[Ed. note: Please welcome new writer Nick Vitalis! Nick is an orchestra nerd who is passionate about public lands, loves playing rugby, and routinely makes us all drool over the descriptions of what he’s cooking for dinner. Chat with him about any of those things or his favorite prospect from Cotuí here or @NickVitalisLL on Twitter.]
People love liking things before they’re cool. We love to get in on the ground floor, to brag about how we saw the band playing tonight back when they played in front of 14 people at a secret show on the third stage at the Croc. We bemoan when our favorite little bakery starts popping up on all the web-lists and the lines grow to intolerable sizes. We feel the injustice when our favorite little-known book series gets turned into a very successful movie franchise and now everyone is into it. I’m guessing rich, retired folks love finding those hidden gems of ex-pat neighborhoods for their second vacation home. But, we also (hopefully) feel the pride in seeing that band or book series or restaurant find success and the acclaim they deserve.
So, I am offering you this last chance, limited-time offer to get in early on Alberto Rodríguez—to be an Alberto Rodríguez fan before it’s cool. Act quick; I don’t think he’ll remain a hidden gem for much longer.
Rodríguez is likely not a very familiar prospect to most Mariners fans, so here’s the quick summary of his professional career thus far. Rodríguez was signed by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2017 as an international free agent out of Cotuí, Dominican Republic, where he grew up with Noelvi Marte, his self-described “brother.” He played in the Dominican Summer League in 2018 and the Gulf Coast League in 2019. While he (and every other minor leaguer) didn’t play in 2020, it was the year that he found his way to Seattle, as the player to be named later in the Taijuan Walker trade. Our very own Connor Donovan covered the trade at the time here.
2021 was a legitimate breakout year for Alberto, or as
we exclusively I lovingly call him, Berto. He spent the year mashing with Noelvi in Low-A Modesto before the two moved up together to High-A Everett for the end of the season. He started last year ranging in prospect rankings from 15th to 28th for the organization; this year, he’s ranging between 8th and 11th on most evaluators’ boards. That’s a jump from “depth guy” to “potential starter,” and at just 21 years old, he has plenty of room to develop further.
First, let’s dive into some areas/stats that jumped out at me. Then, let’s talk about what that means for 2022 and beyond.
It’s about drive, it’s about power…
You will learn, dear readers, that I love a good trendline. For example, take Rodriguez’s ISO and his SB%. As a reminder, ISO, or Isolated Power, is a statistic that attempts to capture a batter’s raw power by subtracting batting average from slugging percentage to only take into account extra base hits.
Alberto Rodriguez by Year
|2018 (DSL) :||.114||77.7%||45.6|
It had been an offseason priority for Alberto to add functional strength to his 5’11” frame, which has put a little more punch into his profile. He smacked a lot of doubles (31, to be exact) and launched a clean 10 home runs. This is reflected in his ISO: last year, the average ISO in Low-A was .146, while Alberto ran a .189 for the year. His 137 OPS+ tells the same story (note: in the minor leagues, OPS+ and similar statistics are not park-adjusted). We love to see it!
To this point, evaluators have pegged his future power grade about average, with MLB and FanGraphs pegging him at a 50 this year. While this is already an increase from prior years, where he was seeing more 40/45 grades, I believe he may still have another gear in him, which we will break down later.
Perhaps related, perhaps not, is his drop in stolen bases and success rate. From 2018-2019, he recorded 34-for-42 on stolen base attempts in 458 PAs. Last year, he went 15-for-22 on attempts in 459 PAs. He ran less often, and was less successful when he ran.
He’s not huge now by any means, but the speed grade has never been the shiniest part of his toolbox and adding some muscle appears to have slowed him down a step.
“C”ing the “Z”
Though he’s new to “prospect” status, Berto has long been well-regarded for his plate discipline and his eye at the plate. This held true as he moved to the Low-A level, posting an above-average walk rate and a below-average strikeout rate.
