Jeff Passan: What is concerning about Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez’ slow start

Apr 22, 2022, 3:39 PM | Updated: 3:42 pm
Mariners Julio Rodriguez...
Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners reacts after stealing second base against the Texas Rangers during the seventh inning at T-Mobile Park. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
(Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

As the MLB lockout dragged on for months, ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan found himself re-watching one specific Mariners highlight multiple times.

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“One thing I enjoyed doing during the lockout – and this shows how starved I was baseball – was watching Dave Sims’ call of the (Mitch) Haniger bases-loaded single where (J.P.) Crawford scores at the end,” Passan told Seattle Sports’ Mike Salk Show Wednesday morning. “You want to talk about like an electric moment. That was phenomenal.”

Indeed it was as the Mariners were fighting for their playoff lives and Haniger delivered a go-ahead single that kept the Seattle in contention until the final game of the season. Check out Sims’ fabulous call below.

“That’s the sort of thing I think that Mariners fans have to look forward to more and more in the coming years,” Passan added.

After hearing that, Mike Salk had one question for Passan.

“How much of that will be Julio-related?” Salk asked.

Replied Passan, “A lot.”

Julio is, of course, top Mariners prospect Julio Rodríguez.

Rodríguez, 21, made Seattle’s opening day roster and has served as the team’s starting center fielder to open the 2022 season. He is the No. 2 overall prospect in baseball per Baseball America’s rankings, and checks in at No. 3 in MLB Pipeline’s top-100 list.

Unfortunately for Rodríguez and the Mariners, the rookie outfielder’s MLB career hasn’t gotten off to the best start as he’s struggled to get solid footing at the plate.

Entering Friday, Rodríguez owns a .136/.208/.159  slash line through 11 games with two RBIs and four stolen bases.

So what does Passan think of his slow start?

“He’s young and the major leagues are hard. It would be nice if he had come up and immediately succeeded, because that’s what you want to see from your guys,” he said. “That’s frankly for the most part what you saw from (young Mariners pitchers) Logan Gilbert last year and that’s what you’re seeing from Matt Brash so far. And sometimes the paths are different for different players. And he’s not alone. It’s him, it’s Bobby Witt, it’s C.J. Abrams, it’s Bryson Stott. I mean, it’s top prospects, especially those first three, who have been struggling mightily.”

While Passan is high on Rodríguez, he does see one area where Rodriguez needs to improve and fast.

“The thing that concerns me about Julio Rodriguez – and by the way, this is not anything I’ve been told, but just reading the tea leaves – the reason it would not shock me if he hasn’t turned things around and you see him go back down to (the minor leagues) at some point is because of his strikeout rate. It’s really high,” Passan said. “I don’t know if he’s not seeing the ball well, I don’t know what it is specifically, but you can’t strike out on half (of your at-bats).”

In 48 career plate appearances, Rodríguez has struck out 18 times, “good” for a 46% clip.

Salk pointed to Rodríguez seeing the most breaking balls in baseball, per Statcast. Passan said that tells him two things.

“No. 1, that (opposing teams are) afraid of what he can do to fastballs,” he said. “And No. 2, that they think the easiest way to get him out is to throw spin.”

Passan said the issue isn’t Rodríguez swinging at sliders and curveballs out of the strike zone.

“It’s the ones he’s missing in the strike zone. When you get breaking balls that are left up in the zone, those are gifts, those are mistakes, and you’ve got to punish those,” Passan told Salk. “Don’t get me wrong, I don’t like the fact that the low-and-away slider is bugaboo – that’s not something that portends well for the near future – but it’s the missing the mistakes that’s the problem.”

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

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