Fann: Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez reminds us why we cherish homegrown superstars

Jul 18, 2022, 2:26 PM
Julio Rodriguez and Mariners teammates celebrate a 7-6 win against the Athletics on May 24. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Julio Rodríguez entered his rookie season with the weight of the Mariners organization on his shoulders, and thus far, he has surpassed even the loftiest of expectations placed on him.

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Seattle’s 21-year-old phenom has played in 91 games, resulting in 16 home runs, 53 runs, 52 RBIs, 21 stolen bases, a .275 average, a 135 wRC+ and a 2.9 fWAR. The fWAR total is seventh-best among all MLB outfielders.

On Monday night, he’ll compete in the Home Run Derby followed by his debut in the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday. It’s fitting that his first appearance in the midsummer classic will come in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium. His flair and persona are as fit for Hollywood as any other player, if not more so.

Rodríguez is already the new face of Seattle sports, wasting little time claiming the mantle after Russell Wilson was traded by the Seahawks to the Broncos back on March 8. But there are more layers to Rodríguez being the city’s latest superstar and the adoration that comes with it.

It’s the swag to make it look easy while wearing his trademark smile. It’s the effortless power to all parts of the ballpark. It’s the speed that makes him dangerous the second he reaches base. It’s his maturity and the way his teammates have already embraced him as a leader of a team working to end the franchise’s 21-year playoff drought.

It’s all of those things that make him a blossoming and comprehensive baseball icon. But he’s also Seattle’s icon, and that’s an important distinction. Rodríguez has reminded fans that being a homegrown talent adds to a player’s regional lore.

That’s true in any sport where fans are inherently more attached to draft picks compared to players acquired via trade or free agency. But it’s exceedingly so in baseball.

I feel confident that if Rodríguez hypothetically shared the same exact stats as Jarred Kelenic, a prospect of similar ilk prior to being promoted to the Mariners in 2021, it would still be Julio ranked atop the list of fan favorites in Seattle. That’s obviously not a suggestion that Mariners fans aren’t invested in Kelenic, who was a trade acquisition from the New York Mets in late 2018, it’s just an easy way to prove there’s a higher baseline of reverence when it comes to homegrown talent.

Baseball doesn’t benefit from the same degree of draft-day buzz compared to the NBA and NFL given it takes years for even the first-rounders to reach the big leagues (Julio was an international signing in 2017 out of the Dominican Republic rather than a draft pick but the point remains). But that waiting period turns into a constant stock watch. Which prospects are projecting to be a contributor in the majors? And, as was the case with Rodríguez, is there anyone with a face of the franchise-type ceiling?

The farm system is the annual source of hope for fans who don’t have the good fortune of seeing their team make the playoffs. Seattle’s aforementioned postseason drought makes it obvious why Rodríguez has been the Mariners’ white knight in the making for years.

And now that he’s followed through, at least for these 91 games, most Mariners fans will feel an immense sense of pride these next two nights when Rodríguez’s talent and charisma are on display in front of a national audience. He’ll be alongside teammate Ty France and the rest of the league’s All-Stars.

Those are already his peers – the players who are considered the game’s best. That’s enough to give any Mariners fan chills. And what’s more? This is just the beginning.

More on the Mariners from Seattle Sports

Stecker: Mariners rebuild is complete – they were just missing Julio Rodríguez
Dooley: Believe in the Mariners – unlike in ’21, there’s more to it than hope
Home Run Derby Primer: Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez in 8-man field
Mariners draft HS SS Cole Young and his ‘beautiful swing’ 21st overall
Mariners take college corner IF, HS pitcher with pair of 2nd-round picks

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