What to expect from Julio Rodríguez

April 6th, 2022

Had he wanted to, Julio Rodríguez could have simply hit his way to the big leagues.

I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t he do exactly that?

The simple answer is, obviously, yes. Rodríguez, the No. 3 prospect in baseball, has hit pretty much wherever he’s gone, with a .331/.412/.543 line in 227 Minor League games to prove it, not to mention the 1.309 OPS he posted this spring to make the Mariners’ Opening Day roster. A very good argument could be made for him to be No. 1 on our Top 100 based on what he’s capable of doing in the batter’s box, and his 70 hit, 65 power grades are unparalleled among current prospects. And who knows, those grades might be light. He is just 21 years old, after all, and it would be a mistake to put any kind of offensive ceiling on him.

Rodríguez is such a gifted hitter that he could have just shown up every day, worked on his swing, not worried about other facets of his game, and still been one of the most exciting young players in the game. But all you need to know about what kind of player he might be now that his big league career is beginning is how much he’s worked on everything else while taking his place among some of the best pure hitting prospects we’ve seen rise through the ranks in recent years. Yes, I’m saying he belongs in the conversation with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Wander Franco. Maybe he’s a shade behind those two and their 80-grade hit tools, but not by much.

When he first arrived on the scene as a prospect, the line on Rodríguez was that he’d fit nicely as a right field type, thanks to a strong arm and his potential offensive profile. That clearly didn’t set right with the teenager, who has worked tirelessly to become a better overall defender. When he first appeared on the Mariners’ Top 30, to start the 2018 season, we had a 45 run grade on him. It’s not often that a player gets faster as he develops, but as Rodríguez added strength, he specifically worked on that part of his game as well. He now sports a 55 run grade and it’s possible that’s light. Even as a 55, his instincts and aggressive nature on the basepaths make him an impactful baserunner. Forget the corners, for now. He’s a center fielder and will play there every day for the foreseeable future.

Is he going to make mistakes? Of course. Will his exuberance lead to being overly aggressive on the bases and in the outfield at times? Count on that. Will he more than make up for any of those miscues by impacting the game with five tools? Absolutely.

When manager Scott Servais informed Rodríguez he had made the team, he had some simple advice: that the phenom never change how he plays the game. It’s an important lesson for a young player who has not only wowed with his skills, but with the pure joy he brings to the field every day. If he holds on to that, he’s going to be just fine and will quickly endear himself to baseball fans everywhere.

There’s a story about Rodríguez that has stuck with me over the past few years that speaks to his passion for the game. He was in his first Spring Training in the United States, in 2019, right before he hit .326 in his full-season debut at age 18. He was on the Minor League side, though he did manage to get seven Cactus League at-bats in as the Mariners would often pull players over into big league games in Peoria. Of course, he collected four hits, but that’s not the point here.

Before Minor League games started, the young guys typically would get their work in early and be done for the day. Rodríguez, at absolutely no one’s prompting, would finish his work and then go and sit in the stands to watch the big league game to provide support for the Minor Leaguers who had been called over that day. That’s the kind of player, the kind of teammate, the kind of person the Mariners are getting.