Luigi Rodriguez is probably one of the safest bets out of the plethora of young raw talent the Indians have at the bottom of their minor league system right now. But with that lower floor comes a lower ceiling as well. While Rodriguez isn’t exactly doomed to be a bench player at the Major League level, I’m not sold on him as being an above-average outfielder.
Rodriguez started his professional career off on a tear. In 2010, as a 17-year-old playing in the Dominican Summer League, Rodriguez hit .301/.403/.461, stealing 31 bases in 63 games and walking almost as often (35 times) as he struck out (36).
To prove that his debut was not a fluke, Rodriguez put up even bigger numbers in Rookie ball in 2011. He slashed .379/.408/.579 while stealing 12 bases in just 25 games. This earned him a promotion to Single-A Lake County where he cooled off, hitting just .250/.320/.311 for the Captains. It was not the type of performance the front office was probably expecting from him, it was still respectable for an 18-year-old, and Rodriguez ended the year with a .304/.356/.423 slashline across the two levels.
Rodriguez has shown he can hit and get on base enough to take advantage of his speed, so the question becomes: Can he hit for power? According to his numbers to date—he has only five home runs in 122 games—not at all. He’s only 19 and he currently stands at 5’11″ 160, so he has the time and body to add on some muscle and, subsequently, power. Unfortunately, that would limit his speed, which is easily his best asset and his only plus skill.
Obviously Rodriguez can’t hit with authority, which will hurt his chances of being an impact player at the next level. The fact that his slugging percentage (.311) was lower than his on-base percentage (.320) at Lake County last year concerns me. Stats like those bring Juan Pierre to mind, but Rodriguez isn’t as fast as Pierre.
I can see Rodriguez as sort of the Cord Phelps of the outfield. He’ll probably always produce in the minors, and maybe become an average Major League regular or above-average backup.
Rodriguez will probably never develop the power necessary to take the next step as a prospect. Instead, he’ll be a singles machine and will steal a lot of bases. The issue is he won’t ever be a good enough hitter to warrant slotting him high enough in the order to really take advantage of his speed. Still, Rodriguez will be a valuable asset to a team and even if his floor is that a fourth outfielder he’ll be one of the better ones in the game when he arrives.