The Indians have had success developing center fielders such as Michael Brantley (pictured, center), is Luigi Rodriguez next in line?(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Back from vacation, it's time to check out one of my favorite prospects to monitor. While he's no Billy Hamilton, Luigi Rodriguez is one of the more exciting players in minor league baseball...and not for all the right reasons. Akin to Hamilton, Rodriguez has blazing speed (it's not close to Hamilton's though), so for that reason alone, he is exciting to watch. He also is still adapting to center field, and so will every-so-often take the odd route in center, making even an ordinary fly ball an adventure. Let's take a closer look at Rodriguez after the jump, including a quote from BaseballProspectNation's Mark Anderson...
Rodriguez entered the year as an under the radar prospect who had shown serious tools and production in Rookie ball, and flashed those same tools, albeit without the production, in a trial in Lo-A last year. Not to be overlooked is that Rodriguez reached full season ball as an 18-year old, and while he didn't thrive, he wasn't entirely overmatched either. In 148 plate appearances in 2011, Rodriguez registered a .250/.320/.311 slash line, which is nothing to write home about, but at 18, it's enough to keep one intrigued as well. He added 6 stolen bases to that line, though they came in 11 attempts. 2012 has been a different story for Rodriguez, who has built on his line from last year and produced a .274/.344/.418 slash line in 393 plate-appearances. He has maintained his ability to draw a walk, with a BB% just below 10, and has actually seen his K% rise 1% in 2012. That's not exactly the trend you would like to see, especially when someone is getting their second look at a league, but at 19-years old, it's acceptable. It's also a fair trade off for the tremendous increase in power, as he's taken his ISO from a nonexistent .66 to a more palatable .144. Rodriguez is not going to be a power hitter, and it would be to his detriment to try to be one, but it's important to know that he can muscle up when he needs to and hopefully this season is the beginning of the end of the "slap hitter" label for Luigi. Don't confuse his ability to take a walk for an excellent approach at the plate however, as Rodriguez is still raw in his approach at the plate, at least partially explaining his high K%. Though he only tallied 5 home runs in his whole career entering 2012, Rodriguez has smashed 9 thus far in 2012 in addition to 15 doubles. He has also added 18 stolen bases to his line, though that comes in 25 attempts. That percentage works out to an acceptable 72%, but you'd really like to see a better rate for someone with his speed. Rodriguez profiles as a leadoff hitter with solid on-base skills and the ability to rack up stolen bases. He might swing and miss more than you'd like from the leadoff spot, but he has the potential to be an above-average player there.
When it comes to tools, the switch-hitting Rodriguez oozes them. It starts with his plus-plus speed, that he uses to cover up for how raw he is both at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field. He makes good use of his speed in legging out infield hits, and while he's been playing center field all but one month of his career, his routes can be adventurous. He is often able to cover his poor routes due to his blazing speed, but they will catch up to him from time to time and it is an area that needs to be addressed. Similarly, Rodriguez needs to refine his technique on the basepaths, as he gets poor jumps and has to rely on speed along to steal a base. Rodriguez has an above-average arm that profiles well in center. Though he shows the ability to barrel the ball, Rodriguez doesn't hit the ball with authority. Though he's not a "slap-hitter" and has shown gap power (more consistently this year than last), Rodriguez's swing plane isn't geared for power. Despite the plane issues, Rodriguez does well to keep the bathead in the zone for a long time. To be sure, this isn't a player that should sell out for power, but he will need to continue to show the progress he has this year to be a real threat at the plate. It's unlikely that he develops power purely by adding weight as he has a slight frame. Where one might worry in regards to Luigi Rodriguez is in the contact rate. He has a swing geared for contact and a nice line drive stroke, but continues to pile on the whiffs with a K% in the mid 20s. As young and raw as he is, I believe he will figure it out eventually, but it's something to keep an eye on, and if he fails to improve, it would be reason enough to jump off the bandwagon.
I asked Mark Anderson, founder and head scout of BPN (BaseballProspectNation.com) what Rodriguez was doing differently to achieve his much improved results, and here is what he had to say:
The significant change for Rodriguez has simply been the developmental process. He has matured as a player and is putting himself in better hitting counts on a consistent basis. Rodriguez has some thump in his bat and when he waits for a pitch he can drive, he has the ability to get the ball into the gaps and shows potential for average power down the line. His approach can get a little aggressive at times and he is prone to chasing out of the zone, but as a teenager there are plenty of scouts that still believe he will tighten his strike zone. Defensively, Rodriguez needs a lot of work and I have talked to many scouts that wonder if he will ever have the instincts or feel for center field. On a corner, Rodriguez's bat will have to reach it's full potential, meaning he will need to make additional gains with his approach and the power will need to manifest. If he stays in center, there is less pressure on the bat and he has the potential to be an above-average regular in time.
While Rodriguez is by no means a perfect prospect, nor a potential 5-tooler, he is the type of player you could add in the later rounds of a minor league draft and stash away as his value grows. He's going to run well, and his swing should allow for more contact in the future. His walk rates are solid as is, and any future improvement in that arena is a cherry on top of the sundae. Rodriguez is one of my favorite prospects to monitor right now as a toolsy guy who has an idea of what he's doing. It's been fun watching him figure it out so far in 2012, and I'll be excited to see if he can keep it up. As a fantasy asset, Rodriguez would be a top of the lineup speedster who would benefit you in stolen bases, runs and potentially average without hurting you in OPS if your league includes that category. Either snag him in the later rounds of next years minors draft or just keep tabs on him, but don't lose track of him.
Baseball Prospect Nation (Follow Mark here)
Jason Parks/Baseball Prospectus
Kevin Goldstein/Baseball Prospectus
PS - A big thanks to Mark for being kind enough to respond with a quote on short notice. It's greatly appreciated.