Why was Julio Rodríguez ready for promotion? Inside look at Mariners’ development process

Jul 6, 2021, 10:36 AM
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
After a strong showing in Olympics qualifying, Julio Rodríguez moved to Double-A. (Getty)

The Mariners kept fans excited enough through a stellar June to the point that more than a few curious pairs of eyes – even those belonging to rational, patient fans – will start looking ahead to the July 31 trade deadline. Could it be that this Mariners team, which had been projected by some to finish with 90 losses, makes a move to increase its Wild Card chances in 2021?

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At least one person has his eyes further down the road. It’s not as fun or immediately satisfying as watching for a move at this month’s deadline, but for Mariners director of player development Andy McKay, it’s all about seeing how the Mariners of the future begin to take shape. And for McKay, there’s good reason to keep one eye on the future: one of the most important pieces to Seattle’s rebuild has yet to make his big league debut.

McKay joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy on Friday to peel back the curtain and talk about what went into the recent promotion of 20-year-old outfielder Julio Rodríguez, Baseball American’s No. 1 overall Mariners prospect, to Double-A.

“It’s not a formula,” McKay said when asked when he knows the time is right to promote a prospect. “I think people kind of have a conception that there’s an excel spreadsheet of boxes that have to be checked, and it’s not that formulaic.

“We have a lot of different kind of checks and balances, whether it’s our internal scouts, whether it’s (general manager) Jerry Dipoto himself going to games or watching along – Jerry watches almost all of our games every night on the computer while he’s following along with our major league game – whether it’s myself, one of our coaches or coordinators… but somebody will just bring up the conversation and say, ‘Hey, I think it’s time we start talking about moving,’ in this case, ‘Julio.’ And then everybody, whether it’s an email thread or whether it’s a Teams call, will begin having the conversation. And those things might take a week, it might 10 days, it might take one day for us to all come together and say it’s time.”

Rodríguez was promoted June 28 to Double-A Arkansas from High-A Everett, where he was assigned to begin the season. He batted .325 with six home runs, 21 RBI and five stolen bases in 28 games this season with the AquaSox, taking a couple breaks from the team to star for his native Dominican Republic in Olympics qualifying play. Just a few days after being promoted, he recorded his first Double-A home run for the Travelers.

It’s not just the on-field production McKay and his team considers when promoting prospects.

“You’re looking at not only the skills that they’ve acquired, you’re looking at the attitude, you’re looking at the ability to handle the pressure of moving up,” McKay said. “So, there’s a lot of factors that come into it. And whenever those decisions are made, there’s a lot of people involved and we do our due diligence. And it’s really hard. Predicting talent is the hardest thing to do, whether it’s in sports or in private business or the military. So you want to make sure your process is clean. And you’re going to make mistakes.

“With Julio, we all felt very confident, really unanimous, that it was time to make this move. Immediately he went in and had some success the first night. Our coaching staff in Arkansas felt like he fit right into the lineup, he fit into the field. In Everett, the feeling was, ‘This is the best player on the field every night and he’s not being challenged in this league.’ And one of the things you’re looking for in a minor league progression is that you can put the player in a level where number one he can have success, but number two his deficiencies will be revealed to him by the level. And it’s really hard to teach somebody something that’s not being exposed where they’re at. The jump from Everett to Arkansas is a big jump, but so is the jump from Arkansas to Tacoma, and the biggest jump in the game is from Tacoma to the big leagues. Each of those jumps they kind of go through a similar process.”

Rodríguez and fellow outfielder Jarred Kelenic headline a farm system that the Mariners are using as the foundational strength of their rebuild. There will be spending in free agency – McKay and Dipoto confirmed as much in separate interviews with 710 ESPN Seattle last week – but the key will be the development of Seattle’s promising young stars. No one could be blamed for looking ahead to another midseason trade deadline even after the debut of Rodríguez, likely in 2022. It’s part of the fun of baseball, isn’t it? But if the Mariners are right about their young star, fans will have a hard enough time keeping their eyes off the field.

You can listen to the full interview with McKay from 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy in the podcast at this link or in the player below.

Follow Stacy Rost on Twitter.

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Why was Julio Rodríguez ready for promotion? Inside look at Mariners’ development process