To celebrate the return of minor league stats to the site, let’s spend a few minutes looking at a guy who is having one of the most interesting seasons in AAA, and has put himself on the map as a guy who has earned another shot in the big leagues – Luis Rodriguez.
You may remember Rodriguez from his time with the Twins and Padres, where he served as the quintessential utility infielder for the last five years. He fit the cliche perfectly – little guy, played multiple positions, put the bat on the ball, no power. He was exactly what you thought of when the terms “backup shortstop” came to mind. After a miserable season at the plate with the Padres last year, where he hit .209/.319/.260, San Diego released him. He hooked on with the Indians over the winter, but was released at the end of spring training. He took a minor league deal with the White Sox and has spent this season with Triple-A Charlotte.
And what a season it has been.
In 354 plate appearances, Rodriguez is hitting .296/.360/.502. That is not a typo – the diminutive middle infielder is outslugging Jesus Montero. A guy who has slapped the ball on the ground for most of his career, he’s already launched 15 home runs in the International League, and 31 of his 90 hits have gone for extra bases. He’s done this while maintaining his excellent bat control, as he again has more walks (34) than strikeouts (30).
His Isolated Slugging (.202) is double what it was previously in his minor league career, and his next home run will give him twice as many longballs as he’s ever had in a single season before.
There’s a pretty good chance that this is a career year. Rodriguez is 30, and it is Triple-A baseball. Stuff like this happens sometimes, and most guys can’t carry it over to the big leagues. However, there’s a contemporary example of this exact same development path currently having a monster year in the majors – Andres Torres.
Like Rodriguez, Torres was a no-power slap hitter who had never really done much offensively in the majors or minors. In 2007, at age 28 and back in Double-A, he started driving the baseball, and carried that over to Triple-A when the Tigers promoted him. It didn’t earn him a big league shot, though, so he signed with the Cubs in 2008 and went back to Triple-A to prove himself. He slugged .501, continuing the power outburst, and the San Francisco Giants took a shot on him as a reserve outfielder for the 2009 season.
Good thing, too – he’s hit .285/.366/.512 in 602 plate appearances over the last two years, and he’s currently one of the few players in baseball having a +5 WAR season in 2010. Torres is the biggest reason that the Giants are still in playoff contention, as his mid-career power surge in the minors turned him into a pretty good player.
Don’t bet on Rodriguez putting up a +5 win season in the big leagues next year. Torres is the exception, not the rule. However, given the success that the Giants have had with their surprisingly strong small outfielder (he’s listed at 5’10, 190, the same size as Rodriguez), expect some Major League team to give Rodriguez another shot in the big leagues.
If by chance the power surge is even somewhat sustainable, Rodriguez could be a nice player for a lot of teams. Switch-hitting infielders who can make contact and drive the ball are not very easy to find. The White Sox may have lucked into one. If they aren’t going to give him a shot, someone else will.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.