced the signing of the now-20-year-old for a reported bonus of $460,000 last July.
For more on Rodriguez' history, check on the articles listed on his Scout.com player profile page here.
In his first official professional action this season, the well-built switch-hitter posted a .329/.374/.392 line (BA/OBP/SLG) in the GCL and was named an All-Star. Rodriguez continued to hit at the higher level of competition, with a .333/.412/.400 line in 15 late-season Appalachian League at-bats.
Cardinals Vice President of Amateur Scouting and Player Development Jeff Luhnow is excited about what he saw this season.
"Ryde had a great year. He is the only guy who hit over .300 on that club. We moved him up and he continued to hit. We just have to find playing time for this guy.
"I think he is going to be a tremendous baseball player. His work ethic is certainly there, his body is there. We just need to challenge him," explained the farm director.
Rodriguez' hitting coach at Johnson City, Mike Shildt, also watched Rodriguez through spring training and extended spring training in Florida. Shildt noticed marked improvement in virtually all aspects of Rodriguez's game just during this summer.
"I was pleasantly surprised in a lot of facets of Ryde's game when he came up. I had not seen him since extended, so it had been about a two-month window of not seeing him. He came up with a lot more plate discipline. He had better pitch recognition, which translated into more quality at-bats.
"He was more productive and had some good at-bats, hitting the ball right at people. In a small sample of at-bats, you don't get rewarded if you hit three or four balls right at people; it can really affect your average," explained Shildt.
The need for Rodriguez to improve in the field was another area I recall being discussed during spring training. Positive steps are being made in that direction, according to Shildt.
"Defensively, he was better. He was getting off the ball better. He was positioning himself better. He was throwing to the correct base more often, more accurately and with improved arm strength," the coach said.
Shildt was quick to acknowledge several members of the Cardinals player development staff for their behind-the-scenes efforts in helping Rodriguez to elevate his game.
"Tom Spencer (Minor League Baserunning and Outfield Instructor) has done a good job working with him on his outfield play and Smoky Ortiz down in the Gulf Coast (GCL hitting coach Ramon). (Dan) Radison (Minor League Hitting Coordinator) has done a nice job with him offensively. So he is a work in progress, but he is progressing," observed Shildt.
Expected to be a source of power, Rodriguez had just nine extra-base hits, all doubles, among his 47 safeties this season. I asked Luhnow whether he thinks the power is coming.
"I think it will. In the Gulf Coast League, you can't tell what kind of power these kids have. You just look at his body and his arms and I think the answer to that question is there. If he makes enough contact, which he did this year…
"I am glad he did not try to hit a lot of home runs this year. He just focused on getting the hits, putting the ball in play and playing outfield. We're taking it slow with him, but I think he is the kind of guy to be a candidate to make an A-ball club next year. I just need to find playing time for him," admitted Luhnow.
In a recent MLB.com chat, Luhnow summed up Rodriguez well when he said, "He has matured as a hitter and has big league tools, as well as big league makeup."
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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