MIKE SALK

Salk: Julio Rodríguez is ‘the truth’ Mariners haven’t had in a long time

May 25, 2022, 12:31 PM | Updated: 12:33 pm
Mariners Julio Rodríguez...
Julio Rodríguez Mariners reacts during the Mariners' game against the Oakland Athletics on Monday. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

The first two months of this Mariners season has been frustrating. I know. I feel it just as much as you do.

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They have drastically under-performed to expectations in a year where you were ready to see your patience paid off. We accepted the step back of the rebuild with the hope and expectation that it would culminate in a playoff run and eventually contending for World Series titles. The product we are watching right now does not fit that description, so we are understandably frustrated.

But the Mariners are going to the playoffs.

I’m confident this is true. It may not be in 2022, but it will happen in the next few years. And I make this claim for exactly one reason:

Julio Rodríguez is the truth.

And when you have the truth, it carries you to the playoffs. It was true for Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro. The three best position players in the history of the team all made the playoffs here, and Julio will do the same – eventually.

How do we know he’s the truth? Three ways.

First, the projections have been clear. His minor league numbers are in the same vicinity as the other best players in the game. Yes, top prospects bust sometimes, but not when they have advanced numbers like Julio’s. Dan Szymborski of FanGraphs joined me in March and made that clear.

“I think he’s one of those players who could be the Mariners’ version of one of the phenoms,” he told me. “You know, (Fernando) Tatís (Jr.), (Ronald) Acuña, (Juan) Soto.”

Two of those three have been in the playoffs (and their teams have won two of the last three World Series), and I believe Tatís will join them in making the postseason if he can stay healthy.

Szymborski compared Julio’s minor league time to others with similar numbers and found that nearly all of them became stars. We could add Wander Franco’s name to this list as he and Julio’s minor league stats nearly mirror each other.

Second, after a brief hiccup to start, Julio has shown he can do it in the big leagues. Through 43 games, he is a 1.0 WAR player. Projected over the whole season that is nearly four wins, which is already borderline All-Star level. And that is including his rough start and ridiculous strike zone issues, and it doesn’t account for any improvement as he further figures out the major league game.

He is running better than anyone expected, tied for the MLB lead with 12 steals. He is playing better defense than anyone expected (a positive dWAR) and at a more premium position than we thought he could handle (center field).

In short, the numbers tell us he is everything he is supposed to be and more.

Finally, you can throw out every one of those numbers because you don’t need any of them to tell you he is that guy. Just use your eyes. And your ears.

Watch him go the other way with enough power to ride it out of a deep right center field.

Listen to the sound when he makes solid contact. It’s loud.

Watch him swing for the fences early in counts but shorten his swing with two strikes.

Listen to Mike Blowers (and others who have been around this game a long time and are not easily impressed) rave about him.

Watch his smile after even the most routine play and how excited he gets when he does something incredible.

Listen to his mature approach to learning a second language, bonding with his teammates, and answering questions from the media.

Julio Rodríguez is the truth. And players like him make the playoffs.

But he will need help. The Mariners have started that process by building a farm system capable of producing high-quality players for the next few years. They have top-tier pitchers, potential relievers, and another potential star coming up through the minors in Noelvi Marte. They also have enough major league-quality talent that they can use either to fill in holes or as trade assets if needed.

That’s a great start, and a weapon general manager Jerry Dipoto did not have when he first came to Seattle.

It’s also not enough. The team needs to put some more veteran pieces around Julio to help him win – especially veteran bats. Other contending teams have done this. For example, Houston added 40-year-old Carlos Beltrán, 30-year-old Josh Reddick and later 32-year-old Michael Brantley to offset their youth movement led by George Springer, Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman.

Veteran hitters – I mean guys into their 30s and their free agency years – may not provide the most controllable value, but they generally know the game and how to play it. They can offer professional at-bats. They lengthen a lineup, especially against the top-tier pitching that has often bested the kids.

This isn’t an argument to spend more money, although that is certainly one way to achieve this goal. I don’t care how you acquire the players or how much the team spends. I care about wins and losses. And while Julio is turning himself into one of the best players in the game, the team needs to give him some more help.

I believe they will do that. And that’s why I’m quite confident Julio Rodríguez will make the playoffs as a Mariner. It’s just a matter of when.

M’s manager Scott Servais: Phenom Julio Rodríguez is “well beyond his years”

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Salk: Julio Rodríguez is ‘the truth’ Mariners haven’t had in a long time