Nellie Rodriguez, Powering through the Carolina League
David Freier | On 17, Jun 2015
Nellie Rodriguez continues to improve on past performances this year at High-A Lynchburg of the Carolina League. He has a slash line of .357/.493/.850 generated from 29 extra base hits, 9 of which are homeruns. This goes along with a .274 batting average, a league leading 51 RBI’s and 29 walks. This walk total is already tied for his second best career total in free passes for a season. All this has earned him a spot on the mid-season Carolina League All-Star team.
He stands 6’2” 225 pounds giving him the impressive presence of a slugger. In 2014 he led the Midwest League in homeruns (22), total bases (234), and extra base hits (57). An impressive performance for a 19 year old at the Low Class A level. This performance vaulted him to #19 in the top prospect lists of the Cleveland organization.
Drafted in 2012 in the 15th round out of George Washington High School in New York City, Rodriguez came to the Indians system with an impressive amount of experience.
George Washington High also produced former Indians star Manny Ramirez, as well as Hall of Famer Rod Carew among the seven Major Leaguers who are alums. The reputation of the school, along with its renowned coach, Steve Mandl, who has over 30 years coaching and more than 1000 career wins, drew Rodriguez there.
“Moving from 8th grade to high school and wanting to go there because many [former players] got drafted.”
Speaking about Mandl and the George Washington program , “Having coached Manny, still coaching now, and the training [he] setup for us during the off season and in season he was a great guy and program to play for.”
Originally a catcher in High School and for Team USA, being at George Washington brought him additional opportunities to hone his skills for a chance at being drafted, including getting to work with former top prospect Angel Salome.
“Pretty awesome!” Rodriguez exclaimed, about getting to work with Salome. “Knowing he’d made it to the big leagues for a couple games, and was a top prospect for the Milwaukee Brewers. We worked on catching drills and he gave me hitting tips as well.”
The motivation to excel has always been a part of his makeup, but he gained confidence by winning the homerun derby at the 2011 Perfect Game exhibition held in San Diego’s PETCO park.
“That was pretty cool.” he says, “Being around pro scouts and other great talents.”
This in part led to him being drafted by Cleveland where they moved him full time to first base.
“Cleveland told me we want you to work at first base. I took it as it was better for my career.”
Since then he has worked diligently to become a quality first baseman, a job that is not as easy as many might think.
“People think it’s an easy position to play, but you always have to do something. You have to back up bases.” he says about learning the nuances of playing the field there. “So it was tough [at first], learning to move around the base.”
Though his fielding is a work in progress, for a big man he moves well at first base. His dexterity around the first base bag was on display in a recent home stand. On July 7th, to end the visiting half of the third inning, he made a deft move back and over his left shoulder to snag a looping liner off the bat of Winston-Salem Dash catcher Jeremy Dowdy.
Physically he is much like fellow Cleveland Indians farmhand Jesus Aguilar. Also like the Triple-A Clippers first baseman, Rodriguez’ calling card is his bat. It has been at the forefront of the parade in carrying the Hillcats as they surge to try and catch division rival Wilmington for the first half crown.
In his last five games he is hitting .316 with one homerun, 7 RBI’s and a .961 slugging percentage. He was named Carolina League player for the week ending June 8th, and all of this before his 21st birthday.
On Friday June 12th, 2015 he turned 21. The night before in the final game of a four game home and home stretch against the I-460 rival Salem Red Sox, Nellie joined three other teammates with multiple extra base hits. He hit a two run homerun to left field in the sixth inning that moved him into a (since broken) three way tie for the Carolina League lead in homeruns with fellow Hillcats Bradley Zimmer and Luigi Rodriguez. In the third inning he had doubled to plate teammate Paul Hendrix with a run.
Hitting in the Carolina League can be tough. It is a small league, only eight teams, and it is generally considered a pitchers league. So you get to see the same clubs with frequency.
“There are less teams here so you have to make adjustments right away.” said Rodriguez. “You play four games here, then the next three at their place, so you have to make adjustments or they’ll eat you up.”
Rodriguez works closely with hitting coach Bobby Magallanes to develop and perfect his hitting skills.
“I’m more focused on hitting line drives up the middle.” Rodriguez says about working with Magallanes. “Being more consistent, that has helped me a lot this year.”
With these improvements he has become an anchor at the cleanup position in the lineup. He has played in 61 of the teams 64 games this season and has greatly benefitted from the trio of talented players commonly ahead of him; Luigi Rodriguez in the leadoff spot, Clint Frazier batting second, and Bradley Zimmer in the three spot.
“Knowing that I’ll have people on base every at bat” he says about batting cleanup, “putting the ball into play.”
This has worked exceptionally well this season as he leads the Carolina League with 51 runs batted in and is only topped by Rangers farmhand Ryan Cordell with 55 and Astros farmhand A.J. Reed with 56, both in the offense favoring California League.
He remains focused on the goals he set for himself this season.
“Just keeping the same approach. Knowing everything is going to take time and it’s a long season. Take it day by day and game by game.”
As the now 21 year old celebrates player of the week and midseason All-Star honors, he can look forward to continuing his pursuit and dream of a major league career.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer