As the calendar shifts to October and the winds of autumn blow with ferocity, the postseason takes center stage. Every pitch, at bat, and out has the potential to be forever remembered in the annals of the game. These moments are immortalized and heroes emerge. Many of them toiled in previous obscurity before making their mark under the glistening lights of the fall. Just five months removed from a minor league demotion, 21-year-old Rougned Odor is becoming a mainstay at second base for the Texas Rangers as he gets his chance to shine on the playoff spotlight.
Odor’s name resonates in baseball thanks to his family linage. His father, also named Rougned, was a former scout for the Cleveland Indians, primarily spotting players in their native Venezuela. His younger brother named, you guessed it, Rougned, was signed by the Rangers earlier this year, following in the footsteps of the elder Rougned. Beyond the same namesake, Odor’s uncle Rouglas was a long time hitting instructor in the Indians organization, spending nearly three decades with the franchise. Each of these men influenced Odor greatly and he cultivated his ability on the diamond following their lead and drawing from their experiences. “First time I played baseball, I was two years old. My dad was always working, so I would go to the field with my mother and my grandfather”, Odor told MLB.com in 2015. “I always played baseball. It was amazing. We all would go to my grandma’s and I would always hear everything about baseball. I grew up with baseball in my life.”
By the time he turned 15, Odor became recognized in his native Venezuela and participated in the World Youth Baseball Championship. His country would finish in third place. Odor’s showing and reputable baseball background led to multiple offers from major league clubs to sign as an amateur. Courted heavily by the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Toronto Blue Jays, Odor opted to sign with the Rangers in 2011 for the sum of $425,000. Once turning pro, Odor made steady progress with both Single-A Spokane and Hickory batting around .260 with modest power for a middle infielder. His ability to hold his own against older competition made him a desired prospect in the Rangers system, despite ranking behind the highly touted Jurickson Profar on the organizational pecking line.
The New York Mets took notice of Odor’s proficiency after his first professional season and sought to acquire him in a potential trade of Carlos Beltran in July of 2011. According to the Sandy Alderson book, “Baseball Maverick”, the Mets had the framework in place with the Rangers to obtain Joe Wieland and Robbie Ross for Beltran, but Alderson asked for either Mike Olt or Odor to be included to the deal, causing Texas to balk. Last winter, talks with the Mets once again surrounded Odor’s name in a possible swap for Dillon Gee but nothing substantial materialized. On the field, Odor continued to progressively improve and hit over .300 in the Carolina League across 425 at-bats during his age 19 season. Odor became recognized as a long-range prospect that would continue to need seasoning in the minor leagues. His major league debut, however, arrived sooner than expected after just 138 appearances in Double-A Fresno in 2014. After 14 players spent time on the Rangers disabled list, Odor received significant playing time, primarily when Profar suffered a season ending shoulder injury. Profar, who homered in his first major league at bat in 2012, began to see his stock fall significantly after missing nearly two seasons due to shoulder complications.
With few viable alternatives, the Rangers turned to Odor, who in 114 games produced a .259/.297/.402 slash line during his first time around the major leagues. When the Rangers learned that Profar’s stay on the disabled list would continue into 2015, Odor received a sophomore season in Arlington, but his numbers failed to improve from his showing and nearly one year to day of his initial call up, he found himself optioned to Triple-A Rock Rock after a .144 start to the season. Once Odor regained his confidence at Round Rock, he became a changed player when he returned to the Metroplex one month later. From his recall on June 15 until the end of the regular season, Odor improved dramatically with a .292/.334/.527 slash line, 15 home runs, and a 1.9 WAR.
Odor carried that momentum into the hostile environment of postseason baseball at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, where the Blue Jays were making their first postseason appearance in 22 years. Odor, who had not yet been born when Joe Carter hit his World Series clinching home run in Toronto’s last postseason game, reached base on three occasions and homered against Cy Young candidate David Price, helping Texas take Game 1 of the American League Division Series in convincing fashion. Odor following up eventful postseason debut by scoring two more runs the following afternoon in a 14-inning classic, putting the Rangers on the cusp of qualifying for the American League Championship Series. In four ALDS affairs, Odor has reached base safely in each of them, producing an .853 postseason OPS with two runs batted in. Odor’s performance is turning heads of the most casual fans and making many forget about his early season demotion.
During the first week of postseason, much of the discussion centered around the rapid success of rookies on the game’s grandest stage. Through 16 games entering Tuesday’s play, first year players have clubbed 11 home runs to set a new playoff benchmark. Their degree of proficiency at a precocious juncture of their careers refutes the longstanding idiom about experience breeding lasting results. Lost in those figures is the idea of a player not attaining immediate acclaim and withstanding struggles, frustration, and potential rejection before taking hold of the game’s complexities and nuances. Despite his youthful appearance and family background with baseball, Rougned Odor epitomizes the once common plight of players seeking to establish themselves at the highest level, while facing immense stumbling blocks and barriers for the first time in their careers.
In Odor’s case, he endured an initial difficulty adjusting to big league pitching and possible whispers of being rushed to the major leagues after circumstances beyond his control left the Rangers with little recourse when depth became a grave concern. Facing an early crossroads he made the necessary corrections and has emerged as one of the Rangers bright spots at the bottom third of the batting order under rookie manager Jeff Bannister. After days of endless discussion about the unclean and dangerous nature of second base, Odor is shedding the recent stink of the keystone position, creating positive vibes and a lasting impression in front of millions under the bright lights of October.