21. Nellie Rodriguez – First Baseman
Born: 06/12/1994 – Height: 6’2” – Weight: 225 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Rodriguez was selected in the 15th round of the 2012 Draft out of George Washington High School (NY), which is the same high school the Indians drafted outfielder Manny Ramirez out of in the 1991 Draft. His father, Nelson Rodriguez, was signed by the Pirates and played minor league baseball for a few years before an injury got in the way and prematurely ended his career – and passed away when Nellie was 10 years old from Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's Disease). He was named the Carolina League MVP in 2015. Last season, he finished 9th in the Eastern League in runs (66), tied for 11th in doubles (28), 3rd in home runs (26), 5th in RBI (85), 4th in total bases (233), 1st in walks (75), tied for 1st in strikeouts (186), 4th in extra base hits (56), 8th in slugging percentage (.474), 10th in OPS (.826) and 4th in HR/AB ratio (1/18.92). He also finished 3rd in the organization in home runs (26) and 4th in RBI (85).
Offense: Rodriguez is a physical specimen who is a menacing presence in the batter’s box because of his impressive strength and large size. He has a physically mature frame that he has worked very hard to trim down and become leaner while adding a little more athleticism to it, and has some very strong arms and a powerful, thick lower half that generates a lot of power. He shows well above average raw power to all fields with the strength to hit the ball out to any part of the ballpark, and really does some damage when he barrels up balls – especially pitches that are middle-in. He also shows a clutch factor as he has an innate ability to really focus when runners are on base where his approach really locks in and the quality of his at bats spike upward thanks to a confident attitude and the way he keeps his at bats under control. That clutch ability along with his home run ability makes him a very dangerous hitter who can put up some big production numbers. The hit tool is limited because he swings and misses at such a high rate and is prone to high strikeout totals, but he shows flashes of a good middle of the field approach with some good length to his swing and maintains a lot of confidence at the plate. What balances out some of his bat-to-ball deficiencies is a good overall approach where he shows the patience to take a walk, is selective early in the count, controls his at bats well and does a good job of working deep into counts.
Defense: Rodriguez was a catcher in high school and drafted as one by the Indians, but shortly into his pro debut the Indians decided to make the switch and move him to first base before his first full pro season. His arm is solid average but the defense is slightly below average. That said, he has really come a long way and has the potential to be average overall thanks to some solid actions, developing hands and how he is getting better with his picks on throws in the dirt. He shows some surprising athleticism and quickness for his size where he displays some good agility around the bag.
Speed & Intangibles: Rodriguez is a well below average runner who doesn’t run the bases very well. He shows some advanced maturity on and off the field where he plays hard, is a good teammate and carries a very positive attitude. He really shows a commitment to his work and does a good job of trusting the process where he sticks to his routines and implements adjustments suggested by coaches or from feedback received from watching video. He has a strong work ethic, which is something he needs since he has a high maintenance body that he will need to stay on top of over his career.
Focus: The strikeouts continue to be a problem for Rodriguez as he had a very high 32.1 K% last year at Double-A Akron and no doubt is something he needs to get under some better control in order to have a chance to get to the big leagues and stay there. The Indians believe one of the biggest issues is his pitch selection as a lot of times he will swing and miss at pitches that he really shouldn't be swinging at that are out of the zone, so the Indians want him to continue to work to manage the strike zone better and get a better feel for identifying what pitchers are throwing him so he can limit his tendency to chase a lot of breaking balls out of the zone. The Indians would also like to see him be a little more aggressive as he has a tendency to let hittable pitches go by early in the count for strikes that put him behind in the count and set up a lot of his strikeouts. They also would like to see him gain a better feel for how pitchers are pitching to him and simplify things more at the plate by not trying to do too much and forcing things. Defensively, the Indians are really working with him to iron out some of his defensive issues with his footwork, his lateral movement and improving his receiving on throws from other infielders.
Future: Rodriguez has been one of the Indians most consistent offensive performers over the last four seasons where in each season he has made a new stop at a higher level on the minor league ladder and has yet to see a slip in his strong production numbers. He put up a career high in home runs last season in the cavernous Canal Park – which was impressive – and he has now racked up at least 21 homers and 85 RBI in each of the last three seasons and really carved out a niche for himself in the organization as an up-and-coming power prospect. Last season he did a nice job of getting off to a better start to his season and remained consistent all season from start to finish. In years past he would have two distinct halves to the season where he would often struggle out of the gates and perform poorly in the first half only to have a big second half, but last season his play was more balanced. With more consistency to his play, it really will come down to whether he can find a way to take his approach to another level and limit the chase. With the departure of Jesus Aguilar from the system, he’s sort of taken over his spot as a lumbering, powerful first base prospect with some defensive concerns and strikeout issues, so it will be interesting to see what kind of chance he gets and what happens to him down the road. While he is very similar to Aguilar in size, power and production, he’s done more to this point at the same age and has a better approach, so if he can make some strides with the discipline he has a chance to be a solid second level first baseman in the big leagues – maybe more. He should open the season at Triple-A Columbus, though with the Indians stocking up on veteran bats at Triple-A to start the season, it is very possible he could open the season at Double-A Akron and then go to Columbus a month or two into the season.
Ranking History: #18 (2016), #23 (2015), #30 (2014), #82 (2013)