BROCK AND SALK

Defense of Mariners’ Julio Rodríguez in CF is ‘off the charts’

Apr 23, 2024, 10:11 AM

Seattle Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners celebrates a win over the Reds on April 17, 2024. (Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Julio Rodríguez isn’t off to a blazing start to the 2024 Seattle Mariners season, but the level of concern about that right now is pretty minimal.

Drayer: Mariners break down keys to their turnaround on offense

For one, Rodríguez is currently on a five-game multi-hit steak. Not just a five-game hitting streak, but five straight games with more than one hit. That includes an 8-for-14 series against Colorado, which raised his average to .276, though he’s still looking for his first home run of the year.

Another reason there isn’t much concern about Rodríguez’s play has nothing to do with his bat.

“I will say this: his defense remains off-the-charts good,” ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan told Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk on Monday. “I did not think there was a world in which Julio Rodríguez was going to be in the conversation for being the best defensive center fielder in baseball. We are there now, though, and it’s magnificent to see.”

Before the 23-year-old Rodríguez debuted in the big leagues, he was not projected to be particularly fast or a center fielder due to his 6-foot-3 frame. He took that personally and went to work making himself into one of the fastest players in the game, and it’s showing up in a big way in the field so far this season.

Per Statcast, Rodríguez ranks in the 98th percentile in sprint speed and the 99th percentile in both range (outs above average) and fielding run value. And based on the eye test, he’s been getting great jumps on fly balls this season.

Rodríguez’s elite fielding from gap to gap could be a factor in Mariners pitching ranking seventh in MLB in ERA (3.48), tied for eighth in opponent batting average (.224), and first in WHIP (1.08) as of Monday afternoon.

Julio not hitting for power?

Alright, but what about the early-season power outage for Rodríguez? He homered 32 times last season and 28 times as a rookie the year before, so is the fact that he’s gone 22 games without a homer this year a sign of an issue?

Passan doesn’t think so.

“Listen, guys go through slumps. Even elite hitters go through slumps when they’re searching for things and trying to find it,” he said. “I think at this point he’s not trying to hit home runs necessarily, and that’s a good thing. He knows home runs are going to come. He is too big, he’s too strong, his swing is too good. He’s going to go on a jag here where he hits a bunch of them. That just is an inevitability.”

After a day off Monday, the Seattle Mariners return to action Tuesday when they open a three-game set in Texas at 5:05 p.m. against the defending World Series champion Rangers. Mariners Radio Network coverage begins at 4 p.m. with the pregame show on Seattle Sports 710 AM, the Seattle Sports app and SeattleSports.com. For details on how to stream Mariners radio broadcasts, click here.

ESPN MLB insider Jeff Passan joins Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk weekly during the baseball season. Catch this week’s conversation in the podcast at this link or in the player near the top of this post.

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