Prospects Kelenic, Rodríguez lift off with HRs

March 22nd, 2021

The prized prospects in Seattle’s blossoming farm system were at the center of the Mariners’ 3-1 win over the Brewers on Sunday, with outfielders and Julio Rodríguez -- MLB Pipeline’s Nos. 4 and 5 prospects in all of baseball, respectively -- each going deep with impressive solo homers and making a few snazzy plays in the outfield.

Kelenic went yard first, working a 3-1 count from righty Freddy Peralta before clobbering an inside offspeed pitch and watching it soar quickly over the right-center-field wall at American Family Fields of Phoenix. The second-inning homer tied the score at 1.

Rodríguez followed in the seventh against Brad Boxberger with a moonshot that cleared the deepest part of the park in left-center field.

Each homer was the second of Spring Training for both Kelenic and Rodríguez -- and they offered yet another preview of what the potential of the Mariners’ outfield will look like in the coming years. In a camp headlined by up-and-coming prospects, Kelenic and Rodríguez have lived up to their lofty billing.

“Those guys are all-around players,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “And they're young. They’ve got some kind of ability. Everybody talks about the bats, what that's going to do for our future, but they're really good baseball players. They run, throw and take pride in doing those things. And again, the sky is the limit.”

Coaches, teammates and other observers say that what has stood out most among Kelenic and Rodríguez are the significant strides they’ve made since last spring despite not playing in a Minor League season in 2020.

Despite missing 12 days due to a Grade 2 adductor strain near his right knee, Kelenic has looked superb. He’s gone 5-for-15 with a 1.095 OPS in seven Cactus League games, and upon returning to the lineup on Friday against the White Sox, when he played center field, the 21-year-old made some impressive athletic plays in the field and put the improved health of his leg on display.

Rodríguez, who is just 20 years old, is already displaying bat speed that is among the highest echelon in the Majors -- in Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Nelson Cruz territory. Rodríguez’s first Spring Training homer on Wednesday against the Royals had a 115 mph exit velocity. Only 10 homers in all of baseball exceeded that mark last season.

“It's special power,” Servais said. “And he's such a young kid that it's only going to continue to get better. Like all young hitters, he's going to be a little streaky, but the confidence that he has and the swag he brings to the game every day, I love it. I really do. And he's going to be fun to watch. But that is a very powerful bat.”

More chiefly, Rodríguez has looked far more polished with his plate approach, after appearing overwhelmed early and often last spring. He’s working pitchers deeper into counts and has shown more success against secondary offerings. That will be arguably the most important hurdle he’ll need to clear before reaching the Majors, which is why he’s likely destined to remain in the Minors for the 2021 season.

Rodríguez hasn’t played above Class A Advanced, and he’ll benefit tremendously by spending extended time with Triple-A Tacoma eventually, where opposing pitchers will have much more sophisticated arsenals.

“It's just maturing and understanding that the more baseball you play, you get a better understanding of where you're at and how to make adjustments throughout. … But they have tons of confidence [and] they've got certain swag about them in a different way,” Servais said.

As for Kelenic, he’s much closer in his path to the Majors. But because he was sidelined for nearly two weeks, and given that he has just 21 games of experience above Class A Advanced (which came back in 2019), the Mariners have maintained that he will need more Minor League development after the Cactus League slate ends next Monday. General manager Jerry Dipoto reiterated that to MLB Network on Wednesday.

Long term, Kelenic is projected to play left field and Rodríguez in right. But Kelenic been out in center his past two games, when Kyle Lewis played DH or was off. Mariners No. 6 prospect Taylor Trammell has emerged as the favorite to earn the Opening Day left-field job.

Servais said that he anticipates finalizing the Opening Day roster by next weekend, which would be a little less than one week until Opening Day on April 1.

“We'll probably make those decisions right here at the end of the week,” Servais said. “As we flip around, we have a Sunday off-day, which is not ideal to have an off-day that close to the end of camp because it kind of messes up your pitching a little bit. But using that as kind of a benchmark, we hope to probably make final decisions on where we're at probably by the end of the week, so Friday, Saturday, something like that.”