A New Found Confidence Has Guided Rodriguez’s Success

Confidence is key.

In order to find any type of success at whatever level you’re performing at, whether it be in the Majors or the minors, you need to have confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself, then the other team is going to notice and take advantage. Without confidence in yourself, you’re never going to make it. Fortunately, Indians fans are lucky enough to be seeing a new found confidence in Double-A RubberDucks’ first baseman Nellie Rodriguez.

Rodriguez, 21, was initially drafted by the Indians in the 15th round of the 2012 draft. After 32 games at the Arizona rookie league in 2012, Rodriguez started 2013 at Class-A Lake County before moving back to short season Mahoning Valley. He spent 47 games with the Captains and struggled at the plate, hitting .194/.305/.256 with one home run. He was better with the Scrappers, hitting .287/.366/.452 in 73 games with nine home runs.

Rodriguez spent the 2014 season back in Class-A Lake County. This was the season that Rodriguez put himself on the radar of the big league club. In 130 games, Rodriguez hit .268/.349/.482 with 22 home runs, 88 RBI, 32 doubles, and three triples. This was the first time in Rodriguez’ career in which he hit more than ten home runs in a season and he started to define the type of player that he is.

The 2015 season was another solid year for Rodriguez as he dominated the High-A Carolina League for 108 games. During that span, he hit .275/.357/.495 with 17 home runs, 32 doubles, two triples, and drove in 84 RBI. His ability to rake forced the hands of the Indians front office to give him a shot at Double-A Akron to see how he would fare.

His test in Akron proved to be much harder than he had anticipated.

In 25 games with the RubberDucks, Rodriguez seemed to be a totally different type of player than what he showed down with High-A Lynchburg. He hit only .118/.200/.269 during his 25-game stint at Akron. He also only socked four home runs and drove in 14. This was not what people had hoped for when Rodriguez got promoted, but it doesn’t mean it was time to give up on him yet.

Going into the offseason, it was key for Rodriguez to get into a rhythm of some sort to prepare for the upcoming season. A lot of hard work was needed to get ready to return to his former self at this new level. That is exactly what he is showing now for the RubberDucks.

“I’d start with the confidence. He knows he belongs,” said Akron manager Dave Wallace said about Rodriguez this season. “When he came up here last year, he was trying to prove himself.”

This season in Akron, Rodriguez is looking like a whole new baseball player, compared to last season. He’s driving the ball, getting on base at a consistent clip, and playing solid defense as well. In 46 games with the RubberDucks so far, Rodriguez is hitting .258/.340/.522 with eleven home runs, eleven doubles, two triples, and 39 RBI.

“Having a set routine before the games, and in the offseason and working hard at it,” shared Rodriguez about his success this season, “it’s showing up in the games and I’m working hard at it.”

Not only is Rodriguez hitting the ball with more authority, but he’s also striking out less and getting on base more. In 2015, his strikeout rate was at 35.2%, while this year it’s sitting at 33.0%. Also, his BB% has gone up from 8.6% in 2015 to 10.2% this season. He’s always been a very good on-base kind of player, but he seemed to have lost that last season when he was struggling. For a guy like Rodriguez, who lives on the long ball, being able to get on base is a key tool that he’ll need to bring to the table.

One area of his game that Rodriguez had hoped to improve on last year was his defense. Lately, it seems that Rodriguez has really become a quality defender at first base, even though he’s consistently discussed as average to below average defensively at first. A lot of this effort can be contributed to the effort that Rodriguez has put forth towards improving his defense during the offseason and still in the season.

“It has been a focus,” Wallace said. “Just moving his feet, and the timing and rhythm of his feet. You’re seeing the results of a lot of hard work. It’s impressive for a guy whose name has been based off his bat so far, and probably will his whole career.”

Rodriguez is mostly known for his power. He has a ton of raw strength that is hard to match. He’s very similar to another first basemen who hit a ton of home runs at Canal Park, Jesus Aguilar. Unlike Aguilar, Rodriguez is much younger than he was in Double-A and brings a much better on-base ability. If Rodriguez hopes to follow a different path than the one Aguilar has, then he’ll need to make sure that he can continue to bring more than just a solid power swing to the plate each at bat.

This season has been looking much more solid for Rodriguez. Feeling comfortable in this league has helped him get to where he is right now. This newfound confidence has turned Rodriguez into someone that fans can get excited about. His future is looking good so far, and the Indians will need some depth at first base in the near future.

Could Rodriguez be a possible answer for the club at first base down the road? That remains to be seen, but for now, fans can all just get hyped about the potential power hitter that is only getting better.

Photo: David Monseur/MiLB.com

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