GCL Cardinals 2009 Player of the Year

Jonathan Rodriguez is our 2009 Gulf Coast League Cardinals Player of the Year. The first baseman recaps his strong debut season and subsequent surgery.

The 2009 Gulf Coast League Cardinals put together the team's best season in its three years of existence. The team finished with its top winning percentage while cultivating the Cardinals organization's Latin American talent.

Two of those talents shone at the plate, providing evidence that the organization is beginning to reap the benefits of its rededication to scouting the Caribbean. One of the players came from the 2009 draft while the other signed as a non-drafted free agent.

The first, Jonathan Rodriguez, was drafted in the 17th round out of Manatee Junior College this past June. Though he attended school on the U.S. mainland, Rodriguez is a native of Puerto Rico and still calls the island his home. The other, Kleininger Teran, signed with the Cardinals out of Venezuela during March of 2006.

After comparing the two fine seasons, I am proud to announce Jonathan Rodriguez as the Scout.com Gulf Coast League Cardinals 2009 Hitter of the Year.

J-Rod finished his time with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals with a slash line of .351/.462/.454 with 15 RBIs in 30 games. On the base paths, he stole three bags without getting caught. Even though he was playing a new position, first base, the 20-year-old did not commit an error. He posted the top mark on the team in slugging and on-base percentage among those players with more than 20 at bats.

Rodriguez showed fantastic plate discipline, drawing more walks, 18, than strikeouts, 14. This was the fifth-best ratio in the entire GCL.

Of the players with at least 100 plate appearances in the league, he posted the top on-base percentage while his batting average ranked second on the circuit. Also, he had the fourth best OPS while his base-on-ball rate of 15.7% was the third-best mark in the league.

The Cardinals did not hesitate to promote Rodriguez to Johnson City after his success at the plate in the GCL. In the Appalachian League, he hit a respectable .250/.363/.412 with two home runs and seven RBIs in 68 at bats.

Between the two leagues, Rodriguez hit .309/.421/.436 with two home runs and 22 RBIs. Recently, Jonathan was kind enough to take time to speak with me while at home in Puerto Rico.

Dustin Mattison: First off, congratulations on being named our 2009 Gulf Coast League Cardinals Player of the Year.

Jonathan Rodriguez: Thank you, thank you so much.

DM: You came out really stroking the ball during your time in the Gulf Coast League. Did you expect it to be that easy?

JR: Well, it wasn't easy. The harder you work the easier it gets but it is never easy. I didn't expect it, I don't want to say easy, but less intense.

DM: So now that you have your first season of professional baseball under your belt, looking back, is it what you expected?

JR: It was way better than I expected. It is not like college ball in that you play for your team, working for a state championship and maybe a world series. Now you are dealing with a whole bunch of people and you are fighting for a job. And if you do well, you get moved up. That's a challenge that is fun for me. I like those types of challenges. I like to expose myself to that type of challenge. I find it to be fun but also I want to be respectful of my competition.

DM: Is there any one thing that really stands out about your first professional season?

JR: The pay system was not what I expected. When the paycheck comes in the Gulf Coast League, it is not what I expected at all. It is not the $550 you expect. They take out things like your hotel. But I understand that they are taking something from you but they are giving something in another way.

DM: Tell me about the transition to Johnson City. You grew up in Puerto Rico and went to school in South Florida. That had to be somewhat of a culture shock.

JR: It was awesome because the weather is very cool. I have been in the humidity in Florida and Puerto Rico and it is more enjoyable weather. Actually, I think it helps you play better sometimes.

DM: Tell me about draft day. Were you expecting the Cardinals to be the team or did the selection come as a surprise?

JR: I was not expecting to be selected on Day 1 of the draft. I was looking forward to the second day. I put up good numbers both my freshman and sophomore years. The Cardinals were the team that had been paying attention to me. I developed a really good relationship with Charlie Gonzalez, the scout in Florida. I know he was really pushing for me. On draft day, a couple teams called me out of nowhere but the Cardinals were the one.

DM: You had signed a letter of intent to play at Old Dominion. Was it tough to contact the coaching staff and let them know you were going to turn professional?

