Rodriguez on Hitting Tear to Headline Minor League Round-Up
Todd Paquette | On 12, Jul 2014
Nellie Rodriguez has been on an absolute tear lately. Rodriguez has been the hottest hitter out of all of the Indians minor league affiliates. Rodriguez for the week had 11 hits in 26 at bats hitting .423 while scoring eight runs, with two doubles, five homeruns and 12 runs batted in. Rodriguez is currently riding a 10-game hitting streak in which he scored 12 runs and added three doubles, six homeruns, 16 runs batted in with a .372 batting average. During the streak Rodriguez has seen his average go from the low .224 up to .249 and is now second in all of the Midwest League in homeruns with 15, which is also the most in all of the Indians minor leagues.
Rodriguez started out in Low-A ball for Lake County in as an 18-year old in 2013, which proved to be a tough task as he struggled out of the gate hitting only .194 with one homerun in 160 at bats. The Indians transferred him down to their Short-Season team the Mahoning Valley Scrappers during the middle of the season last year. Still only 18-years old, Rodriguez found success and regained his confidence, finishing the season leading the Scrappers in hits (75), home runs (9), doubles (16), RBIs (37), total bases (118), walks (29) and OPS (.818) and was named the New York-Penn League’s Player of the Week for July 22.This year as a 19-year old, Rodriguez found himself starting the 2014 season in a familiar place back in Lake County with the Captains. Rodriguez had a strong start to his 2014 season but has struggled since until the past week and a half.
Rodriguez was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 15th round of the 2012 First Year Player Draft. Rodriguez chose the Indians over college and received a $100,000 bonus, the highest amount he could have received without the Indians being penalized for going over their allotted bonus pool. Rodriguez had other options directly out of high school, including Central Arizona Community College and Virginia Tech, though he would have needed to qualify for the NCAA eligibility requirements at Tech.
“(My mom) said whatever decision I made she would have been happy,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted to play, so everything’s good.”
Rodriguez played his high school ball for George Washington H.S. located in New York City. Indians fans should be familiar with the school as it is the same school as former Tribe outfielder Manny Ramirez. Ramirez was drafted out of George Washington H.S. in 1991. As a senior in high school Nellie had a .500 batting average, with a slugging percentage of .840 and led his team to the city championship game. Rodriguez—still in high school—was also the winner of the AFLAC All-American Home Run Derby at Petco Park in 2012.
Rodriguez was drafted as a catcher out of high school but the Indians organization converted him to a first baseman quickly after the draft. At 6-feet, 3-inches, 245 lbs., Rodriguez is known as a hard worker and since being drafted he has worked hard on losing weight, eating healthy, agility and his offense. Rodriguez has monster power potential, which is something the Indians minor league system really lacks. The sky is the limit with this 19-year old, right-handed, power hitter and that is why he is one of the Indians prospects to keep an eye on this year and in the future.
The Columbus Clippers week started out well as they won their first three games in a row before they fell off a cliff and lost five straight, including being swept in a double header Thursday. The Clippers had moved into first place for a day before the five game losing streak. At 49-46 and in second place, the Clippers currently sit four games in back of the Indianapolis Indians.
When your team as a whole hits under .200 for the week with the highest average at .250 what do you do for a hitting star of the week? Answer, go with a feel good story about a player just called up to Cleveland in catcher Roberto Perez. Perez who made his major league on Thursday had a special night with two hits a homerun and two runs batted it. In 2014, Perez has enjoyed a breakout year for Columbus in where he was hitting .305 with a career high eight homeruns and 43 runs batted in 53 games.
Perez’s 2013 was a far different experience as for most of Perez’s time at Triple-A last year, he suffered from partial paralysis of the left side of his face, resulting in problems with his left eye. Perez was not able to close his eye for months and had to put a patch on to sleep at night. Perez was diagnosed with Bell’s palsy. The Indians talked about putting Perez on the disabled list but he insisted to play through the condition. Throughout the season the condition became gradually better. It still effected his ability to see the ball, he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t blink, became fatigued and it was very draining mentally. While people outside the organization look at his numbers and see he hit only .200 with two homeruns and 34 runs batted in, while playing in 99 games and think what a terrible season, the Indians saw a tough and unselfish player who was able to battle through a difficult situation and not complain or feel sorry for himself. Perez’s condition didn’t really start to improve until just before spring training this year. Perez is a great defensive catcher and many wondered if he would ever hit enough to make it up to Cleveland. In 2014 he has shown that so far and the Indians believe so as well enough so they designated catcher George Kottaras for assignment this week and called up Perez. Perez is not viewed as a starter and never really has been, the hope is that Perez with his strong defense and enough hitting can become Yan Gomes counterpart behind the plate for not only now but the future.
