Nellie Rodriguez has always had potential. He has always had the height and strength to make a difference at the plate. Having attended George Washington High School in New York, the same school Manny Ramirez calls his alma mater, Rodriguez has always had to deal with comparisons to the great slugger.
It just hasn’t always materialized.
When Rodriguez started his 2013 campaign in Low-A Lake County, it appeared that his size and power potential weren’t all there. In 47 games with the Lake County Captains in 2013, he hit only one home run and posted a .194 batting average. He was sent down to Mahoning Valley to work on his performance, and the change in scenery seemed to be exactly what the 19-year-old needed. In 73 games with the Scrappers, Rodriguez managed to hit nine homers and amass a .287 average. He was quickly shaping up to be the strong presence at the plate that he was rumored to be. But could he continue that strong showing through the system? Was his success in Mahoning Valley just a product of hitting a lower level of pitching?
Luckily, Rodriguez proved that his 2013 success with the Scrappers was far more than a flash in the pan. His 2014 season with the Captains brought about enormous success as he quickly established himself as one of the most valuable hitters on the team. In 130 games, he hit 22 home runs and ended the season with a .268 average and 88 RBI on the year. Rodriguez also established himself as a hitter who hit the ball hard, which his 2014 coaching staff in Lake County said gave him a lot of potential as a future big leaguer.
The success Rodriguez had in Lake County in 2014 earned him a start in 2015 with the Lynchburg Hillcats, where he joined a roster with other strong hitters such as Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier. Rodriguez hit 17 home runs with the Hillcats and found himself promoted to Akron at the end of the season to play 25 games with the RubberDucks. At the AA level, Rodriguez hit four home runs and knocked in 14 runs.
Lynchburg hitting coach Bobby Magallanes said that having Rodriguez in the lineup was a definite force.
“He’s a definite presence in the lineup,” Magallanes said. “We didn’t tweak too much, just keep him aggressive, make sure he gets good aggressive swings. We tweaked where his hands are, just moved them a bit higher.”
Despite his strengths, Rodriguez has also suffered from a few bouts of struggle throughout his career with the Indians. It’s not a huge worry – Rodriguez is 21 years old and hasn’t found those struggles to be indicative of a major performance issue; he has managed to maintain consistency overall in his play. Magallanes said that Rodriguez’s confidence plays a large part in his performance.
“At the end before he left, he struggled a little bit, but he was really consistent the whole season,” Magallanes said. “Especially with guys in scoring position, he has that feel, that knack for driving them in. When he’s feeling confident this guy can do damage.”
The Indians should keep their eye on Rodriguez – he’s a player with strong Major League potential, and could be an offense pop that the Indians so desperately need right now. Coupled with the offensive strengths of Zimmer and Frazier, the Indians have a strong group of hitters moving through their system who could help remedy the issues fans have seen at the big league level. Rodriguez also plays first base, which is a position the Indians haven’t had great luck with in recent seasons. Rodriguez appears to have all the tools that the Indians are looking for and will likely emerge on the radar screen soon as a player who could make a major impact in the next few seasons.
Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com