For José Rodríguez, this season’s goal is clear: make his big league debut with the White Sox, and do the same with Águilas Cibaeñas in the Dominican League.
The only thing between Rodríguez, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 3 prospect in the Chicago organization, and that lofty objective is hard work -- a concept the infielder knows well.
With tools graded 50 or better in the hitting, power, speed, arm strength and defense categories (on the 20-80 scouting grade system), the shortstop has stood out in the Chicago farm system precisely for being a complete player, and he displayed just that in his first professional season in 2021, when he batted .301/.338/.469 with 14 home runs, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. He also showed a good eye at the plate, striking out only 72 times in 469 at bats between three levels, going from Single-A to High-A to Double-A in a matter of months.
“Everything is about hard work,” said Rodríguez. “I’ve always said it. It’s about work. My mindset has been always been giving all I have. Fortunately, I got all the results I was looking for.”
One key is creating a training routine and following it, no matter the ups and downs that could get in the way.
“I’ve always followed my routine,” explained Rodríguez. “I’ve always done the same things. I trust that’s the only way to get better.”
Rodríguez joined the White Sox organization during the 2017-2018 international signing period with a bonus of only $50,000. But he hasn’t stopped opening eyes in the organization since his debut in the Dominican Summer League in 2018. His body doesn’t exactly fit the description of a typical slugger, but Rodríguez has natural power that could help him become a future 30-30 player, and that has taken him from a $50,000 international signee to the third-best prospect in an organization that is looking to win now.
“Even before signing, I’ve stuck to my work ethic, practicing every single aspect of the game,” said Rodríguez. “When I feel there’s a weakness, I focus on working harder on that side of my game. I always work on my legs, making contact, etc.”
It’s no coincidence that his biggest baseball idols fit the same profile of power, speed and good defense as a middle infielder.
Rodríguez grew up following Javier Báez, even though now he’s been focusing on styling his game after Padres star and fellow Dominican Fernando Tatis Jr.
How can he get to that same level? The answer is the same: “Keep on working.”
He’s putting that theory to the test in 2022. After that meteoric rise in the Minors last year, the White Sox had Rodríguez start the season in Double-A Birmingham. But with a .215/.262/.342 slash line, one home run and two stolen bases in his first 19 games of this season, Rodríguez knows he has to keep improving.
“I haven’t had a great start, but I stay optimistic. My routine has been the same. I’ve always said it’s in God’s hands, everything is with his timing,” said Rodríguez.
“I keep doing everything the same, but definitely there are some adjustments. After watching some film, I noticed some things I was doing different. My mentality is also to keep on fighting. I just have to keep doing what I know. I always find a way to adapt quickly”.
Of course, Rodríguez is open to tweaking his routine in any way, even more if those adjustments set him up toward his goal of reaching the Majors.
In his 252 games as a professional, he’s played 174 at shortstop. But with Tim Anderson established at short on the South Side, Rodríguez knows that he must transition to another position short term if he wants to reach his goal.
After playing second base in 12 games last year -- including in nine of his 11 contests in the Arizona Fall League -- Rodríguez feels ready to make that position change, even admitting that sliding over to second could also improve his potential at the plate.
“I like both positions," said Rodríguez. “But for me it’s easier at second base. I like the aggressiveness that you need to have at short; you have to be ready for more action. Now I’ve been working at second base”.
The top prospect knows that this also could be the key to clear his path to the Majors.
Rodríguez, who according to MLB Pipeline is projected to get to the big leagues in 2023, would need to exceed expectations to push that timeline and reach his main objective this year. Of course, that’s not the only thing that he has his mind set on for 2022. Playing in front of his family and friends in the Dominican Republic is also very high on the list.
“This year, God willing,” said Rodríguez. “If I get permission, I will be there [with Águilas Cibaeñas].”
For Rodríguez, his goals are clear. He knows there’s much work to be done, but accomplishing what he set out to do this year is the only thing in his sights.
What else does he need to get there?
“I just need that opportunity,” he said. “Expect great things from me.”