Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Endy Rodriguez Being Done a Disservice
By Marty Leap
As other teams in baseball plan to have their top prospects start the season in the majors, the Pittsburgh Pirates are doing catcher Endy Rodriguez a disservice
Fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates have seen it time and time again over the years. While other teams are aggressive in promoting their top prospects, the Pirates hold theirs back due to service time and Super Two manipulation.
Now, yes, plenty of other teams have been guilty of this in the past, but with MLB's new rules that went into place following last year's lockout this is not as common. Baseball fans saw this over the weekend when the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees announced that top prospects Jordan Walker and Anthony Volpe will make their Opening Day rosters.
The Pittsburgh Pirates had a golden opportunity to do this with highly touted catching prospect Endy Rodriguez. Instead, to the surprise of no one, the organization optioned him to the minors around the middle of spring training. But in doing this, the team is doing Rodriguez a disservice.
Rodriguez has likely become the most hyped catching prospect in baseball other than Frnacisco Alvarez of the Mets. Across three minor league levels last season Rodriguez hit for a .323/.407/.590 slash line with 25 home runs. He walked at an 11.3% clip, sturck out in just 19% of his trips to the plate, and posted a 166 wRC+.
This spring, Rodriguez picked up where he left off at last season. In 17 Grapefruit League plate appearances he hit for a .412/.412/.588 slash line. Rodriguez hit three doubles and struck out just twice in his Grapefruit League PAs.
Rodriguez has down all he can do and more to crack the team's Opening Day roster. Yet, that will not happen. Instead, Austin Hedges will be the team's primary catcher with Tyler Heineman likely backing him up.
Defensively, there is no denying what Hedges can do. He has a tremendous pop time to second base, is a plus pitch framer, and since making his MLB debut in 2015 leads all MLB catchers in Defensive Runs Saved. That said, Hedges is a terrible offensive player owning a lifetime .189/.247/.331 slash line and 58 OPS+.
It's not just Rodriguez who suffers here. As a whole, the entire Pirate team will suffer. Does Rodriguez have the defensive prowess of Hedges? No, there is not a single person who would say he does or is arguing that he does. However, Hedges is so poor offensively that the gap between his offense and Rodriguez's is far greater than the defensive gap between the two.
This is also not to say there is not a spot on this team for Hedges. The Pirates paid him $5 million this offseason, he isn't going away. Hedges can serve as a tremendous mentor and role model for Rodriguez. He can also still provide plenty of defensive value to the team in a catcher 2 role. Additionally, with Rodriguez's ability to play multiple positions other than catcher and the dsignated hitter, there are plenty of ways to get the glove of Hedges and bat of Rodriguez in the lineup together.
If the Pirates wanted to field their best team to start the regular season then that team needed to include Rodriguez. It is also what would be best for Rodriguez in his development. After what he did in the minors last season, the next step in Rodriguez's development needs to be facing major league pitching.