Rehabbing Rodríguez finding other ways to contribute

March 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Alex Stumpf's Pirates Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

BRADENTON, Fla. -- It’s hard to imagine in an environment where he doesn’t look completely comfortable.

During the Spring Breakout game last week, he took a turn in the broadcast booth, sharing his gift of gab with the SportsNet Pittsburgh crowd. He then turned and took over the Pirates’ social media duties for a night. Roaming around LECOM Park, he can pop into a pitching meeting or hold court in his corner of the clubhouse, all while beaming ear to ear.

“I don't know if you ever see this kid without a smile on his face,” manager Derek Shelton said. “He's quite possibly one of the happiest human beings I've ever been around.”

He’s been unflinchingly upbeat this spring at a time that he could be down in the dumps. Rodríguez won't play for the Pirates in 2024, but he’s still bringing energy to this group.

In November, the 23-year-old catcher injured his right UCL on a swing while playing in a Winter Ball game in the Dominican Republic. The next month, he underwent surgery, ending his 2024 campaign before it got started.

“I knew something was [wrong],” Rodríguez said, showing off the scar from his surgery. “It wasn’t the elbow, but the forearm.”

After further consultations and imaging, Rodríguez went under the knife. Originally, the team had planned on he and Henry Davis competing for the catching job. Instead, Davis was given more runway to prove himself.

Rodríguez will get another chance to catch again in 2025, and for good reason. After emerging as one of the top catching prospects after a monster ‘22 campaign, he broke through to the Majors last year, showed some bright spots at the plate and picked up three defensive runs saved. It appeared to be a building block year to bigger things in ‘24.

Rodríguez is unquestionably disappointed he can’t help his team on the field, but Shelton was quick to point out that he’s still bringing energy to camp and sharing his insight on the young pitchers he caught in the Minors with the Major League coaching staff.

"The really cool thing about it is this is a kid that, it's nearing the end of camp, [and] he could be in a sour mood because of the fact that he's not breaking [with the big club],” Shelton said. “But he's got a smile on his face, and he's cheering for his teammates. I think that's the special thing about him."

Rodríguez said he plans to be around the team for about the first two months of the season, but he will return to Bradenton when he starts throwing. He should start swinging left-handed again in the later half of April, and then right-handed -- the side he was swinging when he injured himself -- in June.

“That’s one of the things I want back in life, hitting again. Feel like I’m in the game more,” Rodríguez said. “I still want to feel that. I want to be in the game, feel like I’m going to play.”

Getting back into game action is the goal, and a follow-up with Dr. Neal ElAttrache, who performed the procedure, should offer some insight on his recovery. There’s some level of uncertainty with Rodríguez’s future at the moment, and he’s still facing a lengthy recovery regardless.

So how is he staying so upbeat amid it all?

“I”m alive, man,” Rodríguez said, beaming. “I’ll just keep working and get ready for next year.”