Entering just his third big league season, Julio Rodríguez is already a top-two center fielder in the Majors. He was No. 2 on MLB Network’s Top 10 list at the position, as well as on this panelist’s personal list. I even contemplated ranking him No. 1, and fully expect him to occupy that spot soon.
After a dominant debut in 2022 in which Rodríguez won AL Rookie of the Year, he turned in a strong season in ‘23 that may have been more impressive than we even realized at the time. Suffice to say, the expectations, projections and prognostications are sky high for Year 3, and rightfully so. He did it all last season.
Here’s why Rodríguez’s 2024 outlook is so bright.
He just had one of the most all-around valuable seasons we’ve tracked with Statcast
Rodríguez did something remarkable and rare last season. He was the only player to be in the 90th percentile or better in batting, baserunning and fielding run value last season. This is what we mean by an all-around valuable season – being in the top 10 percent of players in value generated on both sides of the ball, as well as on the basepaths.
The mere fact that Rodríguez was the only player to do this last season, in a league teeming with talent, shows how good he is and should continue to be. But we can hammer home the point of this unique skillset even further, thanks to research by MLB’s Jason Bernard.
Statcast has tracked these three run value components since 2016. In that span, just one other player has been in the 90th percentile or better all three run values in a season: Mookie Betts. He did so in his 2018 AL MVP year, as well as in 2016 and ‘20. Betts, who has six each of Gold Gloves and Silver Sluggers, is widely considered to be one of the best all-around players in baseball. And now Rodríguez is in an exclusive club with him.
What does this stat mean in real-world terms? Think of a player who you can count on equally to crush a homer, make a crucial catch and take an extra base in a key situation. That’s high-level batting, fielding and baserunning value.
That is elite, game-changing ability, and look for it to be on display again this season.
That power-speed combo
Embedded within those three forms of value are Rodríguez’s power, which factors into the batting run value, and his speed, contributing to both the fielding and baserunning. His 52.5% hard-hit rate ranked in the 96th percentile last year, and his 29.6 ft/sec average sprint speed – hovering near the elite, 30 ft/sec threshold – was also 96th percentile.
He was one of three players to be in the 90th percentile or better in both sprint speed and hard-hit rate in 2023, along with Mike Trout and Fernando Tatis Jr. Rodríguez was in this same category in ‘22, with 97th-percentile sprint speed and a 95th-percentile hard-hit rate. The only other players in that 90s club in 2022 were Trout and Byron Buxton.
Again, we ask, what does this power-speed combo manifest as on the field? Homers and stolen bases.
With his 25th homer of the 2023 season, Rodríguez became the first player in MLB history with at least 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in each of the first two seasons of his career. In 2022, he became the first to reach those marks in his first MLB season, meaning he was also the first to have the chance to do this a second time in his second season. He ended up with 32 homers and 37 stolen bases. He became just the fourth player with a 30-30 season in his age-22 season or younger, joining 2019 Ronald Acuña Jr., 2012 Trout and 1998 Alex Rodriguez.
He reached 60 homers and 60 stolen bases in 284 games, the second-fewest career games to those marks. Only Eric Davis got there in fewer, doing so in 276 games. Rodríguez has demonstrated this effective combination throughout his career so far, and it isn’t going anywhere.
He ended the season on a roll
Rodríguez had a next-level stretch in August, with five four-hit games in a 10-game span and 17 hits in a four-game span, each setting records since at least 1900. But it wasn’t just those 10 games, or even that month.
He hit .308 in the second half, compared to .249 in the first half, and slugged .578, compared to .411. He hit 19 second-half homers in 68 games, after hitting 13 in 87 games in the first half.
Rodríguez wasn’t just better than he’d been earlier in the year, he was also among the sport’s top performers. He ranked fifth among position players in WAR, according to FanGraphs, in the second half. He trailed only Betts, Acuña, Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson.
That ability to adjust within a season is yet another reason the future is so bright for Rodríguez.
There’s no question why the outlook is so good for Rodríguez’s 2024, given what he did in ‘23. FanGraphs’ Steamer projections give him 33 homers and 31 stolen bases, which would mean at least 25-25 in every season of his career so far.
Only time will tell, but one thing is for certain: Rodríguez’s performance will be a joy to watch, yet again.