Made official last night,  the Cincinnati Reds have agreed to a deal with Cuban shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez for a $7,000,000 signing bonus. They will send the shortstop to the Dominican Summer League to begin his professional career.

The deal comes with pretty much a universal “what?” from every corner of the internet. It’s tough to find a scouting report that says anything good about his bat. At the same time, the reports seem to be glowing about his defense. The overall package though is one that you have to squint pretty hard at to get a warm feeling for, especially when you consider that the Reds paid more for Aldredo Rodriguez than the Braves did for the #1 and #8 prospect in the entire class got combined.

It seems that everyone is convinced that Alfredo Rodriguez is going to be a very fine gloveman at shortstop, and at shortstop the glove is the first thing that teams tend to look at. At the same time, baseball is in a current era where offense is at a premium thanks to everyone throwing 95+ and insane amounts of information on exactly what a hitters weakness is and where they hit the ball, helping both pitchers and defenses exploit any small problem in the game of the opposing batter. Spending tons of money, at least for an international player, on a glove first guy is certainly an interesting move.

Unlike almost all other international signings, Cuban players usually have some numbers that we can look at. A large majority of Cuban players spent time playing in the Cuban National Series – the highest professional league in the country. Alfredo Rodriguez is no different. He spent one season at the highest level, at age 20. The results weren’t great. He hit .265/.301/.284 with 11 walks and 38 strikeouts in 304 plate appearances. Obviously, we can look at that on the surface and say whatever it is that we want to say, but we need context. What does the league hit? What did his team as a whole hit?

The good news is that Baseball-Reference has all of the individual player stats so we can actually figure it out. Even better, they have the information going back for years in the Cuban Leagues. With that, I also decided to look at how current or past Major Leagues who played in Cuba performed in the Cuban National Series at age 20. Let’s dive into what the numbers tell us about how Alfredo Rodriguez compares to both of these groups.

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Here’s what Alfredo Rodriguez did, compared to the 2014 Cuban National Series as a whole. Let’s remember that Rodriguez was 20-years-old, while the average age of the league was 26-years-old (position players).

Name SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
2014 CNS 498 466 10.3% 12.2% .279 .365 .387
Alfredo Rodriguez 12 4 3.6% 12.5% .265 .301 .284

Looking at this comparison, we can see the good, and the bad. Let’s start with the good. Rodriguez was much more successful on the bases than the league as a whole. He stole bases at a 75% clip, while the league was successful in just 52% of their attempts. Despite being quite young he has a strikeout rate that was pretty much league average. That’s about where the good ends.

Now let’s look at the bad. His walk rate was roughly 33% of the league average. He was certainly younger than most players, but that’s a big red flag. His average was a tad lower than league average, but his on-base percentage was way, way below-average thanks to that low walk rate. His power was also way, way below-average.

Now, as noted, he was young. Quite young in fact. Just 20-years-old and in a league that has an average age of 26. So, there needs to be some context. Since we are trying to figure out what kind of guy we may be able to expect from Rodriguez in the future, I went to Baseball-Reference and looked at the most recent 50 players born in Cuba (that list included Brayan Pena, so we are dealing with guys that are in this era). Not all of them were hitters, and not all of them played in the Cuban National Series. However we did have 18 players who had at least 100 Major League at-bats, who also saw time in the Cuban National Series between the ages of 17-20 (1 player included only played at age 21 and I only included their age 20 season, or if they were gone by age 20, their oldest age season before age 20).

Now, this is obviously only looking at the players who were good enough to make it in the big leagues, but, that’s kind of the group we are hoping that Rodriguez joins one day. As a whole, here’s what that group of 18 players hit, compared to Alfredo Rodriguez:

Name SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Alfredo Rodriguez 12 4 3.6% 12.5% .265 .301 .284
20-year-olds 95 69 10.7% 12.3% .306 .394 .487

Once again, Rodriguez stands out in the stolen base column. He was much more successful on the bases than this group was, who only stole at a successful clip of 58%. His strikeout rate was right in line with everyone else from this group too. However, he pales in comparison in every other category. His walk rate is a third of that of the future Major Leaguer group. His average is well below-average by comparison. His on-base percentage is nearly 100 points worse and his slugging was over 200 points worse.