JR: It is kind of tough in the sense that you commit to somebody and I am a guy who doesn't like to break a commitment. But the thing is, you never know what is going to happen tomorrow. I could have gone to Old Dominion for my junior year and things could have been better or things could have turned out to be worse. But sometimes you have to play the odds and I chose to turn them down and go pro. They understood and they told me that even though I didn't play for them that it was great to have me as an Old Dominion guy and that it is my choice and they are with me.

DM: What are your off-season plans?

JR? Right now, I am in a sling at my house. I got shoulder surgery and I am just taking it easy in Puerto Rico. I am getting rehab down here and I should be picking up the rehab soon. (Writer's note: Since doing this interview, Rodriguez' informed me that the rehab is progressing well and he has stepped up his rehab intensity.)

DM: Is it your throwing shoulder? Tell me more about the shoulder injury.

JR: Yes it is my throwing shoulder. I had a torn labrum. It is an injury that came in college but with rehab I could play through it. After the season, they told me it is time to have surgery. I am a guy that is used to playing third, playing first, maybe the corner outfield, maybe catcher but the injury has kept me at first. I was happy about the surgery because it should open up my options.

DM: You answered my next question. I was going to ask why you didn't play any third base.

JR: Yeah, they wanted to protect my shoulder as much as possible and not extend in the tear that was in my labrum. I love playing third base; that is where the action is. I grew up playing third base and I really missed it. But I understood that you have to do things for a reason. I had never played first base and it was not as bad of a position as I thought it would be.

DM: If you were not a baseball player, you would be…

JR: That is a tough question. Right now, at 20 years old, I would be studying. I don't know, maybe doing track and field.

DM: Have you set your goals for 2010?

JR: I am really working hard on getting my shoulder straightened out so that I can get going on my off-season workouts. I want to get faster, get stronger, and improve my arm strength. My priorities are to get faster, lose a couple pounds, and perform well in spring training so I can hopefully start the year on a full season team.

DM: What did it mean to be drafted by an organization in which two native Puerto Ricans, Jose Oquendo and Yadier Molina, play such a prominent role?

JR: Yadier lives only about 40 minutes from me. Though I have never met him, I have heard that he is a pretty straight, hard working guy. I see a little bit of myself in him. He comes from not a wealthy family but from a family that has had to work to sustain. I hope to meet him during spring training.

DM: What should Cardinals fans know about you that they probably don't already know?

JR: I grew up in a tough atmosphere in Puerto Rico. It has not been easy for me to end up where I am. I am very proud of myself and even more so of my parents and their dedication for me to grow up to be where I am at. They didn't want me to grow up and be another player playing baseball but for me to be a human being who helps people and not to be another street guy - another a wanna-be tough guy - that doesn't make a difference for the country, the city, the neighborhood. I want to make a difference and do the right thing. It is just a start for me and I hope with God's help that there is still a lot of baseball in my future. I am a realistic guy that wants to make a difference and help the ones around me. I think that if you get rid of your own selfishness and work on making everyone better, that helps not only in baseball but in school and neighborhood society.

Honorable Mention

Kleininger Teran rebounded from a mediocre first season in the Gulf to put together a fantastic sophomore season. Teran trailed Rodriguez in OPS by only eight points (.915 to .907) while posting a slash line of .384/.430/.477. Eight of his 33 hits were doubles and he drove in 11 runs in 25 games. On the base paths, the 20-year-old stole two bases in four attempts and committed four errors while in the field.

Virgil Hill struggled to find any consistency at the plate but did drive in a team high 22 runs and tied for the team lead with four triples.

Cesar Valera struggled at the plate as well but paced the team with 32 runs while finishing second on the team with 21 runs batted in.

Joe Babrick paced the team with four home runs while tying Hill for the team lead in triples. On the down side, Babrick struck out 49.6% of the time, the worst ratio in the GCL.

Note: To follow our entire series of Pitchers and Players of the Year at each level of the St. Louis Cardinals system from bottom to top, check back here daily. To see the roster of winners and article schedule, click here. Players of the Year, starting with the Venezuelan Summer League, begin on Tuesday.

Dustin can be contacted at dustin@whiteyball.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter.

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