Mariners’ top 2 prospects Kelenic and Rodriguez unique in different ways
With the Mariners’ top two prospects both talented outfielders under the age of 21, it’s easy to want to compare them.
Jarred Kelenic dominated both levels of Single-A ball on his way to reaching Double-A less than two months after his 20th birthday last season, and in similar fashion Julio Rodriguez followed up a strong 67-game showing at Low-A West Virginia with an incredible 17-game debut at High-A Modesto, hitting .462 with a 1.252 OPS before the year ended.
The defining characteristics of those two players that Mariners director of player development Andy McKay described at Thursday’s pre-spring training press conference are almost like two sides of the same coin, however.
Kelenic, the prize of Seattle’s return in the trade that sent Robinson Canó and Edwin Díaz to the Mets prior to the 2019 season, is ranked the No. 11 overall prospect in the latest Baseball America Top 100 released earlier this week, and he has the self-confidence to match. That’s what McKay said is Kelenic’s “carrying tool.”
“That might be the most exciting single tool we have in our system,” McKay said of Kelenic’s confidence. “It is his self-confidence in his belief in himself, and just like all skills, that’s the skill that we’re trying to nurture and protect and grow because I do think it’s a carrying tool that separates him at every level. … His ability to think differently than the people he’s competing against is the skill that I think is going to play very well for him throughout his career.”
That confidence was backed up by Kelenic’s numbers in 2019, as he finished the year with a .291 average, .904 OPS, 23 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 117 games across three minor league levels.
“Obviously there’s a bat, there’s defense, there’s base running that I witnessed with my own eyes,” McKay said. “I felt he was the best player in every league he was in (in 2019). We’ll see what happens this year because last year is over and this year’s a new year and young players struggle. At some point he’s going to hit some real adversity. It may not happen until he’s in the big leagues, but they do hit it at some point, and when he does we’ll be there for them.”
Rodriguez, Baseball America’s No. 8 overall prospect, turned 19 just last month but also has an obvious comfort when playing the game. It comes through in a different way than Kelenic, however. McKay explained it with a story from late last season after Rodriguez was promoted to Modesto that he said “really defines Julio.”
“He’s the youngest player in the league. I’m hearing from other farm directors that, you know, you’ve got this teenager in the Cal League, he’s the best player in the league right now. And I’m there in the dugout… Julio is hitting and he gets beat on a slider early in the count. And it’s one of those ugly swings, you know – his top hand comes off, he’s kinda falling over, he’s beat by the pitch and he swings and misses and his momentum carries him over kind of across the plate and into the left-handed batter’s box. And literally before he’s done swinging, he’s laughing. And he’s laughing and he kind of regroups, gets himself together. He says something to the pitcher along the lines of, ‘Hey bro, you got me on that one.’ And he’s got the biggest smile on his face throughout this whole scenario. Then he gets back in the batter’s box, the next pitch he drives a high line drive over the center fielder’s head for an extra base hit.”
It’s clear to see Rodriguez enjoys his time on the diamond, and that translates for those watching him play.
“The pure joy and passion that Julio brings to everything he does to turn everything into fun,” McKay said. “And as I like to say, he’s literally playing wiffle ball in the backyard with his friends. That’s his uniqueness. It’s very different than Jarred but it is really critical to his performance that he’s able to keep the game fun and that he’s able to keep that smile on his face. That’s how he views competition, and I hope he never loses that joy.”
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