How Julio Rodríguez has impressed Mariners legend Mike Cameron in CF

Jul 22, 2022, 1:21 PM

Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez dives and catches a hit by Francisco Lindor at Citi Field on May 13, 2022. (Elsa/Getty Images)

(Elsa/Getty Images)

There’s a lot of attention — rightfully so —being placed on Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez’s bat after his incredible first half of 2022 as well as his recent showing in the MLB Home Run Derby. But he’s more than just a slugger.

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Rodríguez is also one of MLB’s best base stealers, ranking third in that category entering Friday’s game against the Astros, but he’s also been more than serviceable in center field. In fact, the rookie has been pretty dang defensively in the middle of the outfield.

Because Rodríguez is a big man at 6-foot-3 and roughly 230 pounds, many expect him to wind up at a corner outfield spot in the major leagues. Instead, he’s turning heads with his play in center field.

Someone who Rodríguez has made a real believer out of is Mariners legend Mike Cameron, a three-time Gold Glove center fielder who is now a special assignment coach for the organization, regularly working with outfielders.

“He told me three years ago that he was going to play center field and I was like, ‘You’re going to be too big to play center field. You’re going to be in right field, and that’s where you’re going to make your money at,'” Cameron said Friday to The Mike Salk Show on Seattle Sports 710 AM. “And he definitely changed all of that by the way his body changed. His body changed in the way he shaped up and the way he’s been out there.”

Salk wanted to know whether the 2001 All-Star was the one to teach Rodríguez how to play center field at the big league level.

“Not at all, man. Me, myself, Ichiro and I would say Franklin Gutierrez have all kind of mixed in the pot in helping him in different facets,” he said. “But the kid works hard and he was determined.”

Not a bad trio of former Gold Glove outfielders to learn from, huh?

As mentioned, Cameron and others around baseball all expected Rodríguez to end up playing left or right field once he reached the big leagues. So what has Cameron seen from the Mariners center fielder in his rookie season from a defensive standpoint?

“When I started watching him up close and personal when the season started, I was like, ‘Dang, he’s really good out there.’ And he’s fast, and that helps a lot,” Cameron said. “But his work habits are good, and I guess a lot of that contributes to the day-to-day process with coach (Kristopher) Negron … (Us coaches) all have little tidbits in the guys getting better, but Julio didn’t need much work. They asked me a couple weeks ago like, ‘What do you think he needs to work on?’ Not much, just repetition and the comfort. Because my biggest thing is center field is what’s your comfort around the wall? And he does it very well.”

Part of what makes Rodríguez so special is that it’s clear he’s liked and respected by his peers.

That was on full display during All-Star Game festivities, namely when the rookie slugged 81 home runs in the Home Run Derby.

“He has a good aura, man. And he’s very humble about it, but he’s very, very confident and he’s very good. I don’t care who you are, you’ve got to respect guys that play the game very well,” Cameron said. “But more importantly, he acts like he’s been there and done it before, but he casually and humbly does that over the course of his time right now. And he does that with a smile on his face. It’s refreshing. He gets excited about everything, he doesn’t take it for granted, man, and he’s really good. His talent is like really, really special, and we saw that with him being All-Star worthy.”

Listen to the full interview with Cameron, including why he burned sage in the Mariners’ clubhouse in Houston, at this link or in the player below.

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