Mariners’ McKay breaks down Julio the player and person, France’s importance

Jul 19, 2022, 2:15 PM
Mariners Julio Rodriguez, Ty France...
Julio Rodriguez celebrates defeating the Houston Astros with Ty France on June 08, 2022. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
(Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Mariners are rolling and one of their top players is the talk of baseball after a star-making performance Monday night.

Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez has MLB’s attention — and should be in MVP race

So who better to come chat about the team than Mariners senior director of player development Andy McKay, who has some great insight into Seattle’s rookie sensation as well as the team’s other All-Star slugger?

McKay joined Seattle Sports 710 AM’s Bump and Stacy Tuesday morning, and here are some of the highlights from his interview.

Julio Rodriguez the person and star hitter

The young Mariner who stole the show in Monday’s Home Run Derby is rookie center fielder Julio Rodríguez. The man commonly known as “J-Rod” smacked a whopping 81 home runs across three rounds, ultimately finishing second in the competition.

For McKay, who has known Rodríguez since he was a teenager when he signed with the Mariners as an international free agent in 2017, Monday evening was “a little surreal.”

“My phone was just lighting up with friends and people from around the league of ‘Wow, what an amazing thing.’ Obviously it was Julio’s moment and but I think what really resonated with me was just thinking back to Julio at 16 or 17 in Boca Chica (in the Dominican Republic) and his journey through our system and all of the people that were involved in it,” McKay said. “From our coaches, to our trainers, to our strength coaches, mental skills coaches, English teachers, so many people played a part in helping Julio. And I think Julio would probably be the first person to acknowledge that. But I saw the cumulative effect of our organization and all of the people that were involved, and I think it was a great moment for them as well.”

What stands out about Rodríguez aside from his incredible talent and play is that he’s a vibrant person with a dynamic personality and big style. McKay stressed that what you see on TV is who the rookie truly is.

“He’s one of the most genuine, real people you’ll ever meet,” McKay said. “There’s not an ounce of fake in there. That smile has been there since the day I met him.”

Going back to Rodríguez’s teenage days, McKay shared a fun story of meeting the 2022 All-Star for the first time in person.

“The day I met Julio in Boca Chica, he walked right up to me knowing who I was and what my title was and he wanted to give me like an individualized, personalized handshake that would just be ours,” McKay said. “He was one of those kids then and he’s still was people now where you want to be around him.”

McKay called Rodríguez’s personality “infections” and “a pure joy” to be around.

“And I think that word ‘joy,’ that’s the foundation of what we see out of Julio,” he said. “He loved that moment last night. There wasn’t any fear there for him. It was just an opportunity for him to do his thing, and he has fun doing it. And he has a ‘why.’ His why is that he knows that the better he plays on the field, the more he can do for other people, and it really is an others-centered drive that he has, and it’s very genuine and it’s real.”

Monday showcased Rodríguez’s incredible raw power, but McKay made it clear that there’s far more to Rodriguez’s offensive profile than the ability to hit the ball over the fence.

“Julio has as much raw power as really anybody, but he’s a hitter. He’s a hitter first,” he said. “My guess is he’s going to continue to grow into more power. I mean, he’s on a trajectory right now to hit 25 to 30 homers, which is a big number in the big leagues. So it’s kind of hard for me to say I think there’s more there, but I know there’s more there just based on how hard he hits the baseball. But he is a pure hitter first. He’ll continue to drive the ball on a line back to the middle of diamond and into right-center field.”

McKay knew Rodríguez’s power was special from the first time the two met.

“The power, the first time I ever saw him swing a bat, you could just close your eyes and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, that sounds a whole lot different than the other guys on this field swinging a baseball bat,'” he said. “That type of exit velocity and power has been there from the beginning. But I would also add that he’s incredibly committed to his offseason work and what he’s done to his body and he’s gonna continue to get stronger, which is kind of a scary thought.”

Ty France ‘as important as anyone’ on M’s

The rookie phenom isn’t the Mariners’ only All-Star as sweet-swinging first baseman Ty France also earned his first Midsummer Classic nod this season.

France was seen during the Home Run Derby chatting with Rodríguez during his break and giving him water. McKay said the dynamic of both Rodríguez and France being All-Stars is “one of the beautiful things” about baseball.

“Julio was kind of a bit of a prodigy that when we signed him, he had these kind of expectations on him. But at the same time, he’s here at the All-Star Game with Ty France who was a 34th-round draft pick out of San Diego State,” McKay said. “And to let that sink in, the draft doesn’t even have 34 rounds anymore –  they stop it at 20. So you’ve got this dynamic of the young 21 year old who was the cant-miss prospect, but he’s standing there next to the 34th-round draft pick who we think is one of the best hitters in baseball right now. Obviously, the credit to that goes to Ty. It’s a cool story, but it’s just a reminder that we play a game that really allows people to become what they want to become through their work ethic.”

France, who the Mariners acquired from the San Diego Padres in 2020, was on the team’s radar for a while during his time in the minors, and McKay told Bump and Stacy that it was clear early on that Seattle was getting a special talent in that trade.

“When we acquired him from the Padres, we were pretty excited about what we were getting, and he’s gone right into the middle of our lineup and stabilized it and has certainly began to establish himself as one of the top right-handed hitters in baseball,” he said. “… He continues to get better and continues to grow and grow. I think probably the sky’s the limit with Ty, because he does have that chip on his shoulder. He does have that little bit of extra ‘I’m going to continue to prove to everyone how good I really am.’ And good for him., he’s doing it.

“Ty is as important as anybody we have in this organization and is somebody you can certainly build a championship with and win one with, hopefully.”

Mariners are set up for long-term success

The Mariners, thanks to an active 14-game winning streak, find themselves 51-42 and holding the second of three American League Wild Card spots. So how close are the Mariners to ending their playoff drought and being a World Series contender?

“I think we’re really close. If you look at the current kind of ‘State of the Union’ with the Mariners and where we’re at at the big league level and where we’re at in terms of player development, we’re winning in the big leagues –  if the season ends today, we’re in the playoffs this season – and if the season ended today, we have one of the top farm systems in the game. And we have a tremendous owner in John Stanton,” McKay said. “We have the pieces in place to hopefully open up a window here of postseason competitiveness and keep that window open for a while, because we still have a lot of good players on the way … We have a really young team with a young core that’s showing that they can compete at the major league level. So I think right now the Mariners are in as good of a spot as we’ve ever been in, certainly since the days of Jay and Edgar and Dan winning 116 games, of course.”

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

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