Guardians recall prospect Johnathan Rodriguez

May 20th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- The Guardians are ready to try something new in their outfield.

On Monday afternoon, Cleveland called up outfielder from Triple-A Columbus and designated outfielder Ramón Laureano for assignment. Rodriguez is the club's No. 16 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline.

“It was just time on both sides,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “And obviously not a fun day or a decision, but wish Ramón nothing but the best, and excited that J-Rod’s here.”

Laureano struggled this year. In 31 games, he hit .143 with a .494 OPS. The Guardians needed right-handed bats as options off the bench, and the team valued the defense that he provided, but with no indication that he was turning a corner, it was time to exercise a different option.

That’s when Rodriguez came into the picture. There were two clear candidates at Triple-A Columbus who could have been ready for a shot in the big leagues: Rodriguez and Daniel Schneemann. Rodriguez is an outfielder, while Schneemann plays all over the diamond, including in the outfield. But Rodriguez is already on the 40-man roster and Schneemann is not. Rodriguez is a right-handed hitter and Schneemann bats lefty. For right now, Rodriguez seemed like the better fit for what the Major League roster needed. And because he’s having a good year in Triple-A, Rodriguez earned the promotion.

“I mean, J-Rod's been hitting really well in Columbus,” Vogt said. “He's been driving the ball all over the ballpark, been playing pretty good defense and really starting to mature and develop as a player overall. And so [we’re] really excited to have J-Rod here and see what he can bring.”

In his first 39 games with Columbus, Rodriguez batted .299 with an .892 OPS and seven homers. He’s cooled off a little bit since then, going 0-for-his-last-12, but that didn’t take away from the bigger picture for the Guardians. When he was optioned out of big league camp during Spring Training, the team had a handful of things on which it hoped to see him improve. Enough of those boxes have now been checked.

“The tools are there: power, he’s got a great arm, plays pretty good defense, I think,” Vogt said during Spring Training. “I think the biggest thing is the consistency part, of putting together consistent at-bats, playing consistent defense, consistent base running. We’ve seen spurts of it. So I think for him it’s just a matter of finding a way to bring that every single day.”

It’s impossible to see positive results for all 162 games in a season. Just because Rodriguez has hit a skid recently doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been consistent. The approach he’s taken this year has caught the eyes of Cleveland’s front office personnel, and now he’ll be tested on the biggest stage.

Rodriguez was a third-round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft, and he’s been one of the true “sluggers” in Cleveland’s organization. In 135 games split between Triple- and Double-A last year, he launched 29 homers. The year before, he hit 26 in 107 Minor League contests. For a club that finished last in home runs in ‘23, that’s an obvious perk. Although Rodriguez’s strikeout numbers have been high, he did show more patience in 2023 by more than doubling his walks, raising his OBP from .318 in ‘22 to .368 last season. This year, he has 47 strikeouts and 29 free passes in 43 games.

The Guardians need to learn about their prospects. They gave Laureano ample time to get going this year, and found that he wasn’t the answer. Now, they can give Rodriguez an opportunity to prove he can be part of the future.

“I think he's ready,” Vogt said. “Obviously our organization as a whole believes he's ready, so I don't know if there's a magic number [of at-bats]. I think it's the different experiences and things he's been through, but also the fact that he's worked really hard and done some things that we asked of him coming out of spring, and he's answered those.”