Derek Shelton and the Pirates are making sure they play the long game with Endy Rodriguez.
Pittsburgh’s top prospect (according to Baseball America) is knocking on the door to the majors. He started last season in High-A and ultimately played at three different levels, hitting a combined .323 with a .997 OPS. Those are impressive numbers, ones you don’t often see from a catcher.
But it’s the catching aspect that the Pirates are focusing on. Of the 125 games he played in the minors last season, Rodriguez, who also can play in the outfield and on right side of the infield, appeared at catcher in 75 of them. Across all minor league levels, he’s played at catcher in 131 games.
Catcher is one of the most difficult positions to develop, both in terms of the physical skill and the baseball IQ required to call a game. All of the tools are tantalizing, but Shelton said in his weekly appearance on “The Cook & Joe Show” that Rodriguez needs more time behind the plate.
"There was no thought of him starting in the big leagues (this year), and the reason why is he needs to catch,” Shelton said. “He was not even a primary catcher last year, he went three levels, was only in Triple-A for a short period of time. We’re really excited Endy Rodriguez is a Pirate, we’re really excited about his skill set, but he needs to catch. And that’s something that’s really important.
“He’s gonna catch a lot in Indy, it’s going to be his primary position, so you’re going to see him there four or five days a week. But that is where he needs to grow to become a good Major League player, and we needed to make sure we facilitated that.”
Travis Swaggerty was another one of the near-misses for the Opening Day roster. The 25-year-old left fielder made his Major League debut last year and had a solid spring, but Canaan Smith-Njigba won the gig and Swaggerty is starting in Triple-A.
Shelton said Swaggerty was “very close” to earning the job.
“We talked in spring training about it being a competition, and Swag did a really good job and made it a really hard decision," Shelton said. "Ultimately, we thought it was best for him to go back to Triple-A and get at-bats because over the least couple years he has been sidelined by things (and) he has not gotten consistent at-bats.
“Also, I think he was one of the guys who was affected the most by the COVID year, because of the fact that after the COVID year he went from High-A ball to Triple-A, and that’s a really tough jump -- especially after missing an entire year. And then on the flipside of it, Canaan Smith-Njigba had a really good spring too and we thought he deserved to be on the club.”