That is the group as a whole, though. Let’s take a look at all of the players, including Alfredo Rodriguez:

Player Age PA SB CS BB% K% AVG OBP SLG
Alfredo Rodriguez 20 304 12 4 3.6% 12.5% .265 .301 .284
Aledmys Diaz 20 313 11 2 11.5% 8.0% .315 .404 .500
Hector Olivera 20 296 5 6 11.8% 8.1% .262 .351 .361
Adonis Garcia 20 149 3 3 8.1% 10.1% .252 .349 .323
Yasmany Tomas 21 324 1 3 10.5% 16.0% .289 .364 .538
Rusney Castillo 20 48 0 2 8.3% 20.8% .349 .417 .465
Jose Abreu 20 282 1 2 8.5% 15.2% .318 .418 .573
Alex Guerrero 20 311 0 4 10.3% 10.6% .296 .391 .504
Yasiel Puig 19 384 5 4 12.8% 10.2% .330 .430 .581
Adeiny Hechavarria 19 156 2 0 5.1% 17.3% .262 .305 .355
Yoenis Cespedes 20 400 15 10 10.5% 13.3% .303 .398 .541
Leonys Martin 20 337 17 7 23.1% 14.2% .311 .491 .492
Jose Iglesias 17 345 5 4 4.9% 13.6% .322 .358 .382
Dayan Viciedo 18 214 2 1 13.1% 12.6% .294 .403 .503
Juan Miranda 20 286 4 2 12.2% 16.8% .303 .399 .564
Alexei Ramirez 20 426 9 8 7.5% 12.0% .340 .396 .525
Yunel Escobar 20 214 4 1 14.0% 15.0% .250 .385 .327
Kendrys Morales 20 133 0 0 6.8% 9.8% .358 .406 .520
Yuniesky Betancourt 20 371 11 10 7.5% 6.7% .317 .371 .488

By-and-large, just about everyone who turned into a future big league crushed things in the Cuban National Series, even at a young age. From that group, there’s really only two guys even remotely close to what Alfredo Rodriguez did.

17-year-old Jose Iglesias and 19-year-old Adeiny Hechavarria. You could maybe toss in a 20-year-old Adonis Garcia, but his walk rate was much higher, though the strikeout and power rates were close-ish.

It’s tough to really make a comparison with a 17-year-old Iglesias and a 20-year-old Rodriguez. That’s an enormous age difference, but even so, Iglesias was significantly better. He walked 50% more, though his walk rate was still very low, he made more contact and he hit for more power. With that said, Iglesias is now a 26-year-old in the big leagues with 1204 career plate appearances. He’s hit .281/.331/.358 for his career (and missed all of 2014 with injury). His walk rate has been incredibly low in the past, but this season he’s upped it to a respectable 7.4% with the Tigers. For his career it’s just 5.4%. He hasn’t really found much more power than he showed at an insanely young age either.

Adeiny Hechavarria was a year younger in his last season in Cuba. His walk rate was nearly 50% higher, but still a pretty low rate. His strikeout rate was higher, too, by about 40%. He showed a decent amount of power by comparison as well, but overall his power was pretty low. . So, really, he’s not a good comparison. But, he does represent a low-walk, low-power guy from Cuba who made it to the big leagues. In 2079 career big league plate appearances he’s hit .258/.292/.344. That’s pretty much his exact line in Cuba. His strikeout rate has improved some as a big leaguer versus where it was in Cuba, but overall, he’s basically the same guy.

Let’s take a look at where Alfredo Rodriguez ranks, out of the 19 players (including himself) in each of the categories:

  • Walk Rate – Last
  • Strikeout Rate – 9th
  • Average – 17th
  • On-Base Percentage – Last
  • Slugging Percentage – Last
  • Strikeout to Walk ratio – Last
  • Stolen Base % – 4th

He’s pretty much the worst hitter on the list and by a significant margin. I’m not saying that there’s no chance he won’t hit. Guys do develop at different stages, and 20-year-old and younger leaves a lot to be figured out still, but his peer group, as a whole and on an individual basis, all outperformed him by enormous margins nearly across the board. The only other guys remotely close to his performance were younger and still outperformed him by a decent margin while still in Cuba.

Adeiny Hechavarria is probably the best statistical comp we have, and he was a different type of guy as noted above. Still, his game translated somewhat from where it was in Cuba. His baseline of production was higher though. If Alfredo Rodriguez held his slash line into the big leagues he’s a utility man at best. He’s going to have to improve, significantly, from what he did in Cuba if he’s going to be more than that one day in the future.

Hopefully the Reds are the smartest guys in the room when it comes to Alfredo Rodriguez. It seems that the majority of the scouting world doesn’t think that Rodriguez is going to do much with the bat. The numbers and history of other Cuban players suggest he’s going to have to be a rather significant outlier of changing the kind of production he had in Cuba to be much with the bat.

