MESA, Ariz. -- Jose Rodriguez credited one reason for his power development in 2021.
“Always be ready for the fastball,” he said, through interpreter and Glendale pitching coach Danny Farquhar.
And he has one goal in mind for this year’s Arizona Fall League.
“I want to have [better] pitch selection in the strike zone,” he said.
Rodriguez married both of those concepts with one powerful swing Monday night.
The No. 9 White Sox prospect hit an eighth-inning grand slam to help lead Glendale to a 7-1 win on the road against Mesa at Sloan Park.
Solar Sox left-handed reliever Josh Simpson opened the eighth frame by issuing walks to Nolan Gorman, Juan Yepez and Korey Lee -- the middle three batters in the Desert Dogs lineup -- before getting to the right-handed-hitting Rodriguez. The Glendale DH got the heater he’d been sitting on in the second pitch of the at-bat and drove it just over the left-field wall to give his club a 7-0 lead.
The homer was Rodriguez’s first of the Fall League and only hit of the game in five at-bats. He has opened the showcase circuit 3-for-11 (.273) over three games since play began Wednesday.
Rodriguez entered the Fall League as the fourth-youngest player on the circuit this year, having only turned 20 in May. After signing for $50,000 out of his native Dominican Republic in February 2018, he made his full-season debut this summer with Low-A Kannapolis and proceeded to put on a breakout campaign.
Thanks to that ability to turn around a fastball, Rodriguez climbed three levels in 2021 and hit .301/.338/.469 with 14 homers and 30 steals in 111 games across Low-A, High-A and a brief stint at Double-A. His best numbers were reserved for High-A Winston-Salem, where he produced a .361/.381/.538 line in 29 contests.
The middle infielder is known for having average skills across the board. MLB Pipeline, in fact, gave him 50 grades for all five of his tools. He does show a little more raw power than that, especially to the pull side, where he hit the slam, while his defensive home remains up in the air. (Rodriguez has played at short and second base so far in the Fall League.)
The way Rodriguez took those multiple average tools to each of his three levels in 2021 impressed the White Sox enough to send him to Arizona for the fall, despite his age and lack of upper-level experience beyond four games with Birmingham in a mid-September cameo. He rewarded the organization’s confidence in him with solid performances, and Rodriguez will admit he’s noticed his personal growth since the spring, when he was a teenager yet to play above the complex levels.
“Everything is different,” he said. “I’m just a more confident player.”
As some different-colored Sox can attest to lately, nothing brings a hitter more confidence than a grand slam.
Cardinals provided the rest of the bulk of the highlights for Glendale in the road win.
Outfielder Lars Nootbaar hit a leadoff homer on the second pitch of the game. The blast to right was his third of the AFL season, giving him the circuit lead less than a week into play. Top St. Louis prospect Nolan Gorman went 2-for-3 with a pair of walks to improve his early average and OPS to .385 and 1.145 respectively. First baseman Juan Yepez brought in the rest of the Desert Dogs offense with a two-run double in the first. He also walked twice, and his OPS stands at 1.137.
Marlins catcher Will Banfield went 2-for-4 and drove in Mesa’s only run from the ninth spot in the order.