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TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #45 – Julio Rodriguez

photo: Julio Rodriguez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

FREE article. The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 continues with a 21-year old who shared the catching load with fellow prospect Dennis Ortega at Class-A Peoria.


By The Cardinal Nation staff

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
BOR C 6 11 97 6-0 197 R R 2016 IFA

Link to Julio Rodriguez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Selected 2018 stats

Tm AVG BABIP G AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wRC+ OBP SLG OPS
Peo 0.258 0.298 76 291 26 75 15 8 47 13 60 0 93 0.288 0.405 0.693

TCN Scouting Grade: 4.5, Risk: high (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (46): Julio Rodriguez, a 6-foot tall, 21-year old catcher, jumped in the community rankings, placing 46th after finishing at #55 last year. 14NyquisT and Cardinals27 were especially high on Rodriguez, putting him in their personal top 30s.

CariocaCardinal, when choosing between Rodriguez and fellow Peoria catcher Dennis Ortega, believed Rodriguez to be more consistent offensively despite having two years less of organized baseball experience. Cardinals27 echoed that feeling, saying that Rodriguez has more pop in his bat, but also that his defensive stats are better. 14NyquisT thought that Rodriguez is an adequate bat and a disciplined hitter with a K/AB of .105.

Robert Reed noted that Rodriguez gunned down 47% of potential base-stealers after having a 48% rate last year. He thinks Rodriguez is a really good sleeper prospect in the system. – Jeremy Byrd


Julio Rodriguez (Peoria Chiefs)

Derek Shore (44): Simply put, there is a lot to like about Julio Rodriguez.

First, the 21-year old has proven he can handle advanced pitching the past two years. After tearing up the Dominican Summer League in his introduction as a professional, Rodriguez jumped over the Gulf Coast League in 2017 and OPS’ed .794 in his first season stateside at rookie-level Johnson City.

“He was a guy that would have been young for the GCL had he played there, but it motivated us to give him the opportunity to play in the Appy League and he had a great year,” Johnson City manager Roberto Espinoza said last fall. “Compared to the other top catchers in the league, he was in the top four in most of the offensive numbers and defensively he really improved a lot.”

Rodriguez received his first shot at a full-season club this past season with Low-A Peoria. As expected, he went through his share of ups and downs in the Midwest League, holding his own to the tune of a .258/.288/.405 slash line while continuing to exhibit solid gap-to-gap and occasional home run power (15 doubles and eight homers).

Rodriguez appeared in only 76 games with the Chiefs, as he split time behind the plate with fellow catching prospect Dennis Ortega.

Peoria manager Chris Swauger offered his praise for Rodriguez following the season.

“Julio is one of the best catchers I have had the pleasure of working with,” Swauger said. “He does everything pretty well defensively. He has premium arm strength with a really quick release. He shows a lot of leadership qualities and pitchers really enjoy throwing to him, so he is a great clubhouse presence.

“And then he possesses a really good swing. He still has some things to work on as far as what to swing at with plate discipline. That’s to be expected for somebody at his age and somebody in his first full season. There is a lot of things to be excited about with him. He and Dennis (Ortega) push each other a lot. They challenge each other and they both have bright careers ahead of them.”

Scouting-wise, most evaluators see Rodriguez as a backup catcher in the big-leagues because of his profile as a below-average hitter. Though, he is aggressive at the plate and has shown the ability to use the whole field.

Rodriguez also has pop to boot, especially to the pull-side, where he uses a gap-to-gap approach. His best tool is his plus arm strength, which is considered to be very accurate.

One scout who saw him prefers him over Ortega defensively because he is more vocal and takes charge better. He also receives and frames well.

With the way Rodriguez has advanced through the system already, perhaps he is ready to take on Double-A Springfield in 2019.


Julio Rodriguez (Johnson City Cardinals)

Brian Walton (46): Invariably, the Rodriguez-Ortega comparison is a major discussion point – here and everywhere. After all, the organization made the unique decision to place the two catching prospects on the same team. Instead of one pulling ahead of the other, each showed his strengths and weaknesses this season.

