Julio Rodriguez might be the face of the Seattle Mariners in the very near future if the current trajectory holds. Let’s find out more about the promising 19-year-old MLB prospect.
Drafted: N/A (Signed as international free agent in 2017)
2019 levels: A-A+
Rodriguez is the top prospect in the Seattle Mariners organization and No. 9 on “The Board” (the Fangraphs top 100). The Dominican-born outfielder took the Dominican Summer League by storm in 2018 in his first season as a pro, slashing .315/.404/.525 with five homers and 10 stolen bases. He did so as a 17-year-old, and won MVP honors for the DSL.
For an encore, he trounced two minor league levels in 2019. With the Class A West Virginia Power, he slashed .293/.359/.490 with 10 homers and a stolen base. With the Class A-Advanced Modesto Nuts, he slashed .462/.514/.738 with a pair of homers, six doubles, and three triples over only 17 games. That’s 11 extra-base hits in 17 games. It was an impressive August.
Rodriguez has been amazing in his brief professional career. Consider that a 100 wRC+ is average, and feast your eyes on Rodriguez’s marks in his first three levels: 161, 145, and 243! Put differently, Rodriguez was 143% better than average over that 17-game stretch of A+ ball last season. A 243 wRC+...I can’t even. Sure, it’s small sample size fun. But that’s just an absurd mark, as are the other two. For reference, Mike Trout topped the majors with a 180 wRC+ in 2019.
Anyway, entering 2020 Rodriguez is the top prospect for Seattle. He’s a spot ahead of the studly Jarred Kelenic, which is a feat in and of itself. So let’s scope out the tools. If you need a refresher on the scouting scale (20-80), I’d recommend heading over to Fangraphs for a quick read. It’s an oldie but a goodie. There’s probably a new one, but this is the first one that pops, okay?
Game Power (25/60) and Raw Power (60/65)
Rodriguez has projected grades of 60 and 65, respectively, if you’re poring over Fangraphs like I am. But he gets a future grade of 70 on raw power in other places. And don’t fret if you don’t know the difference. I didn’t, either. Game power is an effort to project big league power production, while raw power refers to how far the guy can rip one in batting practice. For reference, Aaron Judge had a raw power score of 70 as a prospect. And with 50 being roughly MLB average, Rodriguez projects to be one or two standard deviations above the mean by the time he arrives in the MLB. Meaning, you’re looking at a 30+ homer threat here if everything goes as planned.
So, Rodriguez is sitting on double-plus power...AND he has a plus hit tool? Meaning, the projection is that he can bat around .300 as a big league regular. So how many fantasy baseball players are batting .300 with 30 homers in a given season?
In 2019 it was Christian Yelich, Ketel Marte, Anthony Rendon, Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Rafael Devers, Nelson Cruz (!), Xander Bogaerts, Cody Bellinger, and J.D. Martinez. Two things. One, 39-year-old Nelson Cruz may actually be immortal. Two, that was only 10 guys...despite the bouncy ball. What if we check the two years prior?
2018: Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Yelich, Mike Trout
2017: Charlie Blackmon, Joey Votto, Marcell Ozuna, Nolan Arenado, Mike Trout, Jose Abreu, Ryan Zimmerman
And for giggles, there were six guys in 2016 and three guys in 2015. If you’re counting at home, that’s only six guys per year on average. Even if Rodriguez doesn’t quite hit both thresholds but gets close, we are talking about a top 30 overall type of fantasy baseball asset here—a guy you’ll be drafting inside the first couple of rounds, maybe even the first round if his speed holds (more on that in a minute).
Rodriguez could stand to improve his walk rate a bit, as he was below average during his latest two levels (6.8% and 6.9%). However, his ability to use the whole field to hit—and not just sell out for power—is encouraging as far as the future batting average is concerned. Here’s Rodriguez himself talking about hitting, near the beginning of this short video:
“I just try to hit the ball in the gap and make consistent contact.”
