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
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Link to Julio Rodriguez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2018 stats
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
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.
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.
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!
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