Kimberly Contreras

Jeremy Rodriguez talks Starlin Cordero, Henry Henry

Jeremy Rodriguez finished a five-year playing career last summer when he retired to become San Diego’s Dominican Summer League manager. Rodriguez, still just 26, was drafted in the 16th round by the Friars back in 2011. While he never made the big leagues, the organization entrusted the former Cal State Bakersfield backstop with developing players with little to no experience in professional baseball.

The team went just 28-43 in 2015 but his efforts cannot be measured in wins and losses. A handful of members from last year’s team should come stateside this summer, with a chance that some reach full-season ball. Current prospect Dinelson Lamet arose from relative obscurity in 2015 and could reach Double-A in 2016. It is quite possible that the next prospect started their career in the DSL. MadFriars caught up with Rodriguez to pick his brain about the crop of youngsters in the Dominican. 

MadFriars: Last season was your first foray into managing a professional club. What was the biggest adjustment between playing and managing?

Jeremy Rodriguez: I’d say the biggest adjustment is not being one of the guys. There’s definitely a line and I had to remember that I am there to make these guys better, not necessarily to be a teammate. Transitioning to a leadership role was a big adjustment for me but overall it went fairly smoothly. 

MadFriars: How would you assess the talent level you saw in the Dominican?

Jeremy Rodriguez: Overall, I was impressed. Going into the season I had no idea who any of the players were. You could see the tools some of the guys had -- a few could touch the mid 90’s with their fastballs, there was some guys with raw power and plus speed. Many of the guys have never played organized baseball, so the level of play wasn’t always the greatest. However, you could tell that there was untapped potential all over the field. 

MadFriars: The Padres signed six international prospects last July, including three shortstops and three pitchers. Did you get a chance to work with any of them during the instructional season?

Jeremy Rodriguez: Shortstops Kevin Melean and Kelvin Alarcon were hurt so they did not participate too much during instructs. I did work a lot with shortstop Reinaldo Illaraza and overall I was impressed. He plays the game the right way, works incredibly hard and has a lot of energy. He is a guy who took advantage of his opportunity and I am looking forward to working with him. He played really well in the exhibitions we had at Petco Park in the winter. 

Pitcher Henry Henry has a really smooth, fluid delivery. He was more polished than I expected, especially for a young guy. He was hitting the low 90’s with his fastball and I’d say he has plenty of room to grow. 

MadFriars: There are a couple of guys on the DSL roster that I have followed closely. One of those guys is RHP Starlin Cordero. What can you tell us about him? 

Jeremy Rodriguez: Well, the guy is a giant (he’s listed at 6’7, 220 lbs) but has a chance to be dominant. When you look at his numbers, he struggled with his command (28 walks in 31 innings) but the stuff is there. His fastball has incredible life but he needs to work on changing his arm slot. His fastball rises quite a bit, so if he gets his arm lower it won’t hang out over the plate. He is only 17 but can already top out in the mid 90’s. He throws a change and slider to go with it. He has a great work ethic and is very coachable, so I can see him rising up in the next couple of years. 

MadFriars: When reviewing the statistics of last year’s team, RHP Dari Lopez’s stats jumped off the page. What can you tell me about him?

Jeremy Rodriguez: I know he was signed as a free agent last year. He’s 19 and had some injuries but he is a solid guy overall. He battled some injuries but he throws in the low 90’s and pounds the zone. Last season he averaged less than two walks per nine innings while striking out more than a batter per inning. He started a little bit last season but he could thrive out of the bullpen. 

MadFriars: Are there any other guys you managed last season that could develop into true prospects?

Jeremy Rodriguez: Yeah, there are a couple of guys, for sure. I really like catcher Jose Lezama. He’s not a big guy but he gets it. He handles the bat well and may end up being a solid hitter. He makes contact and seems to know the strike zone well. He got better defensively as the year went on. 

Outfielder Luis Asuncion is another interesting guy. He had a really rough first half but he looks explosive. He is still just 18 but he has a Giancarlo Stanton type of build. He has a tremendous amount of raw power and a plus arm. He will need a lot of time to develop but he does have a chance to be great. 

MadFriars: There are two pitchers that played last season in the DSL that made their way to the Arizona League last season. What are your thoughts on righties Jaimito Lebron and Emmanuel Ramirez? 

Jeremy Rodriguez: Ramirez has a big future. I actually caught his first session in the states last spring. His ball has a lot of sink. He throws in the low 90’s but certainly can dial it up to 95 if needed. He also has a really good breaking ball. If he can throw it consistently, I could see him developing into a top prospect.  

Lebron has a heavy ball and goes after hitters. His fastball has a lot of movement. He is still figuring out how to pitch, but I liked what I saw from him. He still has a ton of room to grow. 

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