FORT MYERS, Fla. – In a recent interview with Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon described the perfect utility player.
“For me,” Maddon said, "the real Super-U guy can play shortstop and centerfield. That's a keeper. And if he can add catching into that, my God, he's a franchise player."
Topkin was asking Maddon about the Rays’ “Super-U” Sean Rodriguez, a 25-year-old out of Miami. Rodriguez parlayed his participation in six Perfect Game events between 2001 and 2003 and his uncanny versatility into becoming a 3rd round pick of the Los Angeles Angels in the 2003 MLB June Amateur Draft.
Rodriguez is now with Tampa Bay, and he spoke with Perfect Game before the Rays’ Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins on March 20 at Hammond Stadium, the Twins’ spring training home. Rodriguez started at third base in that game but is still fighting for a job in the Rays’ everyday starting lineup.
He took a moment to reflect on his days participating in Perfect Game showcases and tournaments, which included stops at the 2001 and ‘03 World Showcase; the 2001 and ’02 PG WWBA World Championship; the 2002 PG National Top Prospect Showcase; and the 2002 Underclass Showcase.
“I remember facing guys who are in the big leagues now, playing with guys who are in the big leagues now, getting to know all those guys,” Rodriguez said, recalling specifically Delmon Young, Lastings Milledge, Andrew Miller and Scott Kazmir. “There were a lot of guys; I could just keep going. It’s a long list.”
It was his interaction with those eventual 1st round picks that Rodriguez most appreciated about the PG experience.
“You see the cream of the crop. You see the elite athletes not just from the state you’re from but from all over,” he said. “It gives you the best possible grading scale that you can give yourself. You can see where you’re at amongst the cream of the crop.”
Rodriguez said his participation in Perfect Game events proved to be among his most beneficial endeavors as he worked to advance his career.
“I’m definitely glad I went ahead and went to every one of those that I could,” he said. “It definitely, definitely paid off a lot.”
Rodriguez impressed a lot of scouts at the PG showcases and tournaments, mostly with his arm strength. He had a throw from the outfield clocked at 95 mph and threw across the infield at 89 mph. A right-hander, he also reached 91 mph with his fastball.
“He has a plus arm … and outstanding actions in the field and at the plate,” read a PG scouting report from the 2001 World Showcase when Rodriguez was a high school sophomore. “We think he could play many positions; maybe even be a premier catcher someday.”
Rodriguez had signed with Florida International University but chose to turn pro, and played all or part of seven seasons in the minor leagues. He made his Major League debut with the Angels on April 19, 2008, but played most of the ’08 season at Triple-A Salt Lake (Angels) and almost all of ’09 at Salt Lake and Triple-A Durham (Rays).
He finally enjoyed his first full season in the Majors in 2010, and hit .251 with nine home runs, 40 RBI, 53 runs and 13 stolen bases in 118 games.
“It’s a grind. It’s always a grind,” Rodriguez said of climbing his career ladder. “Nothing comes easy; you have to really get after it. Hopefully you get an opportunity and you seize that moment.”
It is Rodriguez’s versatility that has landed him on a Major League roster. Maddon used him at second base, third base, shortstop and all three outfield positions last season.
It appears the only thing keeping him out of the Rays’ everyday lineup is his struggles at the plate against right-handed pitchers. He has only a career .226 batting average and .276 on-base percentage against right-handers.
Rodriguez is convinced he can contribute if given the opportunity to play every day.
“I want to be a starting guy at one position every day.” he told the Times. “I don't want to say that I don't like doing the utility role because, of course, I don't mind. But yes, I would love an everyday job, only because I know what I'm capable of doing could help the team out. If given that chance to find that groove, that everyday groove, I think it could help the team.”
Rodriguez had a torrid spring in 2010, hitting .460 with six home runs, 17 RBI and 20 runs. He was Maddon’s starting second baseman on Opening Day.
He’s been steady in Grapefruit League play this season, with 12 hits – including a home run and three doubles – in 36 at-bats (.333) in 16 games.
“It’s been very enjoyable getting ready and there’s less than two weeks now to go,” Rodriguez said on March 20. “I’ve been fortunate enough to stay healthy, so let’s keep it that way. I’m really prepared mentally and physically to contribute in any way I can.”