Sadly, with a couple of moves this week, the Tampa Bay Rays have greatly decreased the likelihood of a breakout for the inaugural entrant into the Villar Village – Nick Franklin. Franklin could still see time as a utility man or if there are injuries in the infield, but his path to playing time is much less clear than it was a month ago.
With heavy hearts, we will carry onto this week’s edition of the Villar Village. I actually began writing this week’s piece about Arizona 2B/3B/OF. Brandon Drury, but upon examining his sub 300 ADP, I decided that he was a little too trendy for this article. We want the last pick of the draft types, post pick 300 types. Deep sleepers, as they are called.
So this week, we will take a look at veteran utility man Sean Rodriguez, who signed this offseason with the Atlanta Braves. Rodriguez is a total fantasy utility knife that will have eligibility at 1B/2B/3B/SS/OF in 10 GP formats. Having him, particularly in daily formats, will ease a lot of owners troubles days with light schedules and where day-to-day injuries or platoons leave them short-handed.
The outstanding questions on Rodriguez are (1) whether he will receive the necessary playing time and (2) whether he will carry over the gains from his 2016 mini-breakout.
With respect to the playing time, the Braves do not really offer much competition. The incumbent Jace Peterson is a replacement level talent, who has not offered even a glimpse of the sort of upside that Rodriguez showed last year. This very afternoon, the Braves acquired the recently DFA’ed Micah Johnson, a speed only player, who has never developed a good enough hit tool to be considered an everyday player.
In fact, Rodriguez’s big competition may not come from someone currently in the majors, but rather from Braves prospect Ozzie Albies. Albies is a somewhat similar prospect to what Johnson was, but with a better hit tool and a little more power. Albies struggled in his first taste at AAA and will likely start his 2017 campaign there, but could get the call around midseason.
This is where Rodriguez’s versatility may help him. Rodriguez could shift to third base, which is presently being occupied by Adonis Garcia. Rodriguez could also shift to a corner outfield spot currently manned by Nick Markaikis and Matt Kemp, although he would likely need an injury or trade to clear his playing time path there. Regardless, if Rodriguez hits like he did at the end of last season, there is no way that the Braves will completely remove him from the lineup.
Last year, Rodriguez made some changes to his approach. Pre-2016, Rodriguez was a player that was very stiff at the plate, he did not sport a big leg kick or generate a lot of movement through his hips. Thus, he never generated much power despite having a decent build and athleticism that would project for power output.
In 2016, Rodriguez began to incorporate a big leg kick – seemingly inspired by other late career breakouts like Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson. Perhaps, Rodriguez knew his days as athletic utilityman were numbered – as he aged, his athleticism would fade and his glove would no longer keep him at the MLB level.
Whatever the reason, Rodriguez began utilizing his lower half much more to generate more speed and power from his swing and it worked. In 342 PA, Rodriguez slugged 18 homers, tied his career high ISO .240 and set a career high BB% of 9%. It was not all positive, the career high in power also came with a career high strikeout rate of 29%. He was able to keep his average at .270 with the support of a .342 BABIP.
The power is very likely real according to underlying numbers as long as the mechanics remain. Rodriguez had an outstanding 43.1% Hard Contact% and has been near a 50/50 GB/FB for almost his entire career. His BABIP was aided by the amount of hard contact he made and provided a LD% of 24.4% – a new career high. Rodriguez was also able to help himself by drastically reducing his infield flyballs down to 6.9%, which is well blow his career average of 13%.
I do not believe that the strikeout rate will fix itself. It looks to me like Sean Rodriguez has adopted the Marlon Byrd – grip it and rip it strategy for the latter part of his career. His contact numbers and strikeout indicators point to that 29% K% being part of this new, improved Sean Rodriguez. And you can live with that, as long as the hard contact keeps leading to power and helpful BABIP.
Rodriguez is likely destined for a spot in the back-end of the Braves lineup, which will not help him put up run totals, but with Freeman and Kemp hitting in front of him, there should be RBI opportunities. Of course, as with his positional usage, injuries could create opportunities for Rodriguez to move up the lineup as the season plays out.
Sean Rodriguez is an ideal fit in the Villar Village. I am buying his break out.
My Projection: GP 140, 24 HR, 55 R, 68 RBI, 2 SB, .251/.322/.460