Manager Jeremy Rodriguez has been raving about his Dominican born outfielder since the skipper arrived to Camelback Ranch for spring training. ST Chat with Manager Jeremy Rodriguez. When asked about the players that impressed him the most, the skipper gave Carlos Rincon and Keibert Ruiz (the young catcher with the Loons) as his first answers. Before the spring of 2017, the number of Dodgers fans who were aware of Rincon could be measured with a microscope. After an excellent spring and start of the season, more and more fans are hearing of his exploits. Carlos Rincon has 8 HR’s and 20 RBI’s while hitting .299 so far in 2017 (As of 5/10/17) for the Great Lakes Loons.
Hot Start, Consistent Since
It has been cold in the Midwest League to start the 2017 season, as it is every season. Carlos Rincon is making it look as though he enjoys playing in the cold. He is off and running in the early part of the campaign. Especially on his 8th HR, an inside the park variety round tripper. Highly Ranked in the Dodgers organization, he is #24 overall prospect in the system. We conducted the rare interview with the slugger and his Manager, acting as the translator. In the midst of our conversation, Jeremy Rodriguez said this about Rincon; “He is a different animal. He has lots of abilities, lots of big league abilities. He brings excitement to everything he does, whether on the field, or even in the clubhouse.” Strong praise from the Manager of the Great Lakes Loons.
Interview with Carlos Rincon
1. Who introduced you to the game of baseball, and who taught you how to play?
Answer: ” I saw other kids playing and it was something I just picked up. I was self taught, until the age of 14 when I went to the baseball academy. Then I had a hitting coach.”
3. How tough is the transition (or adjustment) to the Midwest League?
Answer: “Weather, the weather has been tough. It has been cold here.” He said with a chuckle. Then changed his tone for the next part of his answer. “The pitchers have more of a game plan in this league. They change speeds more often and at any time in the count. Also the umpires are much more consistent in the Midwest League.”
4. On May 3rd you had a walk off 2 run HR against Burlington; Take us through the at-bat and what went through your mind as you rounded the bases?
Answer: “I was just trying to get a good pitch and drive something in the gap. There was a runner on, so I was just trying to drive him home. I was full of excitement as I rounded the bases. It was the first walk off home run I can remember hitting.”
5. I advised him to be careful with this question; What is it like to play for Manager Jeremy Rodriguez?
Answer: “He gives me a lot of confidence. I know I have to be ready to play everyday because he expects that of me and of everyone on the team.”
Carlos Rincon has Dodger fans full of confidence for the future. To listen to his Manager’s assessment of his young talent, and to see him play, there is no wonder he has moved up in the rankings (Top 30 Dodgers prospects) from last season to this season. A right handed, power hitting multi-tool player, waiting and developing in the low class A level is exciting. He will need to spend time, refining his craft and becoming the star so many believe he will be. So we will be patient, and wait for his arrival to the Dodgers, if he hits left handed pitching as well as his idol does, he will be worth the wait. Until that time, the Midwest League will be a bit more exciting with Carlos Rincon it in. Fans in Midland, consider your time with Rincon as a gift, he could be in Rancho Cucamonga (High Class A) before you know it!
Great Lakes offense is beginning to heat up with the weather. Game time temperature tonight at Dow Diamond in Midland Michigan, 70 degrees. A warm April evening in the Midwest League. As the mercury rises, so will the team’s collective batting average. This is the Loons third win in a row and moves their record to 8 – 11 on the young season. Tonight’s game marked a couple of firsts for the Dodgers Class A affiliate. It was their first shutout of the year, scattering four hits to the Lake County Captains. It was also the first inning the Loons had scored more than three runs in a frame. They scored 8 runs in the 6th inning of this game. By far the best offensive inning of the young campaign. This was a case of both the offense and pitching coming together for Jeremy Rodriguez’s club.
Devin Smeltzer was at the top of his game on Tuesday evening. He worked fast and stayed ahead in counts. He matched the Captains starter, Shane Beiber, pitch for pitch in the early going. Devin really had the slider and fastball working to both sides of the plate, as well as vertically. Smeltzer set a career high with his 8 strike outs. He only allowed 2 hits in his 6 innings of work and perhaps more importantly, zero walks. The left handed pitcher from Mt. San Jacinto junior college in Texas, earned his first victory of the season and lowered his ERA to 1.50 in 18 innings. He now has 21 strike outs to only 2 base on balls. His WHIP is 0.61 and he has surrendered just 9 hits in those 18 innings worked. He was so good tonight he even picked a runner off from first base.
