The FO stated that upgrading shortstop was on their radar this off-season. Well, scratch that. JJ Hardy, Jason Bartlett and Brendan Ryan were all available, and all went to other teams. Orlando Cabrera leads the free agent crop, so we won't go there. All in all, this wasn't the season to go SS hunting; there wasn't much for the taking.
So they brought in Pedro Ciriaco last season, Corey Wimberly during the off-season, and used the Rule 5 draft to toss Josh Rodriguez into the mix. Brian Friday, Chase d'Arnaud, Jordy Mercer and company are on the way. And ya know what?
After Luis Rivas, Chris Gomez, Ramon Hernandez and Bobby Crosby, some young bench infielders look awfully good. And just maybe the Bucs will catch lightning in a bottle and find out one of them can challenge the up-and-down, focus-challenged Ronny Cedeno.
Will that player be Josh Rodriguez, the 26 year old (his b-day is 12/18) who the Pirates took from the Cleveland system in the Rule 5 draft? Probably not. But he does have a good chance at sticking on the roster; he's played the middle infield, third base, and the corner outfield and has a little pop to go with his versatility on the field.
The South Houston High grad spent his college days playing shortstop at Rice, where he was named the 2004 Western Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year after hitting .306.
2005 was even better; Rodriguez had a line of .345/11/54 and made All-America (American Baseball Coaches Association, third team); All-NCAA Regional (Baton Rouge), and All-Silver Glove squads. He also hit .326 with a wooden bat for the touring US National team.
Rodriguez was considered the top shortstop available in preseason draft rankings for the Class of 2006, but his stock took a dive when he suffered a serious elbow injury in the fall of 2005.
He was limited to DH'ing most of the year, and played a little hot corner toward the end to ease his elbow back into action. In fact, current Indy prospect Brian Friday took over the SS job after Rodriguez's injury, and rode it to becoming the Pirates' third round pick in 2007.
His bum wing didn't deter the Indians; Rodriguez hit .344/11/64. The Tribe made him a second-round pick and paid him a hefty $625K bonus. Neal Huntington was the special assistant to the general manager at Cleveland then, and so would have the full monty on Rodriguez's background.
They sent him to short season Mahoning Valley, where in 45 games he hit .268/4/24. He skipped a level in 2007, movin' on up to High Class A Kinston.
All Rodriguez did was lead the Carolina League in runs scored (84), rank second in total bases (227), triples (nine) and walks (68), third in home runs (20), fourth in RBI (82) and games (133) and fifth in extra-base hits (49). His line was .262/.351/.460, and he was named to the CL post-season All-Star Team.
Next, it was off to Class AA Akron, where he butted heads with reality. His first season there ended up with a disappointing line of .241/7/49, not what he or the Tribe was looking for but still good enough to take home Eastern League All-Star honors.
Rodriguez was limited to 33 games during the 2009 campaign because of a right hamstring strain. He would be destined to begin his third straight season at AA Akron, not exactly a good road map to Cleveland. But it would become his launching point.
He hit .297/13/57 with 60 runs scored in 107 games split between Akron and Class AAA Columbus while playing a key role in the Clippers' International League title. He hit .317 with Akron before finishing the year with Columbus, where he batted .293. It was the breakout season he was looking for.
The season didn't seem to impress Cleveland that much; he didn't rate so much as a September cup of joe. But the Indians' western affiliate in Pittsburgh did take notice, and made Rodriguez the top pick of the 2010 Rule 5 draft.
Rodriguez has a career minor league average of .266 with 87 doubles, 24 triples, 44 home runs and 224 RBI in 455 games. He's averaged roughly 13 home runs and 70 walks per 500 at-bats as a pro. Most impressively, he's compiled an OBP of .356.
Most scouts believe his bat will play in the show. He's not a fast guy nor does he hit for a high average, but he has gaps power, can hit the occasional long ball, and has a good eye and the discipline to get on base via the walk.
Defensively, the elbow problem from college didn't linger, and he's supposed to have a rifle. His range (Rodriguez has average or perhaps a bit below average speed) has been called into question, and reports about his ability to play SS are all over the board.
We'll take the middle ground. Rodriguez should be a perfectly acceptable major league defender at second and third, and can play SS or the corner OF if needed. That's pretty much the definition of a utility fielder, no?
He does come with question marks. There have been some reports regarding attitude problems, but none seem to relate to a specific incident that we could find. The issue seems more like a "it's time to change scenery" situation than anything of real concern.
There's also the question of whether he was a one-hit wonder last season. Rodriguez hasn't spent a full season in AAA yet, and hasn't faced a MLB pitcher when it counts. So that's an unknown, too.
It should be interesting when Rodriguez, Wimberly, and Ciriaco get it on in the spring. They may not be replacing Cedeno, but one of them should become 2011's Delwyn Young/Argenis Diaz rolled into one roster spot. And if one of them can replace that 2010 pair, then Clint Hurdle will have the extra bench flexibility that JR never had available.