TCN 2021 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #25 – Julio Rodriguez

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

Julio Rodriguez

Position: C
Born: 6/11/1997 (23)
Height: 6’0”
Weight: 245
Hits / Throws: R/R
Acquired: IFA – 2015 (Dominican Republic)
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible

Click on the above photo to be taken to his player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Rodriguez’ career stats

2021 individual rankings – Brian Walton #19, Matt Thompson #31

Prior top 50 rankings – 2017-2018 not ranked, 2019 #45, 2020 #21

Matt Thompson’s scouting report

Physical Description: Stocky, good durable frame. Will hold up despite the rigors of the position. Has stayed healthy throughout professional career. Some long-term maintenance required for the frame, a little on the thick side and could lose agility behind the plate.

Hit: Short swing that puts an emphasis on contact skills. A little on the aggressive side. Will take what pitcher gives him, and works the entire field line-to-line. Has improved his pitch recognition skills but will jump on fastballs early in the count, but too often results in weak contact. He’s a true talent .230ish type hitter. Grade: 30

Power: Has average power to his pull-side, but zero opposite field power. Will find the gaps. Despite frame, his swing isn’t built for power. Likely tops out at about 8-10 homers a season if he’s a starting catcher. Grade: 40

Julio Rodriguez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Field: Moves well behind the plate despite soft frame. Agile, smooth, quiet defender. Blocks pitches in the dirt very well. Pitchers love throwing to him. Best defensive catcher currently in organization, and second best behind Molina when/if he re-signs.  Grade: 55

Arm: A real weapon. Routinely posts sub 2.00 pop times, which is average. High velocity on the throws with outstanding footwork and accuracy. Strong pop times plus strong and accurate arm is the ideal package. Grade: 60

Run: Not a tool I’m concerned about with Rodriguez, but he’s near the bottom of the scale here. Zero career stolen bases. Grade: 20

Overall: Rodriguez is a backup catcher. Nothing sexy about the profile here, but he likely has a big league future if he stays healthy. There’s not enough in the bat to ever be a big league regular, the question is if there’s enough defensive skills to be a long term backup, or one that floats around from org to org holding it down in Triple-A until injuries strike. I’d bet on the latter. I don’t think the defensive skills are enough to overcome a zero bat, especially with robot umpires on the way. He’s emergency depth in my eyes.

Future Value: 35
Role: Up/Down Emergency Depth
Risk: Low

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

2019 recap

The name “Julio Rodriguez” is known by almost all prospect watchers across the game. However, the guy on everyone’s radar screen is an outfielder in the Seattle Mariners system, the no. 15 prospect nationally according to MLB Pipeline, just one spot after Dylan Carlson.

While a solid player in his own right, St. Louis’ Rodriguez often seems to find himself in the background.

Only because of Matt’s #31 view of Rodriguez, did the catcher fall in our site rankings from year-to-year. I consider him to be on the fringe of the top 20 players in the system.

Rodriguez proved to be a complete player in 2019 whose offense may be slightly underrated. Between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield, he slashed .268/.311/.393/.704 through 85 games (including 71 contests in the pitcher-friendly ballparks of the Florida State League).

His OPS at Palm Beach was an impressive .727 with a strong wRC+ of 115 and he made strides defensively as well. Rodriguez was a steadying presence for the Beach Birds’ pitching staff and established himself as one of the top backstops in the league due to his big arm. Managers and coaches named him to the High-A league’s Mid-Season All-Star team.

As noted, Rodriguez’ overall offense improved in 2019 while he was an environment in which it is tough to hit – in the FSL. Even so, his time at Palm Beach was wildly inconsistent, with a great start and a poor finish.

His stint as a Beach Bird was a tale of two very different periods. Rodriguez batted .331 in April and May before stumbling to just .225 over June and July. Still, he was given the opportunity to finish with Springfield when Chris Chinea was placed on the injured list on July 29. Rodriguez’ initial Double-A numbers during August were not good either, but his first 14 games at a new level should not be held against him.

