Why Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez has multiple paths to stardom at the plate

Feb 4, 2022, 3:09 PM
Mariners Julio Rodriguez...
Julio Rodriguez of American League Futures Team stretches before a game against the National League Futures Team at Coors Field. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Mariners have the No. 1 farm system in baseball according to Baseball America’s recently-released rankings, and that’s thanks in part to the team’s top prospect.

Next step for Mariners to turn top farm system into World Series contender

Outfielder Julio Rodríguez, who is just 21 years old, is the outlet’s No. 2 overall prospect and is expected to make his MLB debut sometime in 2022.

Rodríguez is someone many believe has superstar potential, including Baseball America Editor-in-Chief JJ Cooper. Cooper joined 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy on Thursday and among the many topics discussed regarding Seattle’s top-ranked farm system is just how good Rodríguez can be.

“Let’s take the off the field (stuff) out of it, which, by the way, when you say star, there are players who I think embrace being a star, and there are other players who are quite happy to just kind of do their job,” Cooper said. “And the star part either comes or doesn’t, but they’re not really going to work towards that. Julio Rodríguez is someone who I think would quite happily be a face of a franchise, charismatic, dynamic, all that.”

As far as Rodríguez on the field, it all starts at the plate with the big, powerful outfielder.

“One of the things that stood out to me last year is doing calls, talking to scouts, talking to coaches, talking to managers about Julio Rodríguez, he’s a .325 career minor league hitter,” Cooper said. “And that sounds like OK, well, yeah, I’m sure there are other guys who do that. And you look at it, though, and you look at the minors over the course of the last, let’s say, 20-25 years, there aren’t actually a whole lot of hitters who have a career .325 average in the minors. That’s rare to do that. And the guys who’ve done that, almost without fail, are really good big league hitters.”

A few of the recent names to have minor league careers like Rodríguez has had? Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Juan Soto, both of whom finished as the MVP runner up in their respective leagues in 2021 as they ranked among the league’s best in many hitting categories.

“Now I’m not saying that means it’s guaranteed that Julio Rodríguez is going to be Juan Soto or Vladimir Guerrero Jr.., but that’s the kind of production that he has shown already in the minors,” Cooper said.

What makes Rodríguez especially special, though, is he has that ability to hit for average while also possessing some of the best power among baseball’s prospects.

Because of that, Cooper sees multiple paths Rodríguez can go down while being one of baseball’s top hitters.

“I think that he really has a choice. He has the power to be like a monster home run hitter, and he has the hitting ability to be a guy who hits for high average,” Cooper said. “And one of the toughest things is the rarest of players, to me, are the guys who can do both of those things. And there’s a chance that Julio Rodriguez can do both of those things. But it’s probably more realistic to think he kind of has both of those paths open to him. Is he going to be the 35-plus home run masher in a corner outfield spot? Or is he going to be the guy who could hit over .300 pretty regularly? Well, I think both of those options are really available to him.”

Cooper said the thing that separates the “really good” hitters from the “all-time greats” is being able to hit for both high average and lots of power.

“And Julio Rodríguez has a chance to do both of those things.”

Kelenic vs Rodríguez

This year’s top Mariners prospect to watch is obviously Rodríguez, but last year there was another talented outfield prospect who had a lot of hype surrounding him in Jarred Kelenic.

Kelenic debuted in May and scuffled, resulting in a June demotion, but he returned after the All-Star break and steadily improved and finished the year in a big way in September and October.

So, how do the two young outfielders stack up with one another?

“Kelenic I think has more potential to be an up the middle guy, to be a center fielder, than Julio Rodríguez,” Cooper said. “Julio Rodríguez is the better hitter in my mind. That doesn’t mean Jarred Kelenic is not a good hitter. But Julio Rodríguez, we had Julio Rodríguez last year, not just this year, but last year when both of them are in the minors, we rated Julio Rodríguez higher than we did Jarred Kelenic on our top 100 and on our Mariners list.”

While Cooper thinks Rodríguez has more potential and will be the better player, that doesn’t mean Kelenic isn’t crucial for the Mariners as well.

“If the Mariners are going to be really successful, obviously they need both of these guys to be really good because you have two cornerstone-type guys,” he said. “And if you said who are the most likely players hitters for the Mariners to be cornerstone guys over the next five years? These are the two guys.”

“(Kelenic) really struggled kind of getting settled in, but did go on to kind of show some some positive signs later in the season. The Mariners do need both of these guys to be really good, because they obviously have some other top-end position prospects but I do think that that actually once you get past Julio Rodriguez, we’ve got (Noelvi) Marte and other guys, but I do think the pitching is stronger than the hitting in the system right now,” Cooper later added.

Listen to the full interview with Cooper at this link or in the player below.

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