2020 Preseason Dirty Thirty-Five: Prospect #21

PROSPECT PREFACE

I present to you my list of the top 35 prospects within the Cardinals organization!! The list is both exhausting and ever-evolving.

I am aggressive with who I deem to be a "Graduate." You can read the post that I wrote on The Graduates by following this link. As a heads up, you won't find Lane Thomas, Ryan Helsley, Genesis Cabrera, Andrew Knizner, Rangel Ravelo, or Edmundo Sosa on The Dirty Thirty-Five (R.I.Cardinals Prospect.P to Tampa Bay Ray Randy Arozarena and Texas Ranger Adolis "JAG" Garcia).

There is also another group of about 15 prospects that I could have written about. They are on the outside looking in, currently. I did write in-depth about five of them, and I presented those fellas in this article. I also briefly touch on a bunch of other prospects in that article.

Finally, I totally cheated and basically just copied and pasted the individual write-ups from the "Position Rankings" articles that I wrote after Black Friday. I hadn't realized how thorough those write-ups were until I started to redoing the D35. I have added additional gifs and thoughts to each post, and I've done some heavy editing within each write-up, as well.


Please enjoy! Please have fun! Please tell me what you think!



Catcher Julio Rodriguez

Age 22

Palm Beach and Springfield

International Free Agent, 2016



I feel like everyone of these articles either starts with me saying "I'm the high-person on so and so prospect" or "This prospect proved me wrong." I am really really really bad at this. In order to properly display how I was wrong in regards to Rodriguez, let's take a trip back to one year ago.


Entering the 2019 season, Rodriguez was more of the backup/time-sharer with Dennis Ortega than he was the next catcher to keep an eye on in the organization. Sure, we were impressed with the type of catcher that he was. And, yeah, we were intrigued by his bat. But Ortega seemed to be the guy that had positioned himself as the marquee name of the two. Fast-forward through the season, and Rodriguez hasn't just jumped Ortega as a prospect, but he's jumped nearly every other catcher ahead of him in the organization, from a prospect standpoint.


Rodriguez did this by continuing the growth that he showed in 2018. As we said a year ago, Rodriguez didn't necessarily have the flashy tools that Ortega displayed. However, it was the consistency with the tools that gave him a leg up on Ortega. It certainly doesn't help Ortega that he's dealt with injuries.


The beautiful thing about Rodriguez's 2019 season is that it seemed like his tools behind the plate - tools that used to be "just" consistent - became flashier without compromising his consistency. Rodriguez is good with balls in the dirt. He has a strong enough arm, but with tremendous footwork and a good pop time. On the season, he only threw out 31.86% of base stealers, but don't let that number distract you. He ended up throwing out five of eight robbers while at AA, and I think that's a better representation of his skills behind the plate. I don't think this is a coincidence, as most pitchers at AA are a little more aware and defensive of runners on base.


You can tell that he has the trust of his pitching staff, as well (I've talked to a couple of the pitchers in the organization that have pitched to Rodriguez, and they all rave about him). I'd go so far as to state, not suggest, that Rodriguez is currently the best all-around defensive catcher on the farm. He just does everything behind the plate so damn workman-professionally. He's a fun kinda chunky, too!! I can always get behind that! Even with that dough, look at these soft hands!

All of this excitement about his defense, but we shouldn't just gloss over the fact that Rodriguez has been an excellent minor league hitter. He stays compact and in control, but he is also an aggressive swinger. I'm most impressed with his ability to push all pitch-types to the opposite field gap. He looks to pull the ball early in counts but gets the correct amount of defensive late in counts. Your best best if you're a left-handed pitcher is to start him out with a strike. If you don't then he's going to jump on you.


Rodriguez was overmatched in a 47 plate appearance sample size at Springfield, striking out almost 32% of the time. I watched probably half of those at-bats, and they weren't pretty. It became obvious that Rodriguez was going to do most of his damage off of lefties, and that righties with good breaking pitches were going to victimize him. It became increasingly evident that Rodriguez is more of a "pitch-hunter" than he is a "true hitter" against righties, and that is a bit concerning. Of course, this could all be chalked up as nerves in a new league, or as not having time to properly adjust. It is a small sample, as you can see. So, what I'll say is, I'm not worried about it just yet, and that I expect a positive 2020 season at Springfield. Especially in regards to how he'll adjust to breaking pitches from advanced righties. He'll move up this list if he shows signs of growth in this area.


As you might suspect from a stout-but-balky catcher that stands 6'0", speed isn't really a part of Rodriguez's game. He's not going to take the extra base. He's not going to take any chances on the bases. He's the catching version of a status quo base runner. Personally, I really appreciate this. It says a lot about him that he understands what he is capable of, and that he continues to play inside of those perimeters.



THE DEAL

Rodriguez has all of the trappings of a short-term major league backup, but with the upside of a long term major league backup/time-sharer. He's very "sound" defensively, and he's done enough with the bat that you'd feel comfortable with him subbing in for 45-70 major league games, if he continues on his current developmental track. I can't help but want to draw parallels to current Orioles catcher Carlos Pérez, had Pérez's career not taken such a steep downward turn. There's always the chance that he continues to grow and evolve as he has to this point. If that happens, then you are looking at a player with the ultimate upside of Martin Maldonado.


At this point, Rodriguez seems like a solid bet to make a major league debut at some point. If there's one thing that I have learned over the years it's that catching prospects that are capable of doing enough with the bat and a ton behind the plate seem to have a ton of staying power at the major league level. This is what Rodriguez feels like, to me. I know that if Tony Cruz can play parts of seven seasons in the majors then Rodriguez shouldn't have a problem in a similar role.




The biggest of shout outs should be given to @Cardinalsgifs, FanGraphs, Twitter, and MiLB. TV for all of the work that they do that eventually gets put into these articles.

Look at that beautiful pic by @Cardinalsgifs. Just breath-taking.


Thanks For Reading!!

Kyle Reis