KC Royals: One hot, promising prospect with a glaring problem

Zach Tuggle/News Journal / USA TODAY

Every year, there is a difference between a preseason prospect ranking list and a midseason iteration. It is because evaluators look at a prospect's previous season and project what the following season will look like. Players will often exceed or fall short of those expectations, causing some rankings to shift. Rankings are nothing more than an outsider's opinion of a team's farm system, myself included. I entered the 2023 season high on infielder Lizandro Rodriguez taking a step forward 2023. While his bat has been steady, his defensive miscues are holding the prospect back from moving forward in the farm system.

KC Royals prospect Lizandro Rodriguez has the bat, but does he have the defense to move past Low-A this season?

The 20-year-old Rodriguez is in his second year at Low-A Columbia after playing 18 games there in the 2022 season. He did not look overwhelmed in the slightest last season, posting an 11/8 K/BB ratio with a 130 wRC+ to boot. While his batting average dipped, a .340 BABIP was promising for Rodriguez ahead of 2023. His offensive stats have regressed slightly in 2023, but not to a concerning level. He still has a 12/6 K/BB ratio with a respectable 107 wRC+.

That is not my concern. My concern is his glove at second base and even worse metrics at shortstop and third base.

I call Rodriguez an infielder, but he is really pigeonholed at second base. He has started multiple games at third base in the past, with two starts at shortstop. But a handful of innings does not make him a viable option at either of those positions. All of Rodriguez's defensive starts this season have come at second base, a position with some upward movement after several infield prospects have graduated or will soon. But Rodriguez has posted five errors already through 13 games for the Fireflies. That is compared to only one error in 153 1/3 innings last year with a .989 fielding percentage. No one foresaw this porous defense coming, with MLB Pipeline calling him “an above-average defender at second base with quick hands and good footwork”.

The defensive chops are there. Rodriguez can make the double play look easy, but he can often try to force it to happen. Sometimes opposing batters have the speed to cancel out a double play, or Rodriguez's teammates may not start the double play well. But Rodriguez's throwing motion causes many of the errors. This error in an April 14 game is proof of that.

Rodriguez is still a younger prospect, nearly a year younger than his average peer in Columbia. While alarming to start the season, this issue can be addressed with coaching and a different approach to double plays specifically. Rodriguez trusts his arm to a fault. Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. still has that issue and is already a starter for the Royals.

If Rodriguez wants to catch fans' eyes more, he can do that with his bat and improve in that aspect. If he wants to get that promotion to Double-A Northwest Arkansas, he needs to be a stable defender. He has done it before, and I trust he can do it again with some coaching once the season settles in.

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