The pitching star of the week is right-handed, relief pitcher Austin Adams who just received the call-up to the Indians on Friday for his first trip to the big leagues. Adams for the week, pitched three and two-thirds innings, while not allowing a hit, a run or a walk, while striking out five batters and adding a save. Adams has had a great 2014 but he has been really special over his last 19 appearances. During those appearances Adams has thrown 25.2 innings pitched giving up 18 hits, only one run, five walks, striking out 23, while earning a win and two saves. Adams was a two-way player in college and was actually drafted in 2008 by the Brewers as a shortstop but did not sign. In 2009 Adams eventually signed with the Indians as a pitcher. Adams started his career as a starting pitcher before he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him all of the 2012 season. At just 5’11, 190 lbs., the Indians were concerned about Adams durability especially coming off the missed year decided to convert him to a reliever. Adams fastball has been clocked up to 100 m.p.h. and he regularly sits in the high 90’s. After a dominant 2013 in Double-A with Akron, the Indians added Adams to the 40-man roster after the season.
Akron won four of their seven games played this week and still remain right in the thick of things in the Eastern League sitting just one game behind the first place Richmond Flying Squirrels. With all of the team’s injuries of late the (53-40) RubberDucks and manager Dave Wallace will have their work cut out for them over the final two months.
Hitting star of the week for Akron is shortstop Francisco Lindor. On Wednesday June 25, Indians top prospect and current RubberDuck shortstop Lindor took a bad hop on the infield directly to his face and suffered a small non-displaced nasal fracture. The good news was Lindor only missed a week of play. When Lindor returned on July 2 in his first four games he had just one hit in 15 at bats and his batting average dropped to .272, the lowest it’s been all season. Lindor’s average is back up to .282 and is the hitter of the week because of what he has done since his low point of the season. Lindor for the week hit .333 with 10 hits in 30 at bats, while adding two doubles, two runs batted in and four stolen bases. With both outfielder Tyler Naquin and second baseman Joe Wendle out for the year with injuries, Lindor will be looked upon to carry a larger load in the RubberDucks offense. However, there is a very good chance that Lindor will either be promoted to Triple-A Columbus or even up to Cleveland at some point this season.
The pitching star of the week is right-hander starting pitcher Gabriel Arias. Arias made one appearance this week in which he went eight innings pitched, giving up five hits, two runs, one walk, while striking out four batters in earning the win. The 6’2, 185 lbs. Arias, from the Dominican Republic, originally signed with the Phillies in 2007 as a non-drafted free agent. The 24-year old signed this winter as a minor league free agent with the Indians. Between Akron and Columbus this year Arias has a 9-4 record with a 3.61 earned run average while striking out 63 batters in 94.2 innings pitched.
With five wins out of the teams eight games this week the Carolina Mudcats find themselves in first place at 13-9 in the second half of the season so far. The Mudcats are one game ahead of both the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and Winston-Salem Dash who are both 12-10.
The hitting star of the week for the Mudcats is infielder Yhoxian Medina. Medina for the week had nine hits in 23 at bats hitting .391 while scoring seven runs with four doubles, a triple, three runs batted in and a stolen base. Medina Rodriguez is currently on a 12-game hitting streak in which he scored 13 runs and added eight doubles, one triple, five runs batted, six walks, two stolen bases with a .420 batting average. Medina mostly a utility infielder has been thrust into basically a starting role with the Mudcats between injuries and player movement and he has taken advantage of his opportunity.
While the Mudcats offense has been on fire the pitching staff has been up and down lately. There was not a ton of options for the pitching star of the week, but an exciting name was just promoted to the team from Lake County in right-handed pitcher Ben Heller. Heller made his debut this week for the Mudcats and earned his first save with his new team and struck out three batters in his two innings pitched on the week. While most Indians fans might not know his name, the Indians may have found something of a sleeper in the late round small school 2013 draft pick.