Brendon Davis had another multi hit game. He had a multi hit inning in the explosive 6th inning for the Loons. Davis smashed a solo HR to left center, and then hit once more in the 6th. This time Brendon had the bases loaded and he delivered a clutch single to drive in 2 more Loons. At that point, making the score 7 – 0.
The Loons had contributions from all members of the starting line-up on this night. Even the players without hits either scored a run or drove one in. Nick Yarnall made his debut with Great Lakes and he drove in the games first run with an RBI fielders choice in the 5th inning. He also played a solid first base. Welcome to the club. Miguel Urena also debuted for the Loons, he pitched three scoreless to earn a save in his first appearance.
Players who had not been hitting, or at least in the box score, had those hits fall in, in tonight’s contest. Oneil Cruz had 2 hits. Cody Thomas had two hits, a single and an RBI double. Mitchell Hansen broke out with a 3 hit night as well. Of course, Carlos Rincon kept up his hot hitting, going 3 – 5 with one run scored and driven in. Fun night at Dow Diamond for the Loons and their fans. They return to battle for four wins in a row tomorrow in Midland, one more before the road. Go Loons!!
BATTING 2B: Thomas (2, Martinez, H). HR: Davis, B (2, 6th inning off Bieber, 0 on, 0 out). TB: Rincon, C 3; Cruz, O 2; Ruiz, K 2; Thomas 3; Davis, B 5; Hansen 3. RBI: Yarnall (1); Davis, B 3 (10); Hansen 2 (2); Ruiz, K (6); Rincon, C (15); Thomas (10). 2-out RBI: Davis, B 2; Rincon, C; Thomas. Runners left in scoring position, 2 out: Cruz, O; Lux 2; Davis, B 2. Team RISP: 8-for-17. Team LOB: 8.BASERUNNING SB: Thomas (1, 2nd base off Bieber/Ice).
Great Lakes, single A affiliate of the Dodgers, and defending league champs, have won two straight games as they begin to warm up along with the weather. It has been a cold start to the Midwest League for the entire region. Average temperatures in the 40’s, wind chill factors below that, with the occasional game snowed out. That chill has certainly extended to the Loons bats. Until Luis Paz got hot the last couple games, with his walk off home run on Sunday and 3-4 performance yesterday, he was hitting south of .100. At a glance it would appear many players have had a tough time at the plate to begin the young season. Oneil Cruz, Mitchell Hansen, Cody Thomas and Gage Green all have batting averages below .200 currently. To only peak at the box score would ignore the quality at-bats that these young men are having and hard contact they’re making. Some of the outs are smashed, but, right at a defender. Loons fans have seen all of these players hit some scorchers, unless they fall in for a hit, the box score still shows a zero for that plate appearance. You can’t see minor league development from numbers alone. Perhaps the most perspective one could truly attain on these players, and the team as a whole, is to speak with their leader. Loons Manager Jeremy Rodriguez told me, “this team doesn’t quit. They have a lot of heart, a lot of energy, a lot of passion and that’s all I really want from my guys.”
Jeremy Rodriguez, born in Burbank and grew up in Southern California, is in his first season with the Dodgers Organization after spending the last seven years with the Padres. He was a minor league catcher for five seasons and Managed for the Friars’ Dominican Summer League team the last two years. Before his professional career, Rodriguez played collegiately at California State University, Bakersfield. He prepped at Crespi High in Encino. Before he played for a varsity team, before he attended high school, Jeremy took lessons on baseball and hitting from Reggie Smith. Perhaps there is no one more qualified to impart knowledge on the game than Mr. Smith. The Loons dropped their first four games of the season against the Lansing Lugnuts, before winning at Lake County 6-2 on April 10th. Win number one for the Padres former 16th round draft pick, the Roadrunner alum responded, “Great experience for me to get that first one as a Dodger and the first one in the United States. Definitely awesome to get it out of the way, the guys really pulled together and it was great.” Wondering about such an achievement, I asked who he felt shares in that victory with him? “My father,” was his statement after telling me that he could go on for a half hour about all the people that helped him along the way. Jeremy continued, “he was my number one coach my whole life, still is.” The Manager at Midland went on to speak of his high school coach at Crespi, the late Scott Muckey, and his coaches while in college, Bill Kernen and Joey Robinson. “I have been very blessed with a good group of coaches.” Pure baseball wisdom. Patience, a virtue for any Manager, particularly one managing 19 year old talent in the Midwest League. Jeremy has that engrained in his baseball DNA. A true benefit for the development of the Loons players of today and the future.
