Julio Rodriguez Proving Cardinals Right
The summer wave of signings had come and gone, the international teen ranks picked over, and yet as the Cardinals readied to host a tournament at their academy in the Dominican Republic. They needed a catcher to fill out one of the rosters. They had heard of an amateur free agent still kicking around, unsigned and relatively unseen, and so they decided to plug him into the hole.
Then Julio Rodriguez started hitting.
The Cardinals signed him for a small bonus in January 2016, and the catcher slashed .322/.400/.580 in his first 40 pro games, all for the Cardinals’ Dominican Summer League affiliate. He showed a calm feel for catching and enough arm strength to deter the running game. Though stocky, he moves well behind the plate, and it was that bundle of traits that made it unusual he slipped into winter, still available.
"Older international signing with tools, and we were somewhat surprised to able to acquire him like we did, in the way that we did,” said Moises Rodriguez, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager whose previous role was overseeing international scouting. "Seemed like an obvious player to pursue given the skill set.”
At 22 years old and in his fourth season with the organization, Rodriguez has a cleat on the depth chart and is pushing up. For high Class A Palm Beach in 2019, he’s hit .276/.330/.401 in the hitter-muting Florida State League. He has 53 hits in his first 50 games, and he’s reached base almost twice as many times (69) as he’s struck out (35). Behind the plate, he’s proved a steadying presence for the Palm Beach pitching staff, and he's asserted himself as a patrolman for the base paths. Rodriguez has thrown out 22 of the 38 runners who have tried to steal on him, and in 193 pro games he’s throw out 92 of the 120 potential basestealers.
There’s more to it than a strong arm, however. Scouts say the same footwork that helps him handle balls behind the plate gets him in a quick position to make throws over the plate.
The Cardinals have fellow catcher Andrew Knizner at Triple-A as the heir apparent to Yadier Molina, but they’re looking for young catchers to offer challengers or potential backups—a role in which they’ve prioritized the catch-and-throw tools Rodriguez has sharpened.
— Tommy Edman, the switch-hitting infielder from Stanford who the Cardinals drafted in the sixth round in 2016, made his major league debut on June 8. And within his first five big league hits, he had already struck for the cycle. Edman is the first Cardinals rookie to do that since Aledmys Diaz in April 2016.
— Righthander Jake Woodford, who the Cardinals expect to add to the 40-man roster at some point this season, and first baseman Rangel Ravelo, who was added in June, received midseason all-star nods from the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Woodford, 22, has made steady progress through the minors since being drafted 39th overall in 2015 and was 5-3, 3.39 as a reliable starter for Triple-A Memphis through 15 starts.