Sure, Kyle Lewis was the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year. But more than two years after his debut in the majors, it remains unclear if the Mercer graduate is a future star or something else for the Mariners.
Kyle Seager appears to be an inductee for the Mariners Hall of Fame. But he wasn’t a hyped prospect. In a way, Seattle’s 2009 third-round pick sneaked up on us.
The same cannot be said for Seager’s North Carolina teammate, who was selected second overall in the same draft – Dustin Ackley. Unfortunately, he was never able to repeat his strong rookie campaign before finally leaving the organization four years later in 2015. In a way, Ackley embodies what Seattle fans have come to expect from the organization’s top positional players over the past two decades.
Hype without the results of their prospects became the Mariners trademark in the 21st century. Mike Zunino, Justin Smoak, Jeff Clement, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, DJ Peterson, and Alex Jackson are examples of names that are likely to still elicit strong emotional responses from longtime supporters of the team.
Then there is Julio.
In his first 76 MLB games, Rodríguez has 15 doubles, 12 home runs with a .272/.331/.456 slash line, and 19 stolen bases. Not only that, he boasts a 129 OPS+, suggesting he’s 29% better than the average big league hitter this season.
On Base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized version of OPS that adapts to park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so that 100 is always the league average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50 percent more productive than the average player. 80 OPS+ would be 20 percent below average.
According to Baseball Reference, Rodríguez’s 2.7 wins above replacement (bWAR) is the 21st most valuable positional player in the majors with recognizable names like Trea Turner, Luis Arraez, Byron Buxton and Bryce Harper. Impressive for a 21 year old.
For the Mariners, Rodríguez ranks highest in every major offensive category. He is second to Eugenio Suarez in doubles (16) and homers (13) and Ty France in AVG (.316), SLG (.476), OPS+ (153) and bWAR (3.0). That’s extraordinary considering Julio was the victim of an inordinate number of miscalled third strike calls in the first month of the season.
If we compare Rodríguez to other rookies of 2022, his stats are close to the top of the class. A native of Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic, the rookie leads homers with Jack Suwinski. He is also second among freshman players behind Bobby Witt in doubles (16), Brendan Donovan in OPS+ (145), Jon Berti in stolen bases (21), and Jeremy Peña in bWAR (3.1).
As things stand today, Julio is a clear AL Rookie of the Year leader. Not only that, he’s a potential Mariners representative at the 2022 All-Star Game.
A special mariner
Okay, so we’ve established that Rodríguez is one of Seattle’s best players and a top-notch rookie this season. With that in mind, let’s have fun doing some Julio comps with great young players from the past. First off, the 21-year-old is among first-year Mariners using bWAR. He looks pretty, pretty good.
Highest bWAR for a first year seafarer
Ichiro Suzuki (7.7)
Alvin Davis (6.0)
Dustin Ackley (3.7)
Ken Griffey Jr (3.3)
Julio Rodríguez (2.7)
Kenji Johjima (2.6)
Nick Franklin (2.3)
Brad Miller (2.1)
It’s important to note that only one player on the previous list was younger than Rodríguez – Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. All others were 22 years of age or older. Additionally, Ichiro (27) and Kenji Johjima (30) were established professionals in Japan when they first debuted as mariners.
Something else to consider. WAR is a counting stat, much like hits, doubles, stolen bases, home runs, RBI, etc. Unless something catastrophic happens, Rodríguez is likely to be skipping Griffey and Ackley on our bWAR list in the near future. If he continues to play at his current pace, Julio has a chance of catching Mr. Mariner, Alvin Davis. However, surpassing Ichiro might be a bridge too far.
Then never say never.
Turning our attention to the Mariners’ first year OPS+ with more than 300 plate appearances, Rodríguez’s name reappears at the top of the list. Only Mr. Mariner beats Julio this time.
Best OPS+ in the first year of M’s
Alvin Davis (147)
Julio Rodriguez (129)
Ichiro Suzuki (126)
Dustin Ackley (120)
Brad Mueller (110)
Ken Griffey Jr (108)
Kenji Johjima (103)
Daeho Lee (102)
Again, Julio is the youngest player except for Junior. This time, 34-year-old Dae-ho Lee from South Korea joined them.