In our interview from spring training last month, Interview with Jeremy Rodriguez ST ’17 , we spoke about players who’s talent “jumped out” at him. Carlos Rincon and Keibert Ruiz were two names the former catcher mentioned immediately. Rincon has started the 2017 season as the Loons most productive and arguably most consistent hitter thus far. He and Brendon Davis, .333 and .327 respectively, are the main-stays of the lineup in this young season. When scouting reports begin to circulate about you, as they have about Rincon, the true tests come. The Midwest League has already begun to pitch him differently. Rincon, like any young power hitting prospect, must make the necessary adjustments. According to his Manager, Rincon is passing his early tests. “He is learning, which is great!” Rodriguez added, “he is making adjustments.” Those are high remarks from the skipper about his young hitting protégé. Rincon has seen much more off speed and breaking balls lately. He has remained on the ball, with his weight back. Going deep in counts and hitting the ball sharply. Carlos Rincon is the #24th ranked prospect on the Dodgers very talented Top 30 List.
Keibert Ruiz is also ranked on that list, #13. The young catcher from Venezuela that the Dodgers organization is so excited about has shown great promise early. In late March, Manager Rodriguez said, “I expect my catchers to take control of the defense and the pitching staff. I expect great communication and leadership.” That department has not been a concern for the Loons as Ruiz and Steve Berman have been more than effective in handling the pitching staff. Watching Ruiz behind the plate, his footwork, poise, and framing abilities, it is easy to see why he is valued so highly. Catching and defense may be the first thoughts when the name Keibert Ruiz is mentioned, but his at bats have been solid as well. The young backstop has come up with some important run producing at bats. As Jeremy Rodriguez noted, “he clutched up that at bat! He grinded it out.” We had been speaking of Keibert’s recent 6th inning at bat, with 2 outs,and Rincon at 3B. Ruiz had a 9 pitch at bat before stroking a single to centerfield. When the Manager confirms it as a “professional” at-bat, you know it’s accurate.
Loons Pitching Well
The Loons pitching staff have shown early success and strides to keep pitch counts down and limit runs. Starting pitching, in particular has been especially consistent and impressive. Led by A.J. Alexy and Jordan Sheffield , the staff has kept the Loons in position to give the team a chance at a victory. Dustin May (2.93 ERA) and Devin Smeltzer (2.25 ERA) have also had great starts to the ’17 season. Parker Curry and Willian Soto have pitched “lights out” coming from the bullpen. Jeremy Rodriguez and his catching staff have some of the most highly touted pitching prospects in the system, pitching for them. That’s got to be a good feeling, especially in comparison to the cold of the Midwest League. I asked the general of the Loons dugout about one of his youngest starting pitchers. The Skipper describes A.J. Alexy in this way, “He competes…like every time he goes up there I can never tell if he has his best stuff or he has his worst stuff that day because of his confidence on the mound, his attitude and the way he goes about his business. That’s something I have been impressed with especially for such a young pitcher.” As far as compliments a Manager could bestow on a young pitcher, this quote is among the best. It will be interesting to watch these young pitchers develop this season.
If the hitting can heat up and match the pitching, this team will be doing plenty of winning this season. However, the best thing that can happen to these players is to stay injury free and to develop. These young men will benefit from the experience that Jeremy Rodriguez brings to the clubhouse and the field. He has played in countless games behind the plate, for some of the most knowledgeable coaches baseball has to offer. The Dodgers family as a whole benefits from the new Loons Field Manager. Two more games at Dow Diamond versus Lake County, then the Loons travel to Dayton to play a four game set against the Reds affiliate. No shortage of talent on this roster! Go Loons and Go Dodgers!!