Like it or not, life has always been a numbers game for Jeremy Rodriguez.
At just 5-foot-8, the former Cal State Bakersfield catcher was considered too short by several big-name baseball college programs despite an impressive career at Encino-Crespi High.
But Rodriguez has made a habit of overcoming these types of numerical challenges.
At just 29 years old, Rodriguez continues to demonstrate that in Oklahoma City this season as a first-year assistant coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Triple-A affiliate, where statistical analysis takes numbers to another level.
“At the Triple-A level there’s a lot of information,” said Rodriguez, who is in his third year in the Dodgers organization. “You gotta know the outfielders, who can move well right to left, who has the good arm, fly ball situations, pitchers tendencies … I have to make sure I’m on top of that. That’s how you build trust. The players look at you and the information you’re giving them and they respect you and trust us.”
That trust is being built thanks to several long days, and hours and hours of processing analytics and tendencies for not only every opponent, but also players on the OKC roster.
“The awareness is the biggest difference,” said Rodriguez, who provides laminated infield and outfield cards for each position player prior to every game. “The preparation, just making sure we have all the information so these guys can be successful. Especially with me being a young coach with no Triple-A experience, my goal every day is to be prepared and make sure I gain these guys trust. With the younger guys, you can tell them whatever and they’re going to do it, with these guys, they have so much experience and knowledge, you have to give them the reason why we’re doing something.
“So that’s something that has been fun, but also a big adjustment. And again, these guys are one move away, one pitch away, one at-bat away from going up to the big leagues and making life-changing money. So that’s why I think our preparation is so valuable.”
Rodriguez’s role has also been appreciated by first-year OKC manager Travis Barbary, who receives a detailed lineup card from Rodriguez before each game, featuring detailed statistics for every player.
“He’s been working his tail off, putting in a lot of time learning a lot of new things,” Barbary said. “He’s been a great help to me personally and I can’t say enough good things about him as a person. He’s a great guy and gets along with everyone, which has made it a really good experience for him and for me.”
Preparation has always been important to Rodriguez.
“My dad always told me you’re never going to pass the eye test so you’re going to have to find a way to stand out.” said Rodriguez, a 16th-round selection by the San Diego Padres in the 2011 MLB Draft. “I did that by always hustling, being very vocal and always taking charge on the field.”
Despite his size, that style of play and impressive offensive numbers caught the eye of several college scouts when Rodriguez was a high school senior.
He committed to San Diego, but when that scholarship fell through, his best opportunity came in the shape of a first-year program and Cal State Bakersfield head coach Bill Kernen.
“Everybody knew who Jeremy was,” said Kernen, who coached Rodriguez for three seasons at CSUB. “I was starting with nothing and he was one of the top catchers in the state, so I didn’t really think I had a chance to get him.
“But as it turned out, a lot of the (big-name schools) ended up getting other people. He liked the idea of coming in and being the first catcher and helping to build something from scratch.”
Rodriguez earned the starting spot as a freshman, hit a team-high .400 as a sophomore and .328 as a junior, all the while calling the pitches and aligning the defense on the field.
“He really set the tone on the field for the whole team,” Kernen said. “And that’s something that probably helped him when he got into professional baseball and when he got into managing.”
After spending parts of five seasons as a backup catcher in the Padres system, Rodriguez was offered a position as manager of the team’s development academy in the Dominican Republic.
Once again, the numbers didn’t seem to add up. At 25 years old, Rodriguez was only a few years older than many of the players he would be managing. But Rodriguez accepted it as a challenge.
“I think at the time, being a minor league catcher was tough,” said Rodriguez, who went back and forth playing between Lake Elsinore and San Antonio four times during the 2012 and 2013 seasons. “Always going to different places. You don’t know if you’re going to be called up or sent down. Somebody gets hurt you gotta be ready to move. That’s probably one of the hardest things about minor league baseball.
“So for me to start my managing career at 25, I thought it was a great opportunity. It’s kinda been a blessing because now I’m with the Dodgers in Triple-A.”
Rodriguez played his last game on May 26 with Lake Elsinore and four days later he was managing in a rural town near San Cristobal on the south coast of the Dominican Republic.
Once again, Rodriguez caught the eye of someone, this time it was his favorite team — the Dodgers. After interviewing with Gabe Kapler, the team’s director of player development (now the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies), Rodriguez was hired as manager of the Dodgers’ Single-A affiliate in Great Lakes, Mich.
Rodriguez’s rise in the organization continued last year when he was put in charge of extended spring training and the Dodgers’ Arizona Development League team. He finished the season managing the Ogden (Utah) Raptors before being bumped up to OKC this season.
“I think being a catcher and always being around different aspects of the game helped prepare me to be a manager,” Rodriguez said. “You’re always close to the manager and you hear things. The conversations, the situations that are going on. As a bullpen catcher, you’re pretty much a second pitching coach. And going to Cal State, Kernen did a great job letting the catchers control the game. The only time he had to come out of the dugout was to take the pitcher out. You did what he wanted as his catcher.”
Now Rodriguez is looking to do the same as a coach, which he hopes will eventually translates into a managerial position in the Major Leagues.
“My goal is to be the youngest manager in Major League Baseball,” Rodriguez said. “Bruce Bochy, who is retiring this year, was the youngest ever to manage at 34. And I’m 29 right now so I have five years to do it. But right now I just got my foot in the door, and I’m trying to learn as much as I can and keep growing.
“I’m just putting my time in. There’s so many great coaches in the big leagues right now. Just trying to build relationships with them and to continue to learn, and that’s really all I can do. I just have to be patient and enjoy the ride.”