If you’re wondering why Álex Rodríguez, Edgar Martinez and Seager didn’t make it, their first 300 recording appearances were spread over multiple seasons. Our focus has been on players delivering immediate results in year one like Julio has done so far.
So young, so good
Rodríguez is now one of just six 21-year-olds playing in the majors this year. Nobody younger has adapted in 2022. At least not yet. With that in mind, let’s see how Julio compares to previous players who debuted at the same age. It turns out he does very well under some very notable names.
Since World War II, Rodríguez’s 2.7 bWAR is the seventh best among 21-year-old freshman position players.
Best bWAR in the first year of a 21-year-old
Albert Pujols (6.6)
Richie Ashburn (4.7)*
Cody Bellinger (3.9)
Short Blefary (3.6)
Eddie Murray (3.2)*
Rocco Baldelli (2.9)
Rod Carew (2.8)*
Julio Rodríguez (2.7)
Addison Russell (2.7)
Paul Molitor (2.7)*
*Hall of Famers
Not all of the above have proven themselves over the long term. But all in all, this is an impressive list. Included are four Hall of Famers as well as a future first pick – Albert Pujols. And let’s not forget 2017 NL Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger.
When we review the OPS+ of our select group of 21-year-olds, we find that only seven have an OPS+ greater than 120. Of course Julio is one of them.
Albert Pujols (157)
Cody Bellinger (143)
Curt Blefary (139)
Julio Rodriguez (129)
Richie Ashburn (123)*
Eddie Murray (123)*
*Hall of Famers
Currently, Rodríguez’s 19 stolen bases rank 43rd all-time among rookies. It’s highly unlikely he’ll come anywhere near the MLB record of 110 set by Vince Coleman or Ichiro’s franchise brand in Seattle (56). On the other hand, swiping 30 bags would tie Julio with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and Nori Aoki for 15th place most freshman.
That being said, I’m withdrawn from Rodríguez’s youth and early success. If we focus solely on 21-year-old freshmen, Julio’s 19 stolen bases look spectacular.
Most bases stolen by 21-year-old players in their first year
Delino DeShields (42)
Barry Bonds (36)
Richie Ashburn (32)
Paul Molitor (30)
Rocco Baldelli (27)
Michael Caruso (22)
Carney Lansford (20)
Julio Rodriguez (19)
Darryl Strawberry (19)
Jose Tabata (19)
Again, don’t forget that Rodríguez has a whopping 76 games on his résumé in the big league. His stolen base number will grow. However, Julio’s pace could slow as the season progresses. Especially when his base running bases start to take a toll on his body and his racquet. Still, catching Delino DeShields isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility for Seattle’s rising Superstar.
In the performance department, Rodríguez’s 12 homers don’t seem impressive on the surface. But the right-hander didn’t register his first homer until his 21st game, meaning he’s hit 12 things in 55 contests. Perhaps Julio isn’t challenging Pete Alonso’s rookie record of 53 Dingers. But a run on the Seattle (27) franchise mark set by Davis is quite possible.
A bright future awaits you
To be clear, Rodríguez is not the best youngster to ever emerge on the scene. That’s very clear in an era when young studs Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. have seen distinctive years before reaching their season at 21 .
Still, what Julio does is special.
He’s a mariner.
With the exception of Félix Hernández, Mariners fans haven’t had a young player as special as Julio since the days of Junior and A-Rod. And remember, King Félix made his major debut in 2005. Since then the years in the Emerald City have been long and lean.
The Mariners front office is no longer headed by Bill Bavasi or Jack Zduriencik. While it’s true that Seattle has yet to reach the postseason under current GM Jerry Dipoto, his regime has accomplished something neither Bavasi nor Zduriencik have been able to in their 12 combined seasons at the top. Find and develop a player who has the talent and charisma to become the face of Seattle’s baseball franchise.
And this is where Julio comes in.
My oh my…
Luke is a native New Yorker who grew up a Mets fan. After the US Navy transferred him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home. In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he is often found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins