Prospect Retro: John Rodriguez
John Rodriguez was signed by the Yankees as an undrafted free agent in 1996, out of high school in New York City, after he did well in a tryout at Yankee Stadium. He made his pro debut in 1997, hitting .299 with 30 walks and 32 strikeouts in 157 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League. His bat was regarded as interesting, but there were doubts about his athleticism and defense. At this point, Grade C would be appropriate: he'd done enough in his debut to get on the radar.
Moved up to Class A Greensboro in 1998, he hit just .252, but he did hit 10 homers, steal 14 bases, and draw 64 walks. I put him in the 1999 book and gave him a Grade C, impressed by his power potential, speed, and walks. As far as I know, he wasn't on any one else's radar as a prospect at that point.
Promoted to Tampa in 1999, Rodriguez was limited to just 71 games by injury, but hit .305/.399/.468 with excellent plate discipline. I gave him a Grade C+ and compared him to Ricky Ledee (who at the time was considered a good prospect). The next year was a bit of a comedown, as Rodriguez hit .265/.354/.450 with 16 homers for Tampa, not horrible by any means but not quite as impressive for a guy repeating the league. I dropped him down to Grade C, but warned readers to "keep an eye on him."
Moved up to Double-A in '01, he hit .285/.335/.537 with 22 homers for Norwich. But his strike zone judgment, a major positive in the past, slipped: he struck out 117 times in103 games with just 26 walks. Again, he rated at Grade C, the strikeouts and continued defensive doubts holding him back from a higher rating.
Returning to Norwich in '02, Rodriguez cut his strikeouts slightly but saw his production collapse in other ways, as he hit just .215/.302/.410. At this point it looked to me like he wasn't going to adjust very well against advanced pitching. I dropped him to Grade C- and left him out of the 2003 book altogether.
2003 was another injury year, limiting him to just 79 games for Triple-A Columbus. But he did very well in those 79 games, hitting .263/.333/.449, finding the right balance between being too aggressive and too passive. By this time, he was 25 years old, and whatever prospect cachet he'd had had faded. I didn't put him in the '04 book, rating him as a Grade C guy but he was one of the marginal players dropped for space reasons. I didn't think there was any way he would get a chance in New York.
Repeating Columbus in '04, Rodriguez hit .294/.382/.542, very impressive production. I put him back in the book, rating him as a Grade C but noting that "there is at least a small chance he could go on a Shane Spencer-like hot streak and slip into a job." And that's exactly what happened in 2005: he went on a hot streak in Triple-A, got a chance with the Cardinals, and has been on fire ever since.
Rodriguez' minor league career was marked by power production, some speed production, but erratic strike zone judgment, very good at times but not very good at other times. He was never rated very highly as a prospect by most experts, but he did enough to get in my book several times with "possible sleeper" notices. While I don't think he is a real .300+ hitter, I do think he can be a consistent .250-.280 guy with power from the left side. He certainly does enough to last several more years in the majors.
I love rooting for guys like this. Think the Yankees would like having him back?
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