Julio looks, sounds every bit like big leaguer

January 23rd, 2021

For every Mariners Minor Leaguer, 2020 was a lost season, but that was particularly true for Julio Rodríguez, the uber-talented 20-year-old who will be a big part of a Mariners outfield that has many in scouting circles suggesting it could be one of the more dynamic in the coming years.

Seattle’s No. 2 prospect and MLB Pipeline’s No. 15 overall prospect has been making up for the lost time of the canceled Minor League season and healing from the fractured left wrist he suffered during Summer Camp.

Rodríguez was one of 40 Mariners prospects to take part in the club’s Arizona Instructional League in November, where his exit velocity readings exceeded 105 mph. And he’s recently been playing for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League in his homeland, learning from veterans such as Fernando Rodney and teammates Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Franchy Cordero.

“To be honest with you, it’s been my favorite season so far as a professional,” Rodríguez said of playing in the DWL during the Mariners’ Virtual Baseball Bash. “It’s been the one where I’ve learned the most. I was around a lot of veteran players that taught me a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about baseball. There were a lot of experienced guys out there, like older players I used to watch a lot. So far, it’s been my favorite season as a professional baseball player.”

Rodríguez eyes 2021 looking and sounding every bit like a big leaguer. He’s 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds with world-class bat speed and a rocket arm that could be pinning baserunners down from right field for years to come. His energetic personality is a hit with teammates, and he’s already ahead of the curve with his social brand.

This offseason, Rodríguez launched “Vibin’ with JROD,” a Q&A published through the Mariners’ YouTube channel, where he interviews teammates for 10-15 minutes about topics on and off the field. The segments have been a platform for Rodríguez to showcase his character and are wildly popular among Mariners fans.

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“He hits the ball really hard, and the personality and all the things you’re looking for are there. … He loves baseball. He loves coming to the park. He loves his teammates. He loves being a Mariner,” manager Scott Servais said.

MLB Pipeline scouting reports say that Rodríguez has about as much offensive upside as any hitter in the Minors. But there are still some parts to his game that need polishing, notably adjusting to Major League pitching. And while his defense and baserunning showed improvement in Arizona, Servais said, they remain a work-in-progress.

There were times during his first big league Spring Training last year where he looked overmatched, and in the limited sample of his DWL stint, Rodríguez hit .196/.297/.250 with 16 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances over 18 games.

“The sky is the limit. The ceiling is very high for Julio. But he needs time,” Servais said. “He missed basically a whole year of development. He is playing a little bit in the winter league, which is good. He’s playing against some older players there, so he’s finding out a little bit more about himself and his swing.”

Rodríguez will be in big league camp when position players report for physicals on Feb. 22. But with the uncertainty over the Minor League season, it’s unclear where Rodríguez will begin the regular season.

In 2019, he played in 84 games and hit .326/.390/.540 with 12 homers and 69 RBIs in 367 plate appearances between Class A West Virginia and Class A Modesto. Before the pandemic, Rodríguez was destined to begin 2020 at Double-A Arkansas with Mariners No. 1 prospect Jarred Kelenic, both of whom would’ve had a chance to quickly progress to Triple-A Tacoma if they checked all the boxes.

But as is the case with the rest of its pipeline, Seattle will have a lot more clarity on where Rodríguez stands after Spring Training.

“I feel like a full Spring Training will dictate a lot of stuff and will dictate my progress during the down time that I had,” Rodríguez said. “I feel like I have [made] a lot of progress during that down time, but it will dictate a much more specific timeline if I have a full Spring Training and full scheduled season, too.”

“The one thing about Julio is the personality doesn’t change,” Servais said. “He can’t wait to get to the ballpark and take that next step toward getting to the big leagues. When does that happen? I’m not sure. He’ll let us know. And when he’s ready, there won’t be anything stopping him.”

Mariners make three international signings official
Seattle put pen to paper with infielder Starlin Aguilar (Dominican Republic) and outfielders Juan Cruz (D.R.) and Victor Labrada (Cuba), three of the nine players it reached agreements with on international signing day last Friday.

Aguilar signed for $1.5 million and Labrada for $350,000, a source told MLB.com. The club has reached agreements with seven other international free agents.

The Mariners had an international bonus pool of $5,348,100 this year for not having a Draft pick in Competitive Balance Rounds A or B.

Aguilar, 16, is the most prominent acquisition of the three, a left-handed-hitting, right-handed-throwing infielder who profiles long-term at third base and has drawn comparisons to Red Sox slugger Rafael Devers. He worked with late trainer Rudy Santín, who recently helped bring along MLB Pipeline No. 1 overall prospect Wander Franco of the Rays.

“Aguilar is someone we, as a department, have a lot of history and familiarity with,” Mariners director of international amateur scouting Frankie Thon Jr. said in a statement. “His offensive skillset is impressive, relative to this age group. He’s also taken pride in working on his body during the pandemic, which speaks to his makeup and work ethic. We believe in the potential impact with the bat and are confident he’ll add immediate value to our system.”

Cruz, 16, stands 5-foot-9 and hits right-handed and profiles with strong range in center field, per Thon. Labrada, 21, swings left-handed and is touted for his speed and "blue-collar" approach.

“He is a plus-athlete who can really run, along with advanced on-base skills and sneaky pop,” Thon said. “Very similar size, build, and toolset to our own Jonatan Clase. He’s shown signs of having that leadership gene and is very confident, brash and aggressive in-between the lines.”