There’s few things more disappointing than when one of your favorite musical artists drops a mid, or, dare I say, even bad record. I’m talking albums like Rebirth by Lil’ Wayne, Save Rock and Roll (and every album since) by Fall Out Boy, Lover by Taylor Swift, Not to Disappear by Daughter. Favorite artists, those who create music precious to people, go beyond just making a bop that’s an easy add to your workout playlist; they create moments of connection, songs that form the soundtrack of our lives. Communities form around musical artists. Albums serve as the core of healing from breakups, trauma, death, or as a proxy for halcyon days, containers of warm memories. So when that next album is released, and it fails to stick with you…it’s a letdown.
Consider that all of the introduction needed for how Alberto Rodríguez’s 2022 season went. I consider myself a loyal (and possibly the only) member of the Berto Fan Club, and my first piece on Lookout Landing was last year’s 40 in 25 on Berto. I’m not afraid to say that The Other Rodríguez is my favorite prospect. Given the nature of his breakout 2021 season, I had high expectations for 2022. Unfortunately, it was a real Save Rock and Roll-type of season for the young outfielder from the Dominican Republic.
Covering Everett last season, I had a front-row seat to watch Rodríguez’s season unfold. It was a bit of a “sophomore slump.” Though this technically his fourth state-side season as a professional, this was his second season in full-season ball.
First, let’s take a quick look at some year-over-year stats.
So, that’s not great. Let’s start with the bad news before we work our way back to the good.
There’s a noticeable decline in most facets of his game - his K-rate is up, his BB-rate down, he seemed to have lost a step on the basepaths, and his batted-ball results were overall worse. He hit more fly balls than he had the last few seasons, but had a nearly 20% pop-up rate, and his HR/FB% was cut almost in half. Frankly, almost nothing improved last season, except perhaps his arm strength in the outfield.
Yes, a 106 wRC+ is technically above-average, but to move up consistently through the minors with the goal of reaching the majors in any capacity, you need to show more. You kinda need to slay in the minors to earn your place at the next level and to prove yourself to be more than an org guy trying Not To Disappear into the depths of the farm. In particular, for Berto, the bat is likely going to have to be his carrying tool. His defense is good, he has a strong arm, and he could profile decently in a corner outfield. His speed was above average, but after packing on a little more mass last offseason, it probably grades out closer to a 50 now. If he’s going to crack the majors, even as a fourth outfielder type, it’s going to be because he hits his way there.
Last season, I expressed concern about his swing mechanics:
“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…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.”
Nothing changed about his swing this season with regards to his load - it’s still very loud, and his head moves as he initiates his swing. This is not good, and likely has a lot to do with his quality of contact degrading as he faced a league that had a lot of quality pitching last season. With the moving eye-level and longer bat path, it’s just more difficult to time up quality pitches and hit them on the barrel, instead of popping them up or fouling them off.
You can see that loss of quality of contact, even when his natural strength still allows him to punch a ball into the outfield, in this outfielder-assisted “triple”:
Alberto Rodriguez 1-out triple. pic.twitter.com/DSjfaSpkv3— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) July 31, 2022
To return briefly to his speed, national publications have picked up on the regression of Alberto’s body and conditioning from previous years. Take a look at this video of him from 2021 in Modesto, in the middle of a breakout season:
Alberto Rodriguez 427ft. pic.twitter.com/GYqsofpht4— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) August 18, 2021
He’s never had a wiry build, but he’s got a muscular trimness here. Compare that to a video from this year:
Double digits for A-Rod!— Everett AquaSox (@EverettAquaSox) September 8, 2022
Alberto Rodriguez with number ten this season and it's a big one as it ties up the game at three! It's the second time in his career he's reached ten home runs in a season https://t.co/mQVpMzUkE7 pic.twitter.com/xNVyJ1hfLB
He’s noticeably stockier here - he appears to have cultivated some mass, particularly in his torso region.
This has led to a couple of negative effects on his game. First, an increase in body size can affect a batter’s rotational mobility. Think about the critiques (fair or not) of Jarred Kelenic becoming too “musclebound” and too stiff in his swing and movements. A loss of rotational mobility and flexibility can lead to a degradation in the quality and repeatability of bat/swing path. A quality bat swing and bat path = quality contact, so combine a loss of rotational mobility with a swing that is already overactive and overlong, and that’s what we call in the industry “bad news bears.”
To summarize, to find success in the sport, he’s gotta hit - last year, he didn’t. Time for the good news, now?
Well, to be fair, most of the good news is potential good news. He’s 22 this year, so still relatively young (though he’ll be approaching league-average age for High-A, where he’s likely to start this season). Development isn’t linear, and this could just be a bump in the road!
Also, many prospects’ futures hinge on whether or not they can develop power. Berto has had back-to-back double-digit home run seasons his first two seasons in stateside ball, and that’s with a swing that’s maybe not providing him access to all of his power potential. When he makes good contact, it is loud (see above).
He also followed up a thirty-double season in 2021 with 28 this year while facing tougher competition, so maybe a more optimized swing that creates better contact translates into more of those balls going over the fence rather than into them.
I stand by what I wrote last year, as well, that if he’s gotten this far with a somewhat janky swing, he has all of the talent in the world to succeed with a fixed swing. Realistically, he’s going to have to have a swing Rebirth to succeed in the upper minors. I’m no swing doctor, and wouldn’t presume to know better than any hitting coach he might be working with. The adjustments will probably hurt for a little bit. But, a simpler, more compact swing that utilizes his lower-body strength more efficiently could pay dividends for him, as could a more stable eye-level.
He’s got some good bat speed (at least, so says the eye test), which bodes well for the future.
As a Berto Lover, I hope to see a new swing when I pore over low-quality High-A footage this summer. If it all comes together for Rodríguez and he’s able to make the adjustment, I think it’s realistic to see him progress into a quality fourth outfielder, or a 45-50 grade right fielder.
Unfortunately, the Seattle Mariners do not share my love of Berto, because they like bands that have made the same safe record ten times rather than sticking through a sophomore slump and looking for a Blur-style third album bounceback. The Mariners recently DFA’d our young Cotuisano to make room for J.B. Bukauskas, whose 40 in 40 this should technically be, but it won’t be because we at LL stick with our guys through their Modern Life Is Rubbish and their Parklife eras. If you want to read about Bukauskas, Kate has that for you here. But if you like to say, like with the White Stripes, you knew them in the De Stijl days before the platinum success of White Blood Cells, well, then We’re Going To Be Friends.