When Luis Rodriguez closes his eyes, he can see it all.
To his left, Mookie Betts jokes from right field. Behind Rodriguez, he can hear restless fans moving up and down the aisles, and a few asking for a ball in between innings. In front of the teenager is the infield cutout, Dodger Stadium in all of its glory and everything Rodriguez ever wanted as a kid growing up in Venezuela.
Then he opens his eyes and gets to work. What was once a fantasy, a far-fetched dream, is now a goal.
“Mookie has that long contract and I’m preparing to play next to him one day,” Rodriguez, 18, said in Spanish from the club’s complex in the Dominican Republic. “God-willing, it’s going to happen that way. I can play all over the outfield, but I’d love to play center field with Mookie next to me one day.”
Rodriguez, who ranked No. 4 on MLB.com's Top 30 International Prospects list last year, is now the Dodgers’ No. 6 prospect. He’s on track to participate in the club’s instructional league in the Dominican Republic later this month and could play in the Rookie-level Arizona League as early as 2021. And while it might appear ambitious for a player like Rodriguez, who is at the beginning of his pro career, to think about suiting up next to one of the best players in the game, it’s worth noting that Rodriguez will be 30 when Betts’ 12-year deal with the Dodgers expires in 2032.
“It’s going to happen,” Rodriguez said.
The teen is confident. He’s already come a long way to get to this point.
“It was a real group effort, and we are pretty happy with our process to get him into our system,” said Roman Barinas, the Dodgers' Latin America scouting supervisor. “As we scouted him, he just kept hitting no matter how advanced the pitching we put him against. Then as he grew and developed his power, his impact potential even exceeded our initial expectations. It’s a real testament to his work ethic.”
It was the club’s Venezuela scouting coordinator, Jackson Canelon, then an area scout, who first spotted Rodriguez at a tryout and put him on the club’s radar. The teen was lean and wiry, but he was strong and could drive the ball from gap to gap. On defense, he could cover lots of ground, and his arm showed potential.
There were rumors in 2017 that Rodriguez’s trainer was going to move his stable of players from Venezuela to the D.R. to escape the social and political unrest in the country, and a few months later that’s exactly what he did.
For the next several months, Dodgers area scout Laiky Uribe, who is now the club’s Dominican Republic scouting supervisor, tracked Rodriguez and logged 130 to 140 of his at-bats. International scouting director Ismael Cruz and other members of his staff, including Barinas, stayed on Rodriguez in the months that followed. It was Luis Marquez, then the Dodgers’ Latin America scouting supervisor (who now works with the Mets), who first compared Rodriguez to Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock, a comp that still stands.
“The physical tools stand out, but he's also really smart, one of those guys that you can have a long, cerebral conversation about the game, things like what a pitcher was trying to do to get him out and how he can counter that,” Barinas said. “The game is evolving, and there's so much more information at a player's disposal; what really stands out is that he is the type of player that is going to take advantage of that as much as possible to be the best he can be.”
These days, Rodriguez wakes up at 6 a.m. and is on the field at the Dodgers’ complex less than an hour later. His daily routine includes a strength and conditioning program, batting practice, defensive work and English classes. He admits he still has a lot to learn about the game, but that’s part of the challenge.
“My goal is to try to do the best I can, meaning being consistent and being good on the field,” Rodriguez said. “As far as numbers go, we all want good numbers, but what I really want is a good swing and to make good contact, so I’m going focus on that. I just want to advance as fast as I can and get to my ultimate goal of playing in the Major Leagues with the Dodgers.”