Still, when the three of us did our independent rakings, all placed the two together, with Ortega one spot higher. In other words, the two have not yet differentiated themselves, but the older player receives the slight edge. (Another spoiler alert: I guess you can surmise that Ortega will be appearing very soon in this countdown!)

When called upon, Rodriguez delivered in bursts, though overall, his wRC+ of 93 indicates his offense was slightly below league average. But we must also remember that he began the season at 20 years, nine months of age, more than a year younger than the Midwest League average hitter.

In the Midwest League post-season, Rodriguez went 4-for-11 (.364) with a walk. The Dominican Republic native finished the season on a nine-game hitting streak, one short of his season best. Still, Ortega played more often.

During the season, Rodriguez exhibited a number of very productive stretches at the plate. His season highlight was on May 14 versus Clinton, when he collected a Chiefs season single-game high of 10 total bases on a double and two home runs. Earlier, on April 26, he had his first two-home run outing of the season and nine total bases. Rodriguez later collected four hits in the opener of the June 22 double-header vs. Burlington.

Another 2018 Peoria team-best was Rodriguez’ six consecutive games with an RBI. The mark was set over the period of April 25 through May 3. Par for the course, however, was the fact that he did not appear in three games during his most productive stretch at the plate.

As Derek touched on above, the Cardinals could provide that differentiation between the two catchers in 2019 if they decide to skip one of the backstops over Palm Beach and place him at Double-A Springfield, while assigning the other one to the Florida State League Cards.

Here is how I see it could play out. Ortega needs to move ahead more quickly, as he has just two more seasons remaining before becoming a minor league free agent. (Further, he is already Rule 5-eligible.) If the organization first wants to see what they have in him at higher levels, Rodriguez could get the nod a Palm Beach, a tough place to hit.

I do expect Rodriguez’ to receive his first non-roster invitation to big league camp this spring. Though extra catchers do not get in 1 p.m. games often, there will be amply opportunities to impress Mike Shildt and his staff.

I like Rodriguez’ ceiling a bit more than the other prospects in the countdown to date, giving him a 4.5 in our scouting grade, but the “high” risk assessment is appropriate given the challenges still ahead.

Link to Rodriguez’ career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

Also, join the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

Potential Cardinals Farm System Trade Fodder


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If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

TCN 2019 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #50 – Derian Gonzalez

photo: Derian Gonzalez (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 opens with a 40-man roster reliever who showed promise when not injured in 2018.

By The Cardinal Nation staff

2018 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
48 RHS 1 31 95 6-3 190 R R 2012 IFA

Link to Derian Gonzalez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Selected 2018 stats

Tm W L ERA FIP G GS SV IP H ER HR BB SO AVG WHIP G/AO BABIP
GCL 0 1 1.42 2.40 6 6 0 6.1 4 1 0 4 10 0.182 1.26 3.00 0.333
Spr 4 0 2.76 3.51 13 0 1 16.1 13 5 0 7 10 0.224 1.22 1.85 0.260
Mem 0 0 5.91 2.62 8 0 1 10.2 13 7 0 4 12 0.295 1.59 1.38 0.406
Tot 4 1 3.51 27 6 2 33 30 13 0 15 32 0.242 1.35 1.78

TCN Scouting Grade: 3.5, Risk: high (click here to review scales)


Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Derian Gonzalez (Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY Sports)

Message board community (51): Derian Gonzalez was selected as the 51st player in the Cardinal Nation community vote. That was a slight rise from last year when Gonzalez was chosen by the community as the 58th best prospect, however, that is a drop from 2017 when Gonzalez sneaked into the top 30. Gonzalez received support during this years’ vote at #43 from Robert Reed.

