What Is Julio Rodriguez’s Potential With The Seattle Mariners?

We’re about a third of the way through the Seattle Mariners season, and star prospect Julio Rodríguez has shown flashes of brilliance. From an international signing in 2017 at sixteen years old to potentially the cleanup hitter for this franchise, let’s check out Julio’s rise to the majors and his potential with the Seattle Mariners.

International Free Agent

The 2017 International free agent class for the MLB was loaded with future MLB talent. Wander Franco, Shohei Ohtani, and Luis Robert headlined this class, but right behind them was our own Julio Rodríguez. Former Seattle Mariners Director of International Scouting Tim Kissner said this of J-Rod:

“Rodríguez has a power bat along with a good feel for hitting,” said Kissner. “We’ve been impressed all along with his raw power potential and his ability to make contact in games, and we think the combination of both could lead to a power-hitting middle-of-the-lineup type of player.”

At the time, Julio was about 6’3″, weighing 185lbs, and most scouts agreed that once Rodríguez filled out, he would become a slower player, focused entirely on hitting the ball far. From Baseball America: “He has run average times in the 60-yard dash, but that won’t last long. He’s a corner outfielder who will have to watch his heavy body to stay out there…”. I would have said the same, given he was sixteen when they signed him. 

Minor League Career

Julio hit the minor leagues the following year in Dominican Summer League by hitting five homers and stealing ten bags, with an OPS of .929. J-Rod captured All-Star awards for the regular and post-season as well. Unfortunately, like everything else, COVID hampered Rodriguez’s call up to AA until 2021. Still, once he got there, Julio crushed his opportunity. He was ranked as high as the second-best prospect in the minors, behind Wander Franco, thanks to his eye-popping 117.4 mph exit velo, or his .417 batting average in the Olympics. By the time the 2021 season was over, Rodriguez finished with an OPS of 1.007 and found the speed scouts said he’d lose, stealing sixteen bases.

Welcome to the Big Leagues

J-Rod was invited to Spring Training this past year and did not disappoint. He hit .412 with an OPS of 1.281 and hit his first Spring Training homer with an exit velocity of 117 mph. With numbers like that, and possibly a leaked front office conversation that J-Rod was coming up anyways, Rodriguez made the opening day roster and secured the starting center field position.

J-Rod did have a rocky start to the year. A combination of better pitching and a couple of suspect umpiring calls had Rodríguez batting .205 by the end of April. However, since May 1st, he’s batting .313 with a .866 OPS while smacking six homers and stealing eight bases.

If Julio were to continue his pace this year, he would hit eighteen homers and steal 52 bases. At a 4.6 Wins Above Replacement pace, he’d clearly be an All-Star center fielder in his rookie year. On top of that, he’s currently in the front running for AL Rookie of the Year, ahead of Jeremy Peña and Bobby Witt Jr. Going back to Kissner’s comments, I would say he was correct in that J-Rod has become a fixture at third in the lineup.

While J-Rod shows promise, he also is still raw in places. He does swing and misses a fair amount, averaging 29.6% on his strikeout rate this year, a tick above the MLB average of 22.0%. Also, by xBA (expected batting average) standards, he’s an average hitter at .253. That could be correlated to his launch angle, which is four degrees lower than the MLB average (8.1 to 12.1 degrees).

What’s J-Rod’s Potential?

Julio Rodríguez, now listed at 228lbs, gained speed through his minor league career, transforming him into a potential 30 home run / 30 stolen base player. Baseball-Reference has a statistic called Power/Speed. Essentially, it combines a player’s homers and stolen bases (with some fancy math baked in) into one concise number. For a reference point, the leader last year was Shohei Ohtani, at 33.22. J-Rod slots in at third (9.33) this year, only behind José Ramírez (9.93) and Kyle Tucker (10.00). Thanks to that speed, Rodríguez is in the 93rd percentile in Outs Above Average in center field this year.

Why do I bring up the speed as much as I have for his potential? It’s real simple; as time goes on, the speed will diminish. What happens over that time is crucial for a player’s development. Will the player rely on the speed for too long, or will he focus on hitting? Julio’s batting profile doesn’t rely on his speed to get on base, which is a huge positive. For example, I mentioned his xBA being league average, with his current average almost the same (.247 BA to .253 xBA). Thanks to them legging out singles, you would typically see that the batting average be higher with speedsters. However, Julio hits the ball so hard that speed is not a factor in his batting average. Because of this, I can safely say that Julio’s potential could e a borderline MVP in this league.

The player that I think is a close comparison is Ronald Acuña Jr. Acuña also broke into the league smacking the heck out of the ball and was one of the fastest players in the league at, you guessed it, 97th percentile. Like Julio, Acuña also barreled the ball up well (93rd percentile).

Julio Rodríguez should be why you tune into the Mariners as long as he is on the team. From his early days in the minors, hitting monster home runs, and finding the speed, to his career in the majors, Rodríguez’s potential will have him win all of the awards. As long as that speed holds, he will be in contention for a Gold Glove for the first bit of his career. Unfortunately, he may lose out on a couple of Silver Sluggers, especially if Aaron Judge keeps playing center. Still, Rodríguez will be able to post 6+ WAR seasons, which will always put him in the talks for MVP.