Two Prospects With Very Different Paths

Jake Blalock and Carlos Rodriguez are at very different points in their minor league careers. Both hae had good springs in the Phillies minor league camp and the Lakewood BlueClaws are hoping that both continue their success into the regular season. For Blalock and Rodriguez, while the paths are very different, the success could be the same.

For Jake Blalock, life as a kid was good. Growing up in beautiful San Diego with plenty of opportunities being afforded to him. For scouts looking for talent, Blalock was easy to find. The Phillies drafted him in the fifth round of the 2002 Draft out of Rancho Bernardo High School. The Blalock's were somewhat used to the draft routine, since Jake's older brother went through the process just a few years earlier. The elder Blalock is now a member of the Texas Rangers.

For Carlos Rodriguez, youth was a little tougher and has lasted a little longer. With no assurances that he would be found among the baseball fields of the Dominican Republic, Rodriguez had to be more impressive to find his way to professional baseball. The Phillies, and a couple other teams, found Rodriguez and the Phils won out in signing him to a contract at the age of 17.

Blalock is just about two months older than Rodriguez, but in many ways, they are at different levels on the maturity level. That's not to blame Rodriguez. He has admittedly had a much tougher adjustment to professional ball and it's a trip that has had its share of rough spots. No spot was rougher than last season for the young infielder who has come to be known as C-Rod.

After big seasons in the Gulf Coast League in 2001 and the New York – Penn League in 2002, it looked for all the world that Rodriguez would have no trouble adjusting to not only the rigors of professional baseball, but life in the United States. Turning 19 just after the 2002 season, it looked like the worst part was over for Rodriguez. Many players have trouble adjusting in their first season or two, but Rodriguez handled it all in stride. The usual adjustment period that player his age go through was nowhere to be found.

In 2003, Rodriguez was sent to Lakewood to start the season. Almost from day one, there were problems. Nagging injuries slowed C-Rod, leading to a vicious cycle. As the injuries hampered his play, his numbers fell. As his numbers fell, so did Rodriguez' attitude and ambition. Suddenly, Rodriguez had found something that was difficult for him to adjust to. Suddenly, a rising star in the organization became not only a struggling player on the field, but a difficult player off the field. The Phillies dealt with the injuries, C-Rod's struggles and his suddenly different personality. Eventually though, dealing with Rodriguez became more and more of a struggle. The Phillies reached a boiling point and finally uttered two words to Rodriguez meant to set him back on the right path. It was a tough love approach. Those two words? "Go home." Quite simply, the Phillies decided that the best way to deal with their young player was to suspend him and send him back to the Dominican. Hopefully, his friends and family there could help straighten him out and at the same time, the Phillies sent a message to Rodriguez and other young players. It would be their way or no way.

Rodriguez dealt with his attitude. His injuries healed. Eventually, the Phillies sent him a plane ticket to return to the U.S. Now, they hope to have all of that behind them. While 2003 will go down as a lost season and Rodriguez will be back at Lakewood rather than at Clearwater where he might otherwise have been, he's back on track. Since he is so young, the lost season isn't a disaster. Since he's so talented, he may even make up for lost time.

While Rodriguez was struggling at Lakewood, Blalock was beginning to establish himself at Batavia. Hitting .246 in his first two professional seasons with a total of six homeruns is not what the Phillies had in mind. Blalock was supposed to be a faster learner than that and the adjustment figured to be quick, easy and painless. Blalock's power has yet to truly emerge, but the Phillies believe it's just a matter of time. Since 2003 will be Blalock's first shot at a full season minor league, this is where the Phillies figure he's set to really turn up the heat. Perhaps some expected more out of Blalock's early years because of the immediate success that his older brother had in his first years. At this point in his development, Hank Blalock already had a little more than a year under his belt in the South Atlantic League where Jake Blalcok will debut this season. Hank Blalock was also a .313 hitter in his first two seasons with 14 homeruns to his credit. Keep in mind though that until he hit 29 homeruns for Texas last season, the most that Hank Blalock had ever hit in one professional season was 18 in 2001. No coincidence that 2001 was the elder Blalock's third year in professional baseball, and that Jake Blalock is entering his third season of pro ball.

Rodriguez had a quick start and then hit obstacles. While there really haven't been obstacles, Blalock has started at a much slower pace. Both have been hot for the Lakewood BlueClaws in minor league camp this season. The Phillies believe that Rodriguez and Blalock will form the backbone of what could be a nice offense for the BlueClaws.

The paths are different. The development has been different. If all goes as planned though, Carlos Rodriguez and Jake Blalock will have their very different roads meet at the same successful intersection.

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