02/28/10 2:40 PM ET
Rodriguez ready to make impact with Rays
Key cog in Kazmir trade brings energy to spring competition
By Bill Chastain / MLB.com
He came to the Rays from the Angels along with left-hander Alex Torres and third baseman Matthew Sweeney for Scott Kazmir, which means many fans will view Rodriguez as the main piece Tampa Bay acquired for their former ace. In essence, Rodriguez will be forever linked to Kazmir.
"I don't mind that," Rodriguez said. "I know what I can do. I just go out there and do what I can do and let God take care of the rest."
Right now there are no guarantees for the native of Miami. Rodriguez isn't a lock to make the team, but he's in the hunt -- he's definitely in the hunt. He'll compete with Ben Zobrist, Reid Brignac and Elliot Johnson for the starting second-base job. Or, if Zobrist becomes the starter at second as expected, Rodriguez will compete with Brignac and Johnson for a utility-infield job.
Staking claim to the utility role might come down to the candidate who can best play shortstop, since there has been discussion about relieving Zobrist of the backup shortstop duties. Rodriguez also has experience as an outfielder.
"We've talked a lot about second base and that I want to see him a lot at shortstop also," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I talked primarily about the infield, but he wanted me, us, to know [that] he's very comfortable in the outfield, too. So he just wants us to know he's able to play everywhere comfortably. It's kind of like how it is with Zobrist.
"The added luxury of being able to play the outfield with that kind of confidence and ability, it makes it easier when you want to carry more pitchers than position players; it's easier when you've got guys like this. They make that decision a lot easier."
There are times when a prospect is sent to Triple-A so he can continue to play every day rather than having him serve in a utility role at the Major League level. Rodriguez, 24, understands the philosophy, but he says he'll take the Major League job if offered, thank you.
"I don't say that just because I want a Major League job," Rodriguez said. "I say that just because I know I can help the team doing that. I definitely feel like what I bring to the table, whether it's a starting job or something else, I can definitely play any of the positions to give other guys a rest. I can do that to a high standard."
One thing is certain, Rodriguez doesn't lack energy. Watching him go through drills this spring, it's hard to not notice that energy and the accompanying enthusiasm he brings to his job. In addition, Rodriguez compiled an impressive resume while in the Angels' organization.
For starters, Rodriguez has some pop in his bat. In 744 career Minor League games, he has hit 127 home runs. Add to that 104 stolen bases and a .281 batting average, and one understands why Maddon is prone to saying Rodriguez does some "interesting" things on a baseball field.
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Rodriguez also has Major League experience, batting .203 with five home runs and 14 RBIs in 71 Major League games over parts of the 2008 and '09 seasons. The youngster says he has learned from his brief stints in the Majors that consistency is the great qualifier between being a big league and Minor League player.
"I try to explain it to people a lot," Rodriguez said. "What I've experienced, talent-wise, there are a lot of guys in the Minor Leagues who have the talent to play in the Major Leagues, but they don't have the consistency that the guys in the Major Leagues have."
The Rays still are in the early stages of camp, but Rodriguez has already made a good impression -- whether it's on the field or when he's been asked to articulate his feelings, which is what takes place during the individual meetings with Maddon and the coaches.
"Talk to the guy; he's got a really good idea about what he wants to do and how to do it," said Maddon, who knew Rodriguez from his time with the Angels. "I've known him from the past, but never had these kinds of conversations with him."
Perhaps most indicative of the gray matter between Rodriguez's ears is the well-thought answer to being asked what is his major strength.
"Major strength, huh?" Rodriguez smiled. "Heart, the way I play the game. There's one way to play and one way only."
Such a philosophy could well make Rays fans actually forget a certain left-hander.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.