BROCK AND SALK

ESPN’s Olney sees some Derek Jeter in Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez

Aug 31, 2023, 12:52 PM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodriguez...

Julio Rodriguez of the Seattle Mariners gestures after hitting a two-run home run on Aug. 27, 2023. (Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

(Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are among the hottest teams in baseball right now, and their superstar outfielder is a big reason why.

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Julio Rodríguez went from underperforming for most of the season to the most locked-in hitter in the game, and his performance is a big part of the Mariners’ rise in the playoff standings.

“When you’ve got Julio Rodríguez playing with that kind of confidence and leading the team in the way he is – assuming he’s healthy going forward – it’s a weapon,” ESPN insider Buster Olney told Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Wednesday.

Olney was initially asked how many players like Rodríguez there are in baseball. That led to Olney comparing Rodríguez to a Hall of Famer, and not one you’d initially think about.

Olney spoke recently on his podcast to Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, and during that conversation, Olney brought up the last two Home Run Derbies. That’s because Rodríguez was the star in each of those events.

“Just being around him … what just jumps out at me so much is his degree of confidence, and how it feels like that this rubs off on other players,” Olney said. “And the only other player where I saw it to this degree in my time covering baseball was Derek Jeter.”

Jeter, a Hall of Fame shortstop, was the captain of the New York Yankees and won five World Series rings during his career.

While Rodríguez is a power-speed player who plays center field, Jeter played shortstop and was more of a contact hitter who sprayed the ball around the yard. But that confidence level and how that impacts other players is what makes them similar, Olney said.

“Derek as a 23 or 24 year old, even on a team of veteran players, other players, they borrowed his confidence and his energy. It rubbed off on other guys, and it’s a factor where the Yankees might be in a difficult position and Derek always assumed that they would find a way to win,” he said. “It feels like Julio is going to be that type of player for them for years to come. And boy, is it fun to watch.”

Mike Salk brought up Rodríguez’s unique connection to the Mariners’ fanbase, and asked Olney how many players in the game seem to care about the fans that much.

“I think Bryce Harper has done a great job of that in Philadelphia. In fact, I can’t remember a superstar free agent going someplace and embracing a fan base the way Bryce has, so hats off to him,” Olney said.

And then, Olney once again brought up Jeter.

“It’s funny, as you were talking about that the conversations with the fans during the course of the game, that’s what Derek used to do. He gets in the on-deck circle and he would turn around and he’d find some fans, some kid or whoever and say, ‘Hey, what do you think I should do? Should I hit the home run?'” Olney recalled. “And I remember when that first happened, you’ve got Joe Torre, an old-school manager … and I asked him, ‘Does it bother you?’ Because it was unusual at that time that you would see that. And Joe was like, ‘No, he’s having fun. And that’s his way of playing the game.’ And again, it was a reflection of his confidence that you could carry on a conversation like that and still be an elite player the way that Derek was and the way that Julio is.”

Listen to the full discussion with Olney at this link or in the player near the top of this story. 

More on the Seattle Mariners

How the AL West will be won: How Mariners stack up vs Rangers, Astros
Why ESPN’s Olney thinks Seattle Mariners are favorites to win AL West
Servais provides Seattle Mariners injury updates on Julio, France and Kirby
• The unsung player during Mariners’ hot streak? Teoscar Hernández
• Passan: What about Seattle Mariners’ rise is and isn’t sustainable?

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