In early 2016 rumors began swirling that the Cincinnati Reds were going to sign Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez to a $6M bonus. He wound up signing for $7M with the Reds later that year when the new signing period began in July. The reports on him were that he had very strong defense, but the consensus was that his bat was quite poor. While he had won the Cuban National Series Rookie of the Year award in 2014-2015, it was for his glove, not hit bat. As a 20-year-old he had hit just .265/.301/.284 in 304 plate appearances.
It had been over a year since he had last played, so the Reds sent him to their Dominican Summer League affiliate where he faced off against mostly teenagers as a 22-year-old for about a month. He hit .234/.333/.299. The next season he came stateside and spent the entire year with the Daytona Tortugas. He was bigger and stronger than he had been in his time in Cuba. But he still struggled to hit, posting a .253/.294/.294 line. The lack of power just continued to stand out.
Last season he was bumped up to Double-A. But he only played into the second week of the season before suffering a wrist injury. When he returned to the field he was sent to Daytona. That trip lasted just a week before the wrist took him back off of the field. Five weeks later he spent a week in rehab games with the Arizona League Reds before returning to Daytona for the final month of the season. In total he hit .210/.273/.312 between his three stops in just 31 games played. After the season the Reds sent him to the Arizona Fall League to get more time on the field. Over those 20 games he hit just .179/.236/.224.
At 24-years-old, to that point in his career, he had never shown any sort of ability to hit the baseball. Or hit the baseball hard. And the defense had taken a step back, too. Some of this was due to the injuries. His knee hadn’t been completely healthy, and he had several wrist injuries.
This season he began his year back in Double-A. This time with the Reds new affiliate, the Chattanooga Lookouts. Still 24-years-old, time isn’t exactly running out, but it also feels a bit like a make-or-break kind of year. And so far, Alfredo Rodriguez is making it. Through 28 games played, the shortstop is hitting .320/.365/.381. The power still isn’t there. He’s doubled 4 times and he’s tripled once. He still hasn’t homered.
But he isn’t riding some crazy high BABIP fueled turnaround. Yes, his BABIP is higher than it’s ever been – and it’s probably higher than should be expected moving forward. But it’s sitting at .360 right now and no one is expecting him to hit .320, either. It dropping some into a more normal range will have his average drop into an area that’s more normal, too. The changes, however, could be real. While he’s never been a guy who had big strikeout numbers, he wasn’t exactly a high-contact-rate hitter, either. He had struck out 17.5% of the time in his pro career heading into 2019. For a guy without any power at all, that’s not good.
Things are changing this season, though. He’s come to the plate 105 times for the Chattanooga Lookouts and he’s struck out just 11 times. He’s walked 7 times. His walk rate has remained in line with his career rate. But his strikeout rate has been cut down drastically. The sample size here is small, at just 105 plate appearances – but that’s also the size of a sample that we generally accept as being large enough to say it’s been a change in skillset.
The signing has long been pegged as one of confusion. At the time of the signing there wasn’t much that made sense on just how much money the team spent for the player who projected as more of a utility player who could field well but no one really thought would ever hit enough to start. And that profile still exists, but for the first time in his career, he’s showing something at the plate that makes it look like there’s actually a chance he could do enough with the bat to become that type of utility player instead of a guy who can’t hit the ball well enough in Double-A to be promoted.