Heller was drafted in the 22nd round of the 2013 First Year MLB Player Draft out of Olivet Nazarene College in Illinois. Over his last 18 appearances spanning 25.2 innings pitched, Heller has struck out an astounding 49 batters. During the 25.2 innings Heller has only allowed just nine hits, two runs, 11 walks and a 0.70 earned run average. On the season Heller has struck out 67 batters in just 39 innings pitched. To put the strikeout numbers into perspective Indians top pitching prospect coming into 2014 Akron’s Cody Anderson has 59 strikeouts in 90.1 innings pitched. Heller has eight more strikeouts than Anderson in 50.1 less innings thrown! Heller has a ridiculous 15.5 strikeouts per nine inning rate on the year. If Heller continues to shine like he has he should be able to move through the system rather quickly as he will be 23 in August and is a former collegiate arm. Tribe fans should keep an eye on Heller as he has made a name for himself as an intriguing prospect in the system.
The Lake County Captains had a bit of a rough week losing four of the team’s six games played. Still the Captains have been playing much better in the second half of the season compared to their dreadful first half last place finish. The team is currently 11-9 tied for second place, just three games in back of first place South Bend.
The Captains hitting star of the week with Rodriguez being featured is top prospect Clint Frazier. The 19-year old Frazier, the Indians first round draft pick in 2013, has found the jump to Low-A ball this season not-so-kind, hitting .253 with 95 strikeouts in just 73 games. For the week Frazier hit .333, scored four runs added two doubles, one home run, two runs batted in and added three walks. While the number of strikeouts is troubling Frazier is one of the youngest players in the Midwest League and just a year into professional ball from high school, it is not unexpected. While it’s not time to be concerned, if Frazier hasn’t made any adjustments by the end of the year and continues to struggle, there will definitely be some concern if he can make enough contact to live up to the high expectations many have for him. Hopefully after the strong week this will be the beginning of the maturation of this high profile prospect
The Captains pitching star of the week is an un-drafted free agent out of Siena College with a big name in Justin Brantley. Brantley is the cousin of the Indians All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley. Brantley is an under-sized right-hander at 5’11 167lbs who went undrafted and unsigned in 2013. In February Brantley threw for a showcase in front of scouts, the Indians like what they saw and signed him to a minor league contract. The 23-year old Brantley started the season in extended spring training and was to start the season with the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in June but the Indians liked what they saw so much they jumped him a level up to Lake County. Brantley, whose fastball sits in the low to mid 90’s with good late movement, has gotten off to a terrific start in his first professional season with a 2-0 record in 17.1 innings pitched he has allowed just eight hits, one run, two walks, with 16 strikeouts with a microscopic 0.52 earned run average. Brantley is currently pitching in middle relief but was a starter in college for Siena. The Indians have yet to decide what role Brantley will ultimately fit into but will stay as a reliever for now. Indians fans should be hopeful that this late bloomer will someday reach the big leagues and join his cousin as a teammate.
The Mahoning Valley Scrappers were swept for the week in losing all seven games they played. The seven game losing streak have the Scrappers sitting in the basement of their division with a 8-19 record on the year already 11 games back of first place State College after just 27 games played on the year.
The 2014, 18th round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians out of Pacific, outfielder Taylor Murphy’s .263 average wasn’t that impressive, but when your team’s offense has scored just 11 runs total in the six games played this week you got to go with the highest average for the hitting star. For the week Murphy had five hits in 19 at bats scoring three runs with a double, a homerun, and an RBI while adding three walks. In 2014 for the University of Pacific the left-handed hitter who throws right handed, Murphy earned a spot on the All-West Coast Conference honorable mention team as a junior. Murphy finished his junior season at Pacific with a team leading five home runs and six triples.
The pitching star of the week for the Scrappers is 20-year old, left-handed starting pitcher Sean Brady yet again Brady has been the most consistent and probably best pitcher to date so far for the Scrappers in 2014. Brady, in his start, went six innings allowing just three hits, one run, and one walk while striking three. Brady in 2014, through five starts is sporting a fine 2.92 earned run average in 24.2 innings pitched. Brady coming out of high school in 2013 was considered more polished than most of the high school pitchers in the 2013 draft and could move quicker through the Indians system than most young arms would. Brady came into the 2014 year ranked as the Indians 17th best prospect by MLB.com.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer