Last year, the Mariners entered the season with a ton of hype surrounding an up-and-coming outfield prospect who was set to make his MLB debut. Same year, same story, but a different name for 2022.
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In 2021, that player was Jarred Kelenic, who had an overall rocky rookie season, but finished the year on an incredible high note, slashing .248/.331/.524 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits in 29 games between September and October during the Mariners’ playoff push.
In 2022, one of Kelenic’s buddies is the prospect whose MLB debut many in baseball are eagerly waiting for.
That player? Julio Rodríguez, the big young outfielder who the Mariners signed as an international free agent when he was just 16 years old.
Now 21, Rodríguez has some minor league experience under his belt and it’s gone incredibly well.
The talented outfielder is considered one of the best prospects in all of baseball, if not the best prospect in baseball.
Rodríguez ended the 2021 season as Baseball America’s No. 2 prospect and is someone who Kyle Glaser, a national writer for the publication, believes has superstar potential. He explained what makes Rodríguez so special during a conversation with Jake Heaps and Stacy Rost of 710 ESPN Seattle’s Jake and Stacy on Thursday.
“Anything and everything you could ever want from a young hitter and a young player,” Glaser said of Rodríguez. “He is a rare player for his age in terms of what he can do in the batter’s box.”
When talking about Rodríguez, it’s hard not to start with his power, which Baseball America rates as 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. But that Rodríguez has the kind of power he does while being a pure hitter really stands out.
“A lot of times we see guys who are as big and strong as he is with the power he has hit ball a long way, but there’s a lot of strikeouts involved,” Glaser said. “We see a lot of guys in the major leagues hit 30 home runs, but they’re hitting .240., 250, or .260. And in the minors a lot of times they hit maybe .280 or .290, Julio Rodríguez is a career .331 hitter in the minor leagues.”
Glaser said Rodríguez has a “surprisingly short stroke” for someone whose seen as a power hitter, and he pairs that with a great eye.
“He keeps his strikeouts beyond just reasonable, he’s an outlier for a power hitter,” he said. “It’s very, very rare to see someone this young with this much power, who’s as refined as a hitter as he is in terms his ability to shorten his swing, make contact, make adjustments within at-bats, and ultimately drive the ball. Those are the guys who are the best players in baseball, the guys who are hitting .300, with 30 home runs or in some cases even higher numbers. He has a chance to be that level of a hitter.”
Prior to Kelenic’s debut, he and Rodríguez were often very close to each other in prospect ranking lists. In many cases, Kelenic would just edge out Rodríguez, which Glaser attributed to Kelenic being older and more advanced. But he and his fellow Baseball America writers believe Rodríguez has the brighter future, and he’s been ranked above Kelenic for the last three years in their rankings.
“We at Baseball America and in our discussions with evaluators for years always said it’s very, very close, but Julio Rodríguez has a level of physical ability you do not see every day,” Glaser said. “It’s on par with a lot of the guys we think of today as the athletic freaks who are the best players in baseball who hit for average and hit for power.”
So just how high is Rodríguez’s ceiling?
“He is someone that 5-10 years down the road when you think about the billboard of the faces of Major League Baseball and Ronald Acuna and Fernando Tatis Jr., he could be right there on the billboard with them,” Glaser said. “There’s a level of physical ability here that you just do not see every day.”
Listen to the full discussion at this link or in the player below.
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