Height 6-3, Weight 180, B/T: R/R, DOB: 08/15/1992
2009 Redlegs Baseball Prospect Ranking: #17
Yorman Rodriguez runs neck and neck with Billy Hamilton for the title of Best Athlete in the System. His raw athleticism gives him one of the highest ceilings in the entire system, while his raw, unrefined set of baseball specific skills leave him a rather low floor. Hamilton and Yorman are similar in their athleticism, but arrived in the system in different ways.
Rodriguez is a byproduct of the Reds renewed emphasis on international scouting, which has brought in a tremendous amount of talent in the form of Johnny Cueto, Juan Duran, Yorman Rodriguez, Miguel Rojas, and others. In the modern game, the financial structure of Major League Baseball makes international scouting almost a necessity for small/mid-market teams to attain any measure of success. Supplementing the flow of prospects acquired in the Rule IV draft with international free agent signings increases both the quality and quantity of prospects of the farm system. Yorman is the brightest light of the Reds' recent international signings.
Rodriguez split time between the Gulf Coast League Reds and the Billings Mustangs, which is an impressive feat in and of itself for a 16-year old. In fact, one of the most impressive and telling aspects of Yorman's performance is his performance against much older and more advanced competition. A prospect's "age vs. level" provides necessary context for evaluating his performance and Yorman's speaks highly of his overall abilities.
In the Gulf Coast League, Yorman posted a .274/.347/.321/.669 with a 23/10 K/BB ratio over 22 games and 95 plate appearances. He also flashed good wheels, swiping 5 bases in 5 attempts. He collected 23 hits, but only 3 of them went for extra bases (2 2b, 1 3b, 0 HR). He hit line drives at a 14% clip, which makes his hit luck (BABIP of .377) look even more unsustainable.
Surprisingly enough, the 16-year old Yorman was promoted to rookie level Billings. For the Mustangs, Yorman posted a .219/.259/.344/.603 slash line with a 61/9 K/BB ratio, 3 homeruns, and 5 steals in 7 attempts over 46 games and 193 plate appearances. His line drive rate jumped to 22% while his BABIP was perhaps a bit low at .311. His 4.7% walk rate and 31.6% strikeout rate were more than a little unimpressive and would be a significant cause for concern if Yorman wasn't so young and have such a long development curve ahead of him.
The Reds were very aggressive with Yorman's development in 2009, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him return to Billings for 2010.
SWING MECHANICS AND TOOLS
Rodriguez utilizes a pretty standard setup, including a slightly wider than shoulder width stance. He holds his hands up by his right ear and uses a slight bat waggle to keep his muscles loose. At times, he also uses a very small pre-pitch elbow movement that somewhat resembles arm flapping. It involves pulling both his elbows in towards his body and is another technique to keep his body loose and tension free while waiting for the pitch. Overall, it's a rather quiet, fundamentally sound setup that should serve him well as he advances up the professional ranks.
Rodriguez uses a two-step stride that contains minimal forward motion. His first move with his front foot is towards the plate and up onto his toes, which helps him cock his hips and load up to generate power for the swing. The second step is a small stride forward to meet the pitch, which involves enough forward movement in his stride to effectively transfer his weight to meet the pitch.
Rodriguez hits with a high back elbow, so before he can fire his swing he first has to drop the back elbow. When he does fire the swing, he takes a big swing at the ball and doesn't get cheated. He has a slight uppercut to his swing path, which should give him the loft on the ball he needs to hit for substantial power when he fills out physically. He has good bat speed and gets good extension out and through the ball, however those attributes also give his swing a bit of length to his swing. Sometimes a longer swing goes hand in glove with contact rate problems, as longer swings typically have more holes. The contact rate problem that frequently comes with a longer swing can be offset by plus hand-eye coordination or from improved selectivity at the plate. For now, however, Yorman still struggles with contact, as evidenced by his strikeout rate (GCL: 24.2%, Billings: 31.6%).
At times, Rodriguez loses his lower body in his swing and ends up with largely an upper body and arm swing. I do wonder if his stride is too minimal to effectively rotate his hips inward to cock them and maximize the load in his swing. Right now, it is simply too early in his physical development to determine whether the lower body action in his swing is robbing him of any power. It bears watching as he begins to add strength, but right now when Yorman loses the lower body in his swing it stems more from pitch recognition problems than any real flaw in his swing mechanics. If he improves his pitch selection, then his swing will necessarily improve.
The biggest problem for Yorman right now is that he swings at just about everything. He utilizes the Vlad Guerrero strikezone, basically everything from "his nose to his toes" is fair game. Not surprisingly, when he chases pitches out of the zone, he ends reaching for the ball which negates the power derived from his leg drive and hip rotation. Additionally, when he gets fooled by breaking pitches, he gets too far out on the front foot, which saps his lower body action and leaves him to flail at the pitch with his arms. It's difficult to let your swing work when you are constantly offering at pitches that make that impossible. Obviously, Yorman is very raw and needs some refinement to both his plate approach and swing mechanics.
Here are a couple of good looks at Yorman in action:
For such a young player, Yorman does a pretty nice job of utilizing the entire field. He's not afraid to take the ball the other way and he can do so with power. In fact, 2 of his 3 homeruns for Billings went to right field, which speaks volume about his ability to drive the ball from foul pole to foul pole.
DEFENSE AND ATHLETICISM
Rodriguez sports tremendous raw tools. He has plus speed and a plus arm, which should enable him to become an above average defensive outfielder with the potential to develop into a true impact defensive player. Like the rest of his game, Yorman needs to continue refining his defensive play. He needs to get more game experience reading the ball off the bat and also work on improving his routes to the ball.
Rodriguez has the type of electricity to his game that you only see in players with plus speed. He's obviously a fast-twitch guy, as he has a bounce to his stride that makes him look like he's gliding over the turf. As he continues to refine and polish his game, he should be able to improve his ability to effectively utilize and incorporate his speed into his game.
As much excitement as Yorman generates, it's still difficult to get past his age and plate discipline problems. His age against level of competition is a big plus for Yorman, but it also means that he has a long way to go before he reaches the Major League level. And, it's difficult to know how his body will change as he continues to mature and fill out. He stands 6-3 and weighs in at 180 lbs, but he has room on his frame for another 15-20 lbs. When that happens, will it rob him of speed or quickness? Also, will he ever learn to become more selective at the plate? Or, will he forever allow the opposing pitcher to tilt the probability of success in the pitcher's favor?
Yorman's upside is tantalizing, but his downside is substantial. There have been any number of elite international prospects signed out of Latin America who ultimately didn't pan out, as they simply lacked the refined baseball specific skills necessary to translate their impressive athleticism into baseball production. Yorman's raw tools give me reason for optimism, but his poor plate approach gives me reason for concern. I'm a big believer in the importance of getting a good pitch to hit. In baseball, it frequently doesn't matter the quality of the swing mechanics or quality of a players tools if the player is trying to hit a pitch with which he can do very little. Baseball has always been more about refined baseball specific skills than overall athleticism. Kevin Youkilis is a prime example. His overall athleticism is rather poor and, to quote Terry Francona on his physique, "I've seen him in the shower and I can tell you he's not a Greek God of anything." So, Youkilis is short on tools and physicality, but he's long on baseball skills, which is what makes him one of the best, most productive players in the league.
Of course, in a perfect world, you'd have both tools and skills, which is when you have a true star player on your hands. For now, Yorman checks in at #7 on the list based largely on his tools. The future is bright, but there are still many wrong turns on his development path to be avoided before he can emerge as an impact talent at the MLB level.