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Revisiting the PTNBL in the Taijuan Walker Trade, Alberto Rodríguez

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Cotuí, represent!

“tell me your secrets, O Magic Bat”
Alberto Rodriguez on Instagram

Most Mariners fans definitely remember having Taijuan Walker for part of the 2020 season. It’s a good story: hometown-ish boy working to rebound in MLB comes home, does well, and then is traded to Toronto for their playoff run (and is criminally mismanaged by the Jays during said playoff run, but that’s another article). What many Mariners fans might forget is the return that came over for Walker from the Blue Jays—a then-19-year-old outfielder named Alberto Rodríguez.

To be fair, Rodríguez is easy to overlook, given that he has fewer than 200 stateside at-bats, all coming for Toronto in the Gulf Coast League in 2019. After “A-Rod” (his nickname choice, so let’s just honor it) was traded to the Mariners in late July, he was sent to the alternate site in Tacoma, somewhat of a surprising move considering the fact that Rodríguez hadn’t been selected to the Blue Jays’ player pool in Buffalo, so they were pulling the teenager out of the DR; something the team had been hesitant to do for multiple seemingly-deserving prospects left on the island such as Dayeison Arias, Milkar Perez, Jose Corniell, and Jonatan Clase, to name a few. In addition to getting a look at their new outfielder, however, calling Rodríguez to the training site in Tacoma also allowed him to spend time with new teammate Noelvi Marte, also in the Mariners’ player pool.

Marte might have been a new MLB teammate for Rodríguez, but the history between the two stretches much further back, all the way to their shared hometown of Cotuí, in the Dominican Republic. The two grew up together and consider each other not just best friends, but brothers: “para ser hermanos no hay que tener la misma sangre,” Rodríguez captioned a picture of himself and Marte in the Rainiers’ dugout. You don’t have to have the same blood to be brothers.

Unlike other towns in the DR like Santo Domingo or San Pedro de Macorís, Cotuí isn’t a star factory on the island. The figure of Marte looms large, already a celebrity in his hometown, which put on a parade when he signed with the Mariners for the largest amount ever for someone from his program. Rodríguez, on the other hand, was signed with significantly less fanfare the year before Marte, in 2017, when the majority of attention in the Blue Jays’ signing class went to hard-throwing Brazilian Eric Pardinho. While Marte immediately rocketed towards the top of Mariners prospect lists, Rodríguez hung around the fringes of the Jays’ Top-30 list before being dealt to Seattle.

The reason Rodríguez hasn’t attracted as much attention is due to a combination of factors, but most saliently, he doesn’t have a long track record of playing off the island, and the scouts who have seen him have hung the dreaded label of “tweener” on him. While the 6’1” lean-limbed Marte oozes athleticism and tantalizes with his speed-power combo, projecting his smaller “brother” is harder.

Rodríguez is 5’11” and at signing, looked more like a solidly-built but light center fielder. Since signing, he’s packed on muscle all over his body, trapping out his shoulder-neck-back area and pumping up his biceps, with a squatty lower half with thick ankles. As a result, he doesn’t look like the kind of lithe athlete we’re accustomed to seeing in center field; I’d say a closer body comp for him is Jean Segura, with a similarly low center of gravity—not necessarily the blueprint for an outfielder these days. He’s got real speed though, and has swiped double-digit bases in both of his professional seasons. He also manages to wield some thump in the bat, although it’s more of the line-drive variety than eye-popping over-the-fence power. Nonetheless, Rodríguez actually improved his power mark when coming over to the traditionally pitcher-friendly Gulf Coast League, where he was an All-Star in 2019.

Rodríguez, along with his good friends Marte and Julio Rodríguez, packed up from the alternate training site only to go straight to the Fall Development Camp in Peoria. We haven’t seen much footage of him out of that, but here he is getting in a few daddy hacks in the cages in Cheney:

Even if over-the-fence power doesn’t come, A-Rod has a good eye at the plate, with an above-average walk rate and the ability to make a ton of contact, which helps him profile as a solid leadoff hitter who will get on base and maybe rope the occasional double. It’s a profile you like more as a middle infielder, for sure, and we’re yet to see what Rodríguez can do in the outfield, but as the outfield talent in the organization falls off pretty sharply after the current/soon-to-be wave, it will be exciting to trace the other (other) Rodríguez’s path forward in the organization, especially as big-brother Noelvi is there to cheer him on.