Alberto Rodriguez 2021 K/BB Rates
|2021 Low-A Avg||Berto|
|2021 Low-A Avg||Berto|
Somewhere, Jerry Dipoto is licking his lips and feeling very, very happy.
Hot Berto Summer
Alberto had a slow start to the season, slashing just .173/.281/.293 in the month of May (bad!). But looking at the rest of the calendar, as the temperature heated up, so did Berto.
There are some fun highlights worth pointing out here in his monthly splits. For example, in June, he logged 23 walks compared to 20 strikeouts, tossing that plate discipline around for everyone to see (you are forbidden to look at K/BB in July).
Meanwhile, in August, you might notice that he played Extremely Good Baseball. He appears to have decided to stop striking out for the month (13.5% K-rate), and instead, chose to mash the life out of the ball, running a .374/.432/.586 slash line. Berto led the league in hits (37), total bases (58) and doubles (10), and was rewarded for his efforts with the Low-A West Player of the Month Award.
He followed that up with another hot week to start September (.391/.423/.565), before getting the aforementioned promotion to Everett for the last week of the season.
Overall, Rodríguez put together an eye-opening campaign in 2021. Though he struggled at times with certain aspects of his game, it’s noteworthy that he seemed to bounce back the next month in areas he struggled in. Learning to make adjustments is a crucial step for young players’ development, and he seemed to make them throughout the year.
With a good look at 2021, I want to talk a little about what the future could hold for our handsome young Cotuisano, and what we’ll be looking for in this upcoming season for him.
From the numbers he posted last season, I didn’t imagine myself writing that an area he will need to focus on to make waves at the next step is going to be in the hit tool.
But, take a peek at his load and upper body here.
At the end of his stride, there’s a noticeable draw of his hands back and around his head, pulling his bat angle around as well. Compare this to his BFF Noelvi’s stride and set-up:
The bat angle, bat path and hands in Marte’s swing are quiet and compact. Meanwhile, looking at Alberto’s, they are decidedly Loud and Big.
This might be a classic case of ugly mechanics but good results that leads to a future roadblock. It’s a common prospect trap - the mindset of, “What I’ve been doing so far has worked for me, why would I change it?” can be compelling. The idea of new mechanics is scary.
However, with these loud hands and what essentially amounts to a second load in his swing, it could be tougher for Rodríguez to build more success at higher levels. That late hand movement could hamstring his ability to adjust to bigger benders and hotter heaters.
Additionally, the late rise in his hands has led to a flatter bat path, seeing him “chop” down at the ball, the way we were all taught to hit back in Little League. He has to work a lot harder to get underneath balls, leading to a fairly high GO/AO ratio of 1.77 last year. His current swing is equipped to hit ground balls and line drives - but with his newfound power, if he can get a little more under the ball with a softer setup, the hope is he could see some of those ground balls turn into line drives, and some of those line drives leave the yard, taking advantage of his plus-exit velocity.
The good news is, the fact that he has had such success with a somewhat-wonky swing shows his exceptional timing and ball vision skills. If he can pair those abilities with a more efficient, compact swing, he could really unlock another gear of his hit tool. It would be reasonable to see his hit tool jump to the 60/65 range and his power tool into the 55/60 range.
For players without prospect pedigree, it often can take more than one breakout season to jump them into the conversation of being an everyday or impact player. I think there’s one more in the tank for Alberto Rodríguez. If he’s able to tap into it, watch for him to jump into the upper tier of Mariners prospect lists. He should reach the top 5 on the merit of promotions above him, and a great season with adjustments that will help him succeed at higher levels could see him jump as high as a top 3 spot. Expect to see him on next year’s Top-100 lists this time next year.
I come to you, as in a late-night commercial, evoking BILLYMAYSHERE with this limited time offer - but you gotta act fast! If you want to be one of the coolest Mariners fans you know, hip to the hottest of trends, join the Berto Fan Club. That way, next year, when someone excitedly mentions to you how exciting this prospect in AA is, you can coolly smirk, sip your cocktail, and breezily mention how you’ve been following him, for a while, now.