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13 Responses

  1. Cam

    Love the idea to compare against other Cuban guys at the same age in Serie Nacional. I’m just at the point where all my faith is in Walt, DW, and the Reds amateur scouting department. Not as much for Walt since he’s transitioning out of power anyway, but everyone in the FO is putting their necks out there. If it doesn’t end up working out, they will have set themselves behind for 3 years on the international scene (this period where they only signed AlfRod and the next two where they’d be ineligible from big money signings assuming no major changes in the next CBA). It’s not like they’ve been huge players internationally, but we’ve been told by them that international signings (especially during this period with the second biggest pool) was a big piece of the puzzle. We’ve all talked anout the numbers and public scouting info out there for months, and the consensus is that we don’t see where the offense is coming from. So I’m just going to trust that they know what they’re doing, because at this point there is no other choice. Maybe (probably) they overpaid, but he’s a Red now, so I hope he gets out there and crushes it.

    One thing that does disappoint me is that we really won’t know anything about him until next year at 23 unless he ends up in the AFL. Even if he crushes it in the Dominican, what conclusions can you draw from that since he’ll be so much older than those guys? And even if he gets to the AFL, it’ll only be to get him ABs and playing again because it’s likely he would be really be overmatched by the advanced talent level there. DSL to Fall League can’t be the easiest jump in the world.

    • Doug Gray

      DSL to Billings is a HUGE jump. DSL to the AFL is like going from college to the Majors.

  2. The Duke

    Unfortunately, my Juan Castro comp from back in January seems to be holding up.

    • Fish

      I agree with you 100%

      $7mil for Juan castro when Maitan & Lazarito were in the class. Even if they never became anything, I’d rather the reds go for upside than another utility infielder that you can buy for less than 7mil in free agency. . .

  3. Alex Reds

    Great analysis and comparison. Really shows how risky the signing was, especially from an all in one basket perspective. It will be quite the development to be able to generate power or on base potential to be more than a utility defender and SB threat. The Reds analytics department apparently didn’t get much input into this signing ;)

    I’m still holding out hope, a Randy Arozarena or Vladimir Gutierrez top 15 international player big signing can turn this weak international period by the Reds into something of merit.

    In case you missed it, Dick Williams came on Fox Sports Ohio post game last night and communicated the strategy for the next two years with penalties. He said that they thought they could get a lot of good talent/players at 300k each and they could trade their large bonus pool slots to other teams for players to acquire talent that way.

    • Doug Gray

      There are players with potential to be had in that range. Aristides Aquino for example, signed for $115,000. Still, it really does limit what you can do.

      As for trading your bonus slots away – well, we saw what kind of player you get for those. The Reds got a good chunk of money from the Orioles for a non-prospect in Low-A. Obviously if the team is going to trade a slot that’s got value of $2M, that’s changing things, but is that really going to give you a true prospect? I’ve got my doubts. It’s not like you’re giving the team the money, just the ability to spend the money. Teams would rather just pay the fine than give up the talent – they know that the talent is worth WAY more.

    • Doug Gray

      I did see it. Wish it were for something way better than that, unfortunately.

  4. RobL

    A few things, first yes, this is probably a big overpay. I imagine the Reds are envisioning a Jose Iglesias or Andrelton Simmons type defender. Whoever in the organization likes Daal probably loves Alf Rod.

    The second thing is, most of the top 30 this year had deals in place before July 2 of last year. So it doesn’t really matter what Maitan signed for, because they couldn’t negotiate anything. These guys weren’t even playing anywhere to be scouted for this past year. If it seems risky to spend money on 16 year olds, now you have to scout them at 14 and come to terms at 15.

    And lastly, well, I guess I’m done.

    • JB

      Yes, I think it’s worth finding out if the Reds even had a shot on any of the other players or if the deals were too air tight. If so, why? Seems irresponsible for a kid and his handlers to close out a market that could potentially heat up.

  5. McLean

    If you are going to spend $7 million on a 23-year-old, then he needs to be able to start at Dayton or Daytona, at the least. I would say Pensacola. Otherwise, if he goes through the normal progression as others assigned to DSL, he won’t be in Cincy for another decade. On another note, it looks like 25-year-old Zach Vincej, who has been on a mini-tear in his last 32 at-bats, is getting ready to overtake Alex Blandino in the regular lineup. Let’s hope we have a SS coming along, since Price has buried Peraza on the bench.

    • Doug Gray

      Well, to be perfectly fair, Rodriguez may be starting in the DSL for multiple reasons. First, he’s got to get approval from the government to even come stateside and play baseball. He needs a work Visa. Second, they may think it’s easier to get him moving culturally in the DSL for a short period of time than jumping right into the US. He won’t go through the normal progression. The organization is talking openly about sending him to the AFL – so they think he will be ready for some sort of competition level roughly equal to Double-A by the end of the year.

      • RobL

        Doug, you hit it on the head. The guy hasn’t played competitive ball in two years. Let him get the rust off at least in a place where he speaks the language. I actually think it was a good idea by the Reds.