Luigi Rodriguez, Young Veteran with Tools

Luigi Rodriguez possesses an intriguing set of tools; power, speed, and defense. These tools have had him on and off the Cleveland organizations top prospect list for the past several years.

At the age of 16 he was signed out of a baseball academy in Santiago, Dominican Republic. The somewhat diminutive outfielder, he stands 5’11” and 160 lbs., first got noticed for his on-field performance at Low-A Lake County in 2012. He put up a slash line of .338/.406/.744 that included 5 triples, 11 homeruns and 24 stolen bases. The power speed combination garnered attention, but he has been unable to capitalize on these talents in the several years since.

That trend seems to be reversing itself this year with the High-A Lynchburg Hillcats. He shares time in the outfield with the trio of number one picks, Bradley Zimmer, Clint Frazier and Mike Papi and of late has been manning the leadoff spot in the lineup for the Hillcats.

Now in his sixth year as a professional in the Indians organization, it is an important year to attract attention, as he will potentially become a six year minor league free agent if the major league club does not put him on its 40-man roster.

LuigiComing out of the Dominican at such a young age was challenging.

“Definitely new,” he says about shifting from playing in the Dominican Academies and the Dominican Summer League to play in American professional leagues, “Coming from [the Dominican] and now being with guys that were that good. It was a lot of competition.”

He has risen to the challenge and continued to perform well enough to maintain an opportunity to play in the Indians farm system each year since.

At only 22 years of age, yet having six seasons under his belt, he is the same age as his more heralded outfield teammates Papi and Zimmer. Sharing the outfield with them this season, as well as top pick Clint Frazier, appears to have reinvigorated his all-around game.

Of the Hillcats hitters, he stands second only to Bradley Zimmer in batting average (.291), runs scored (23), stolen bases (10), and homeruns (6). The homerun total is also the second best in the High-A Carolina League. In addition he also ranks second in runs batted in (24) to slugging teammate and first baseman Nellie Rodriguez.

A second baseman when drafted he is now exclusively an outfielder, playing all three positions with equal skill. His speed gives him an ease of play that helps him track down balls at whichever of the three he is playing in any particular game.

“I’m an outfielder now,” says Rodriguez, “but I’m versatile and I can play right, center or left.”

With the continuing emergence of Zimmer he has only seen time in right and left field this season, but only has a single error for a fielding percentage of .966, with 27 putouts and a double play to his credit.

“I usually watch a lot of Robinson Cano.” he said about his style of play. “I’m similar hitting-wise and I can steal bases too.”

Cano and Rodriguez have similar builds, with Cano listed at 6’0” 210 lbs. Rodriguez, like Cano bats lefty but throws from the right side and this season has gone exclusively to batting from the left side, where he had previously been a switch hitter.

Over his career his speed has been his most evident skill being ranked as the fastest baserunner in the Cleveland Indians organization in 2013. His peak performance was stealing 31 bags in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. He followed that with 18 in 2011, 24 in 2012, 15 in 2014 and a career low of only 8 in 2013. This year he has 10 stolen bases to only 3 caught stealing.

When on-base he watches the pitcher for opportunities to swipe a bag paying particular attention to their pitching motion, focusing “on their leg kick, and their slide step.” said Rodriguez.

He will use all the weapons in his arsenal to try and get on-base, including bunting.
“Yeah definitely.” he says about laying down a bunt. ”I have bunted for a base hit a number of times this year. If they are going to give it to me, I’ll take it.”

With his speed this gives him another option and makes him well suited for manning the lead-off spot in the line-up. When he does reach first, his acumen on the bases can turn a bunt single or a walk into a double and put him in scoring position.

He has been recognized for his tools now for several years, but his performance for the High-A Lynchburg club has shown he is turning those tools into skills. Being from the Dominican Republic where the community and culture surrounding baseball is more vital he looks forward to continuing to develop and push himself to get to the major leagues.

“The fan culture in the Dominican is,” he pauses looking for a word to describe his native culture, “crazier.” he finally says. “Dominican culture is more free. You can do what you want and get an opportunity.”

Luigi Rodriguez has become an integral part of the Hillcats recent success as the team has won eight of their last ten games, including a three game sweep of their I-460 rivals the Salem Red Sox.

His experience has helped him as he has navigated this season and the ups and downs of a career in baseball.

“It’s a long season.” he says, “It is not a sprint but a marathon, you have to be mentally tough. If you strikeout, tomorrow is a new day.”

Each new day brings Luigi Rodriguez closer to his dream of playing in the majors as he harnesses the talent that was evident when he signed his first professional contract six years ago.

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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