No. 7 prospect looks to power way to Majors

February 29th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Watch from the 2023 season, and you’d see a batting stance that could be used to screw a new lightbulb into a ceiling lamp.

Roden’s hands started well above the top of his head, his arms nearly straight up in the air. It was as upright a stance as you’ll see, something Roden and the Blue Jays had developed after they drafted him in the third round in 2022.

The idea was to generate more power. That’s still the idea in 2024, even as Roden has lowered his hands closer to chin level again. It looks more comfortable, more relaxed, helping Roden launch into a swing that uses his entire body. Last year, Roden felt himself using his upper body too much, trying to muscle the ball out with arms alone. They’re trying to find the sweet spot here, where Roden can squeeze some more pop out of his strong frame, the missing piece in an already fascinating puzzle.

Besides, he’s an on-base machine. When Roden wakes up in the morning, he’s already standing on first base. It’s power that will help him kick the door down.

“Standing tall was a way to get me out of the swing I had before, the swing I had in college,” Roden said. “I was really low, really wide. Going upright and moving the hands up was a good fix for the things I needed to work on. I still have a similar stance now with lowered hands. Just the move in my lower body is going to help a lot. I’m still upright and pretty tall -- basically standing -- but the way I move into my legs is the change and should lead to some progress.”

Now 24, Roden is coming off a .430 on-base percentage between High-A Vancouver and Double-A New Hampshire last season, just a remarkable number. He walked (68) more than he struck out (64) and went 24-for-28 in stolen base attempts, something those in the organization are quick to point out doesn’t receive enough attention. There’s a unique offensive package here in Roden, who ranks as MLB Pipeline's No. 7 Blue Jays prospect.

Can Roden hit for enough power, though, given that he profiles as a corner outfielder? Every prospect has a “but," and this is his. Roden hit 10 home runs last season, faring far better against right-handed pitching, but his entire projection changes if that takes a few steps forward.

Roden is no skinny slap hitter, either. He’s grown into a thick muscular build. A home run Tuesday in Lakeland and a bases-loaded double to the opposite field Sunday in Tampa are two early signs of optimism.

On the strength of his approach alone, though, Roden could be a big leaguer. It’s an attitude as much as an approach, something that coaches and development staff heap praise upon when Roden’s name is mentioned.

“I’ve always been a really team-oriented type of player,” Roden said. “Anything I can do to help the team win is how I’ve gone about it. The origin story is that I just love getting on base. I’ll take my walks. I love walks. It’s free. It’s the easiest thing for us to do. It’s the only way I know how. It’s the way I’ve always done it. It’s always been reinforced to me in high school and college, and now that I’m here, it’s a pretty valuable thing.”

This has all happened fast for Roden. His 2023 season was among the best in this organization, catapulting him up lists.

Roden isn’t a lottery ticket for down the road; he’s an option as soon as this summer if he keeps hitting. Behind George Springer, Daulton Varsho and Kevin Kiermaier, the Blue Jays’ outfield depth relies heavily on utility players. If something longer is needed? Roden could be right in that mix. He’s competing for something real here.

“It’s really exciting and it’s kind of surreal,” Roden said. “You’re still getting used to it, the new environment, and trying to find your place in it, too. You’re not on the outside looking in, but you’re looking up to it and excited about it. You still have to prepare the same way. I like to compare it to college. I didn’t play right away in college. I’m taking it from that perspective. I just have to keep working. Work while you wait.”

There’s not long left to wait, especially if Roden finally finds what he’s been looking for.