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Reds like progress of prospect Rodriguez

Signed at 16, phenom hopes to pair with buddy Duran in Major League outfield

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There's a skill to finding teenage players in Latin America and signing them to professional contracts.

Some call it a science. Others call it an art form. It's almost always a risky proposition because the players are so young.

But ultimately, this age-old system comes down to discovering talent and projecting how that talent will develop in the future.

In 2008, the Reds saw something special in a Venezuelan teen named Yorman Rodriguez and gave him a $2.5 million signing bonus. Now the investment is starting to pay off.

"He is the type of player we were hoping he would evolve into," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We think he can potentially be a dynamic player. He plays hard and does everything he needs to do. He moves in the outfield and has good instincts."

Rodriguez, now 21, is in big league camp and seeing first-hand what it takes to be a Major League player. With only two hits in 16 at-bats during his first 11 Cactus League games, he's also learning what it's like to face top pitching and struggle.

"I remember signing. It was Aug. 15, 2008, a day I'll never forget, and look where I am now," Rodriguez said in Spanish. "For me, this is the best feeling to be around these guys and sharing this experience. I'm here to work hard, and one day I can be in the Major Leagues with them."

Rodriguez, who is ranked No. 15 on Cincinnati's Top 20 Prospects list, played for both Double-A Pensacola and Class A Advanced Bakersfield followed by a stint in the Arizona Fall League. He showed off all of his tools last season by stealing 10 bases while notching 35 doubles, six triples and 13 home runs. The 6-foot-3, 197-pound outfielder also showed he's a work in progress and struck out 153 times in 129 games last year.

"Overall, my last year went great," Rodriguez said. "It's going fine now here, too. It could go better, but I'm working to make it better. I'm learning every day and that's most important right now."

The Reds believe Rodriguez projects as a center fielder and want him to see action at the position this spring and in the Minor Leagues this season. He played 56 games in center field and 66 in right field last year.

"I know I can play all three outfield spots. I started playing center field as a kid," Rodriguez said. "It was my first position ever and I know. They moved me to right field and now I'm getting back to center, something that I like, but I'll do whatever they want me to do."

Rodriguez is from the Venezuelan state of Aragua and lives near the home of Reds great Dave Concepcion in Maracay. He said he talks to his parents and one of his seven siblings almost every other day and says his greatest cheerleader is his grandfather. The outfielder's support group in the Cincinnati clubhouse includes special instructor Mario Soto and Juan Duran, who like Rodriguez received a multi-million dollar signing bonus as a 16-year-old in 2008. Duran and Rodriguez met in the Dominican Republic at the club's academy not long after signing with the Reds. Duran is from Santo Domingo.

"Yorman is like a brother to me," Duran said in Spanish. "We've always played together and we're on this journey together in every league. We're both watching how Major Leaguers work and how to concentrate. We are picking up new things all of the time."

Duran, 22, has one hit in his first 15 at-bats in Cactus League play this spring. The 6-foot-7, 205-pound outfielder hit .251 with 20 home runs and 66 RBIs in 111 games for Bakersfield last season. He also struck out 134 times.

"I had some difficulties, but I think that's normal and I finished strong," Duran said. "I'm learning from every experience. That's really important right now."

It's Duran's dream to share the same outfield with Rodriguez in a Major League stadium. Rodriguez has a similar vision.

In the meantime, the former teenage stars will focus on the task at hand.

"We'll see what happens," Duran said. "We both want to be there. Things are going good for us and we just want to keep it that way."

Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB.

Cincinnati Reds, Juan Duran, Yorman Rodriguez