At only 21 years old and just wrapping up his third season in the minor leagues, Nelson (Nellie) Rodriguez is already one of the most powerful hitters in the Cleveland Indians organization. He has drawn faint comparisons to former Indians slugger Manny Ramirez (not to mention they also graduated from the same high school), and he came into 2015 hitting 22 home runs for the Class-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers one season ago.
Rodriguez was drafted later than expected in the 2012 draft, with the Indians grabbing the high school hitter in the 15th round. He has not been on the map as far as top prospects go, outside of Indians circles, but he did get a mention in a FanGraphs post searching for "the next Paul Goldschmidt." Like Rodriguez, Paul Goldschmidt was never thought highly of as a prospect, despite hitting well in the minors but he exploded on his way up the minor league ladder, and especially once he landed on the Major League stage.
The majority of Rodriguez’s 2015 season was played in High-A for the Lynchburg Hillcats, and he showed exactly the kind of power that scouts expect from him. In 108 games for the Hillcats, Nellie hit 17 home runs, slugged .495, and stole a base for good measure. His ISO also hit a career high at .220 and his .357 on-base percentage was the highest of his career at any past the Arizona Rookie League.
Seven of those home runs came during a great July where he also tallied 13 hits, 10 doubles and slugged .587 in 109 at-bats.
Nellie’s play in High-A was good enough for him to get the call to play in Double-A for the Akron Rubberducks towards the end of the season. He did not waste any time showcasing his power to the Eastern League, hitting a grand slam in his first game on August 11. Following that, however, things quickly went downhill. In 25 games at Double-A, Rodriguez slashed a lowly .118/.200/.269 and hit only four home runs. His strikeout rate also skyrocketed to 35.2% after he finally seemed to have it firmly under 27.0% for the last two seasons.
The numbers look bad for Nellie in Double-A, but it may not be worth dwelling on, at least for the time being. He is only 21 and several years away from the Majors, but he possesses the raw power that he can build off to hopefully one day become a prototypical first baseman for the Cleveland Indians. He also displayed a good eye at the plate, with his walk rate in the double-digit percentages in every year of his career except 2013.
He may never fly up the prospect charts, but keep an on Nellie Rodriguez as he makes his way to the Majors.