Don’t rule out Julio Rodríguez as Mariners CF of the future
The Mariners have a fairly long shopping list to go through as the MLB offseason officially gets underway.
They need multiple starting pitchers. Kyle Seager is hitting free agency, leaving a hole somewhere in the infield, whether that’s third base or second base depending on what the M’s do with Abraham Toro.
And that’s not all.
“Something that developed during the season was the need for a center fielder,” Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle, said on the most recent episode of her Talking Mariners podcast with James “Boy Howdy” Osborn.
You may now be wondering about Kyle Lewis, the 2020 American League Rookie of the Year who manned center for Seattle until a knee injury ended his season before June, but Drayer pointed to the fact that Lewis has now had two surgeries on the same knee likely ruling out a long-term future there.
“Kyle Lewis, you cannot put him back in center field. You do not know what you are going to get from Kyle Lewis next year,” she said. “He was a beautiful center fielder, that was a surprise coming off of the first knee surgery, (but) you cannot expect that coming off of the second knee surgery.”
So where does that leave Seattle’s options?
“You know, center is not the natural position for Jarred Kelenic. So you have to figure out what you are going to do in center field, and you’ve got to figure out if you are looking for a long-term answer there,” Drayer said.
“The question now is, can Julio Rodríguez play center field?”
Well, things just got interesting.
Rodríguez, who will turn 21 just before the New Year, is the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, but at 6 foot 3 it was generally accepted that his future would be to either the left or right of center. The Mariners appeared to challenge that theory late last season while Rodríguez was with Double-A Arkansas as he played 12 games in center compared to 20 in right, nine in left and five as the designated hitter.
“He profiles on the corners, but I did notice that right around mid-August all of a sudden they started playing him quite a bit more in center. Like he had played once in center field before the All-Star break and then he played mainly in center,” Drayer said.
Rodríguez has already shown he likes a challenge. His speed was believed to be something he would struggle to maintain, which he answered with 21 stolen bases in 26 chances in 2021.
“One of the knocks on his scouting profile the last two or three years has been speed,” Osborn said. “That speed is present but speed was not going to be sustainable as he got bigger… and (Mariners general manager) Jerry Dipoto I think came out and said (Rodríguez) found out about it and he made a commitment that offseason that ‘I’m going to keep speed and add speed and change my projection on this.’ And he did it. It worked and the projections on his speed are not as dour as they used to be.”
“Oh, he was a fantastic base stealer,” Drayer responded.
Of course, there’s an extra benefit for Rodríguez’s prospects as a center fielder as he commits to keeping his speed.
“That translates in the same idea when you go to center field – speed is one of the most important attributes that you can have in terms of staying long-term in center field,” Osborn said.
All this being said, the fact that Rodríguez has yet to make his MLB debut still leaves the Mariners with a likely need for somebody to play center field to start the 2022 season. Drayer and Osborn went through Seattle’s potential options as their conversation continued, which we will cover here on 710Sports.com on Monday. For now, though, click play in the video below to hear the start of the conversation on Rodríguez from this week’s Talking Mariners. You can also download or stream the full podcast episode at this link.
More Mariners coverage from 710Sports.com
• Podcast: Shannon Drayer hosts Mariners Week That Was on 710 ESPN Seattle
• Jerry Dipoto Show: Mariners sights set on ‘centerpiece-type players’
• Jake and Stacy’s Mariners Wishlists: Pitchers who can lead the rotation
• Salk: It’s go time — why this is Mariners most important offseason ever
• Talking Mariners Podcast: 3B names to watch, Seattle’s “untouchables”
• Mariners Offseason Tracker: Keep up with moves, free agents and more