There’s a new big guy in Akron.
For a team that had very little power production during the first month of the season, they have now been supplied with yet another big bat from High-A Lynchburg. This time it’s in the form of right handed hitting first basemen Nellie Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, 21, was drafted by the Indians in the 15th round of the June Amateur MLB draft out of George Washington High school. Since then, he’s spent parts of four seasons with the Indians since then. During his span thus far in the minors, Rodriguez was kind of flying under the radar. His power was scarce, his average was fairly low in his first two season, but he had a solid OBP so supplement his batting average. In 2014, he broke out in Low-A Lake County. In 130 games with the Captains, he hit .268/.349/.482 with 22 home runs, 32 doubles, 3 triples, and 88 RBI. He walked 60 times, but struck out 142 times. 2014 started to put Rodriguez on the map, but he would need to follow up in 2015 with an even better season.
2015 has been a good year for Rodriguez.
After starting the season in High-A Lynchburg, Rodriguez thrived in the 108 games he spent there. He hit .275/.357/.495 and hit 17 home runs, 32 doubles, 2 triples, and walked 51 times to 122 strikes outs. He even stole his first base in his short career! His prowess at the plate in Lynchburg showed that he was no longer necessary for this league and was promoted to Double-A Akron to fill in one of the bigger holes on the team.
In his first at bat in Akron, Rodriguez came to the plate with the bases loaded, and sent his first Double-A hit over the fences for a grand slam. Since then, he’s batted .119/.196/.357 with 3 home runs, 1 double, 7 RBI, and 3 walks to 18 strikeouts.
“He’s a professional, and it’s just a matter of time before he starts hitting,” manager David Wallace said about Rodriguez. “He’s going to be a threat in our lineup the rest of the way in. Really happy with him and how he’s worked, and his presence so far.”
The RubberDucks thus far in the season have gone without a legitimate first basemen for the better part of the season. They’ve played a bunch of different guys there all season long, but that was mostly so everyone could get as many at bats as they could. They’ve thrown out Ronny Rodriguez, Jake Lowery, and Jeremy Lucas to all have some reps at first base. Now that Rodriguez is here, he’ll be getting the majority of the playing time at first base. While Rodriguez’ bat may not be up to par yet in Akron, it’s only a matter of time until the power starts to show up even more.
“I’m feeling better, and just getting my confidence up and just getting more comfortable at the plate and hopefully get going,” Rodriguez says.
With the promotion of Anthony Gallas up to Triple-A Columbus, the RubberDucks were without one of their bigger bats in the lineup. Yandy Diaz and Bradley Zimmer have been showing some power as of late, but the addition of Rodriguez will be huge for the RubberDucks as they make their push for the playoffs in September. Rodriguez is working every day to try and get himself to the level he was playing at in Akron as he was prior to the promotion in Lynchburg.
“It’s all about the daily grind and trying to feel more comfortable and more confident,” Rodriguez says.
Rodriguez now has only five hits in 42 at bats with the RubberDucks, but three of them are home runs, and one of them is a double. To say the power is there would be the truth, but now it’s a matter of finding his consistency that he’s been showing in the past two season.
“Just be himself. He’s pressing a little bit,” Wallace says.
Making the jump from High-A to Double-A can be quite difficult for some guys. In High-A, batters tend to see a lot of the same pitchers for the first time, which can give the batter an advantage towards the later parts of the season. In Double-A, not only do you see the same pitcher less, but the pitchers tend to be more refined and on target then they are in High-A. That causes the batters to make more adjustments on the fly then in High-A. This has been an issue for Rodriguez so far. Once he can figure out how to be himself, while adjusting to the pitcher, he should have no problem flexing his power some more at this level.
One of the biggest surprises that Rodriguez has shown so far is his defense at first. Coming into the season, Rodriguez was not a highly rated defender at first base. Through hard work and devotion though, he’s been flashing the leather at first at a consistent rate.
“In the past years I’ve been told to work on my defense, and I’ve been doing that. Been improving this year a lot, and I hopefully keep improving in the years to come,” Rodriguez says.
The last time the Indians have had this type of first basemen at the Double-A level, meaning a big right-handed power hitting guy who can play solid defense, was when Jesus Aguilar was there in 2013. The two are both built similarly and have the ability to drive in a ton of runs because of the role they provide on the team.
With the RubberDucks pushing for the playoffs, having a guy like Rodriguez is exactly the type of boost they needed to really keep on going to the finish line. Rodriguez has fit right in with the team, and is starting to get a feel for this new level of competition. It’s only a matter of time before he starts to get a hold of more pitches and knocks them right out of the park.
“He’s just willing to put in whatever amount of work he needs to. It’s more a fact of me having to pull him back sometimes and say “that’s enough” because they just want to keep going. It’s a good problem to have,” Wallace says.
Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com