The organization has entrusted Dominican Summer League manager Jeremy Rodriguez to lead this group of teenagers through their first experience in professional baseball. Rodriguez, 27, played parts of five seasons the San Diego system, after being drafted in 2011. The former catcher hung up his spikes for good, choosing to take an opportunity to manage the Padres’ Dominican squad.
Rodriguez guided the 2016 DSL Padres to their best record ever, finishing at 36-33. While the high profile international talent like Adrian Morejon and Luis Almanzar won’t debut until 2017, Rodriguez serves as an integral cog in the future development of this season’s record-setting international class. Rodriguez chatted with MadFriars recently to discuss the 2016 season and what lies ahead for the organization.
MadFriars: Overall, the DSL squad had a really good year. What made this year’s team so successful?
Jeremy Rodriguez: We had a full group from the beginning and we worked really hard on working on team-building exercises. In the minors, especially in the lower levels, a lot of players are playing for themselves and are more concerned about their own development. This season, all of the guys really pulled for each other and played within themselves. They all worked hard and played team baseball.
What kind of team-building activities did you do?
Jeremy Rodriguez: We had dance competitions where the winners would get prizes. We had movie nights every Tuesday where we watched the classic baseball movies like “Bull Durham” and “The Sandlot.” I wanted them to get the references and be able to connect with their American teammates when they eventually make come stateside. I just wanted to have the players to spend time together and bond with things that didn’t necessarily revolve around baseball.
What did you see from the Cubans LHP Adrian Morejon and OF Jorge Ona?
Jeremy Rodriguez: I spent a lot of time with them and both are really impressive. Morejon is very advanced for his age. He knows exactly what he wants to do and he is so smooth and polished. He is a guy that can move through the system pretty fast. Morejon is not a typical teenage pitcher that you see out here. He played catch regularly and it will be fun to see him get into game action.
Jorge Ona is a big guy -- but is very powerful. He has a great work ethic and is working really hard on practicing English. He is another guy who is very advanced and I could see him rise through the system quickly. He will also be great in the clubhouse -- he’s well-liked and is a great guy to be around.
The breakout star of the DSL season was infielder Eguy Rosario (he hit .341/.421/.470, with a homer and 21 steals in 53 games for the DSL Padres). What can we expect from him?
Jeremy Rodriguez: Rosario is an impact player. He reminds me a lot of a Jose Altuve or Dustin Pedroia-type of player. He’s very aggressive but he has also shown the ability to work the count at the plate. He bunts a lot and really knows his game.
He is learning to hit the ball to all fields and I think eventually he will have more power. I think if he reaches his potential he could be a guy who hits for high average with 10-15 HRs and a lot of steals. He can handle short but I think he is better suited to play second or even third base.
San Diego signed quite a few shortstops this period but Luis Almanzar and Gabriel Arias were the headliners for position players. Do you think they can both stick at short?
Jeremy Rodriguez: Both Almanzar and Arias have a lot of tools. Almanzar can play all over the field and he is advanced. He had a lot of training. He played in the states for a year when he was 15 and is quite strong. He can stay at shortstop but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slide over to third.
Arias has a pretty good knowledge of the strike zone and could end developing pretty good power. He will get bigger but athletically I think he can stay at short.
Omar Fernandez, a 17-year-old pitcher out of Mexico had a huge season for you. He’s not a guy who has been on the prospect ladder at all. What can you tell us about him?
Jeremy Rodriguez: I’d say he was our most advanced player. He performed well (3-0 record, 0.76 ERA in 12 starts) and was always observing and writing things down in a notebook that he carried. I would put up a “word of the day” in English on a board in the clubhouse and he’d write it down. He would then write sentences and attempt to use it in a sentence. He doesn’t throw particularly hard but he is very bright and works hard. He surprised everyone.
Kelvin Melean and Kelvin Alarcon were two of the big names in last year’s July 2 class. What kind of year did he have for you?
Jeremy Rodriguez: Melean was our leader and captain. He has an incredible work ethic and plays really hard. He got off to a slow start but never got discouraged and kept working hard. As the year progressed he just got better. His tools are still developing but he’s smart and has an idea of what he is doing.
Alarcon has a great eye at the plate and has an advanced approach for a kid his age. He is still developing his tools but he has a chance to be a solid player. He moved over to second base this season and I think that is where he will end up long-term.
What player signed this July is an under-the-radar guy to watch out for in coming seasons?
Jeremy Rodriguez: I really like shortstop Justin Lopez. He is always happy, always smiling and is just a great guy. He has great hands and the bat is coming along nicely.
What type of drills and programs have you implemented this year?
Jeremy Rodriguez: We do a lot of hand-eye coordination drills. My goal is to develop and improve that skill as much as possible. Quicker hands will help guys get to the ball quicker and make more solid contact. I make the guys take batting practice off of the pitching machine with very sharp breaking balls -- probably with more movement than you’d see in real life. Most of these guys have no issue hitting the fastball but I want them to be comfortable and also to be ready to hit more advanced sliders and breaking balls as they move up the chain.
We practice base-running quite a bit. When I was a player, I thought you could always tell the type of team you were playing by how they ran the bases. I want my guys to be fundamentally sound in that area.
What plans do you have for the rest of the season and off-season?
Jeremy Rodriguez: I will be out in the instructional league working with the guys, helping them prepare there. I won’t be at the games at Petco Park but that should be a great experience for the players going. I’ll take a little time off before preparing for next season.