Just a couple years ago, posters from the community like Cardinal27 and SoonerinNC were debating as to whether Gonzalez was in the same class as Sandy Alcantara and Ryan Helsley. Robert Reed noted, back then, that Gonzalez had a penchant for avoiding giving up the long ball as he had only given up two in 250 professional innings. This year, Robert Reed chided the Triple-A manager, Stubby Clapp, for leaving Gonzalez in a game to throw nearly 50 pitches after a promising start to the season. Reed believed this led to Gonzalez’ injury-riddled season. Wiley was next on board from the community positing that Gonzalez is one clearly one of the organization’s favorites. Grenadier1 believes that a healthy Gonzalez is going to be probably be in the St. Louis bullpen by years’ end. – Jeremy Byrd


Derek Shore (52): Gonzalez at one time had the helium to join Alex Reyes and Sandy Alcantara as Latin American flamethrowers rising quickly through the system, but his progress hasn’t worked out that way.

Still just 23, Gonzalez suffered his second straight season with a myriad of injuries, opening the year at Triple-A Memphis due to injuries at the upper levels. After posting a 5.91 ERA over eight games with Memphis, the Venezuelan went down with an undisclosed injury on May 3 that cost him a month and half.

When he was deemed ready to start throwing again by late-June, Gonzalez made six rehab starts for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and was assigned to Double-A Springfield on July 20. The right-hander had a 4-0 record and 2.76 ERA in 13 games for Springfield before he finished the season on the DL with an elbow injury.

“(He is) 94, 95, and 96 (on his fastball) with a real 12-6 breaking ball,” Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “He is a guy that (came back) to us and helped out of the bullpen.”

Scouting-wise, Gonzalez, who saw a velocity bump after he moved to the bullpen with High-A Palm Beach in 2017, touches 97 as a full-time reliever now. His heater is of the high-spin variety which moves, especially when it is up in the zone and he elevates.

His best pitch is an above-average curveball which features hard, 12-6 action that he can bury down and out of the zone for swings and misses. He is also said to have a changeup, but his fastball/curveball combination make him a solid middle reliever to seventh-inning man in the near future.

That said, his biggest deficiencies have always been throwing consistent strikes and staying healthy, so those will be two key factors in his development going forward.

Gonzalez should return to Memphis in 2019.


Brian Walton (43): Among our three voters, I am most optimistic about Gonzalez, or should I say that I downgraded him the least since last year at this time?

Those who read my thoughts regularly know that I analyze the behavior of the Cardinals organization very carefully, as I have found time and time again that it can be very telling. As noted, Gonzalez was shifted to relief in August 2017. Still, his potential was considered to be high enough that he received a 40-man roster spot last November.

In the spring of 2018, Gonzalez earned his way onto the Memphis roster despite never having pitched an inning at Double-A. This is significant – just one step below the feat successfully executed by Jordan Hicks at the same time.

With the Redbirds, the right-hander was used in long relief, which is not surprising to me, given his heritage as a starter. After a rough outing on Opening Day, Gonzalez logged five scoreless appearances totaling 8 1/3 innings on just one hit and three walks.

Then came the 45-pitch game, on April 22. He yielded two runs in each of his next two appearances before spending the next two months on the disabled list.

His rehab was relatively long, consisting of six outings from late June into the second half of July. Predictably, Gonzalez dominated the rookie-level hitters in the Gulf Coast League. Still, his rehab may have continued, as he was not deemed ready to return to Memphis, but was instead placed at the level he initially skipped, Double-A Springfield.

Other than one bad outing, on August 15, during which he allowed three runs, Gonzalez utterly dominated Texas League hitters over the final six weeks of the season. The only yellow flag was a diminished strikeout rate, just 5.5 per nine innings, compared to his career mark of 9.0 prior. Is that a signal of a problem or an indication he is becoming more than a hard thrower?

I dropped his scouting grade slightly from last year – from “4 high” to “3.5 high”. Despite the injuries, Gonzalez stepped up from high-A in 2017 to demonstrate success at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He finished his year strongly and should have momentum heading into 2019. Further, he still has two option years remaining. The big question is health. I agree with the community member who believes we could see a healthy Gonzalez with St. Louis sooner than later.

Link to Gonzalez’ career stats


Our 2019 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 Cardinals Prospects – 2019

Also, join the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.


Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation

St. Louis Cardinals Winter Pitchers Report: 2018-2019 Period 2


Not yet a member?

If you enjoyed this article, please consider joining The Cardinal Nation to receive the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.