Every prospect is drafted with the hope and intention of helping his club win the World Series. All players strive for that lucrative multi-year contract and the adoration and respect of the baseball-loving public. Sadly, for every Mike Trout, there are 1,000 players who never escaped the purgatory of the lower minors.
That crossroad came a few weeks ago for Padres minor leaguer Jeremy Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 25, has been one of the most respected players in the Padres’ system, ever since he was selected in the 16th round of the 2011 draft. Rodriguez was playing with the Lake Elsinore Storm in late May, when he was offered an intriguing opportunity: give up his dream of playing Major League Baseball and move to the Dominican Republic to manage the Padres’ affiliate there. He chose to end his playing career and move into the next phase of his life.
After an abysmal 2014 which saw the Dominican Padres finish with a 17-54 record, Rodriguez has the club off to a 6-3 record at press time. The former Cal-State Bakersfield catcher seems poised to lead the Dominican Padres to a winning season.
Rodriguez seized the opportunity to manage, and seems likely to rise in the Padres’ organization. Jeremy chatted with MadFriars, via Skype, to talk about his new journey.
At what point did the offer come from the Padres’ organization?
Jeremy Rodriguez: It was offered on May 23. I was approached by our infield and catching coordinators Ryley Westman and Eddie Rodriguez. Ryan Miller, the Storm catcher was about to come off of the disabled list, and I wouldn’t have a spot on the roster. I was told I could go back to extended spring training, where they have 10 other catchers. I could have asked for my release and played in an independent league. I knew I had to make a decision quickly.
What thoughts did you have while making your decision?
Jeremy Rodriguez: It was tough. I took a walk around the lake outside the ballpark and thought about the pros and cons of my situation. On one hand, I wanted to keep playing. I knew that I didn’t want to play independent ball. Storm manager Michael Collins told me I was playing Sunday. I knew that this opportunity to manage may never come again, so I decided to take the job and play one last game that Sunday. I got a hit and we won on a walk-off homer by Kyle Gaedele. It was a fitting way to end my playing career.
Have you ever had aspirations to manage?
Jeremy Rodriguez: Not really to manage, but definitely to coach. I worked with former big leaguer Reggie Smith’s travel ball team. I coached players ranging from 14-18. I managed a team of 14-year-olds and another with 18-year-olds. I really enjoyed working with the players and it gave me some experience that I could apply. In extended spring training, I worked with some of the catchers down there and I really enjoyed that.
With accepting the manager position, does your goal now include becoming a big league manager?
Jeremy Rodriguez: It would definitely be a dream to make it to the big leagues. Part of the reason I was so pumped to accept this job is that the team viewed me as “number one coaching prospect.” The organization really wanted me to manage and I felt honored. It was an incredibly difficult decision to stop playing but knowing that the organization had so much faith in me made it impossible for me to turn it down.
The team really struggled last year. What type of team do you think you will be managing?
Jeremy Rodriguez: There is a lot of talent on this team. Most of these guys are pretty raw, but they made a few plays and did some things that I don’t think guys in Lake Elsinore could do. In the first exhibition game we played, we scored four runs in the first inning and another four in the second inning. It was pretty exciting to watch.
What traits or characteristics do you hope to instill in your ball club?
Jeremy Rodriguez: I want to leave the team in better shape that when I got to it. I am always striving for improvement each and every day. I want those kids to play hard, but I also want them to have fun and relax. My goal is improve the same way as a manager.