Julio Rodriguez (Leones del Escogido)

After that solid but inconsistent 2019 season, Rodriguez was unable to establish any offensive momentum in winter ball. The catcher slashed just .200/250/.200/.450 in 45 at-bats for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican and never seemed to find his rhythm. All nine of his hits were singles and he struck out an equivalent nine times and walked in just three plate appearances.

2020 recap – Assignments

  • January instructional camp – yes (repeat)
  • St. Louis’ spring training camp – yes (non-roster invitee)
  • St. Louis Summer Camp – no
  • Springfield alternate camp – yes
  • St. Louis – no

Rodriguez repeated as one of the four catchers at the organization’s January 2020 instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida.

He then scored a non-roster invitation to St. Louis’ original spring training camp in February, his second consecutive big-league camp selection. Rodriguez appeared in just one game, as the designated hitter, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He was also hit by a pitch and came around to score. He was reassigned to minor league camp with the first large group of cuts on March 7.

When the Cardinals prepared to re-start the season, Rodriguez was one of six catchers initially in the 60-man player pool. However, instead of being assigned to the St. Louis-based Summer Camp, he was dispatched to the alternate camp in Springfield (along with fellow prospect backstop Ivan Herrera).

Beyond the big three of Yadier Molina, Matt Wieters and Andrew Knizner, veteran minor leaguer Jose Godoy was the fourth catcher in St. Louis’ camp and seemingly would have been added to the 40-man roster if an emergency replacement was needed.

2021 outlook

However, three of the aforementioned four have left the organization as free agents, with only Molina having a realistic potential to remain a Cardinal in 2021, along with the incumbent Knizner.

While 40-man roster spots are definitely tight, there are several factors which together made a decent case to protect Rodriguez from the December 2020 Rule 5 Draft. However, the Cardinals rolled the dice and left him exposed.

One factor is the aforementioned thinness of the catching position at Double-A and Triple-A levels of the system. Granted, the Cardinals signed journeyman Tyler Heineman as a free agent, but who wouldn’t prefer Rodriguez’ upside?

Julio Rodriguez (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Further, young catchers with growth opportunity on top of experience at the upper levels of the minor leagues can be a hot commodity in Rule 5. Especially with expanded MLB rosters (whether 26-man or higher) in 2021, another team may be more inclined to take a gamble on an emerging second or third catcher.

Taking the glass-half-full outlook for the Cardinals, however, if Rodriguez remains, I would expect him to be in a job-share with Heineman at Triple-A Memphis in 2021. There, Rodriguez could continue to build his skills and try to prove that if an injury replacement is needed by St. Louis this coming season, it should be him added to the roster rather than Heineman.

(Update: Rodriguez was not selected in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft and remains a Cardinal.)

Future outlook

Rodriguez is a very strong defender and has proven he can hit enough to hold his own. Over his four years as a professional, Rodriguez has thrown out 99 of 243 attempted basestealers, for a strong 40.7% success rate. In fact, in both 2020 and 2021, Baseball America named him the “Best Defensive Catcher” in the entire Cardinals organization.

Clearly, these skills could be useful as a major league reserve. After all, Tony Cruz played parts of seven seasons in the majors. In fact, he is a player one scout cited as a comp for Rodriguez (“Potential to be a little better than Cruz,” he opined).

Perhaps the Cardinals are hoping Rodriguez’ relative inexperience (just 14 career games at Double-A) and offensive limitations will keep other teams away.

However, I doubt he is off anyone’s radar screen. For example, there have been ample opportunities to scout Rodriguez, including his current return winter ball stint playing in the Dominican Republic for Escogido.

Granted, the Cardinals already have higher-potential catchers in Knizner and Herrera in the fold, but Rodriguez clearly has value, too. We will have to see if his MLB debut is with St. Louis or it occurs elsewhere.

MLB debut: 2022

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