I’ll confess that I’ve maybe reduced Rodriguez to simply being a power guy in my brain, as that’s the tool I hear about the most when his name comes up. But this is a guy that can hit line drives and utilize the whole field. Someone who will battle with two strikes and simplify his approach in RBI situations. He’s got the ability to be a dangerous hitter, not just a big power guy. He reads like a future No. 3 hitter in Seattle’s lineup if he continues to grow. And once that raw power turns into game power...watch out!
Rodriguez doesn’t project as the speediest of assets, but he has enough to matter in fantasy. Again, with 50 as our barometer for “average,” you can get a sense of what he’ll offer. I’ve also seen his speed graded as high as 45, and his wheels have been described as “sneaky.” Overall, this reads like a guy we can expect to chip in with 10 or so steals per season, at least early on in his career. Given that he’s described as a hard worker and is a solid defender, I have some hope that Rodriguez can keep it going in the steals department for a time. And if you subscribe to the “everyone chips in” strategy with speed as I do, Rodriguez should be on your draft day cheat notes in the future.
Field (45/50) and Throw (55/55)
By all accounts, Rodriguez is an above-average defender with a strong arm. This isn’t a tool that’s going to matter in fantasy baseball, but it’s great hearing that Rodriguez cares about being an all around player. Here’s a glimpse into the Mariners’ situational hitting game, where Rodriguez and fellow stud outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic both turned heads defensively. Rodriguez moves well for his size and is likely ticketed for a corner outfield spot, but it’s nice to hear about sneaky speed and “laser” throws. Rodriguez isn’t some lump of a guy who will be clogging up the DH spot. Maybe he’d go that route later on in his career, but from the jump he should move around pretty well and it sounds like he has the arm strength to man right field. All of this matters if the Mariners do have a true DH type clogging up that spot on their roster by the time Rodriguez arrives. Not being a liability in the field means his playing time will be more secure.
In a world without a pandemic, Rodriguez probably would have begun 2020 at the A+ level, or perhaps even Double-A. Maybe we’d have seen him in the bigs in the latter part of the 2020 season, if Rodriguez had forced the Mariners’ proverbial hand. That would have been very aggressive, but not entirely outside the realm of possibility.
Alas, what happens in a world with a pandemic is now a guessing game. Say MLB actually happens in 2020 and big league clubs get to carry expanded rosters...how deep would you have to run in order to have the top prospect in your system as part of your big league squad? Probably not that deep, in my opinion. Of course, service time rules would play a part.
Anyway, regardless of when we see him, Rodriguez reads like a fantasy baseball stud. Batting average, power, and double-digit steals sounds great—especially when you marry that with what should be a prime batting order spot on a team that could be littered with offensive talent. Evan White (24 years old) is already poised to make some waves at the big league level, but Rodriguez (19) and Kelenic (20) are knocking on the door. Add in Noelvi Marte (18) in a couple of years, and the Mariners lineup could run pretty flipping deep.
I didn’t think I’d come away being down on Rodriguez after this dive, but it was nice to learn about his ability as an overall hitter. That’s something I’ll be watching from here onward, as well as paying attention to how the in-game power develops. If I had to give a comp as far as fantasy baseball stats were concerned, right now I’d say something like the Austin Meadows 2019 is what we can hope for when Rodriguez finally “arrives.” That’s a slash line of .291/.364/.558, with 33 homers and 12 steals. That’s assuming we see Rodriguez’s walk rate inch up above the 8% or 9% mark moving forward. And even if he doesn’t approach a double-digit walk rate, his prowess as a hitter would be the reason why.
So if we see Rodriguez play meaningful baseball in 2020, let’s watch the walk rate and the ability to launch a few more dingers. What say you guys? Is the Meadows comp (from a stats perspective) too crazy? Am I dreaming too big or too small? To me it seems safe, which just sounds crazy for a 19-year-old. I think we could be drafting Julio Rodriguez in Round 1 of our fantasy baseball drafts in a couple of short years.