Julio Rodríguez is the rare MLB prospect who rises above the hype

Being a Major League Baseball player isn’t easy. Transitioning from the minor leagues to the Show can come with a steep learning curve. Despite that, we’ve seen several rookies turn in dominating performances over the past few years. Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez is just the latest player to do so.

It’s also the perfect example of how quickly things can change. As of 2022, Rodríguez had not played professional baseball beyond Double-A. However, he has effectively torched opposing throwing at every level since 2018 (including a .362/.461/.546 line with 173 weighted runs created over [wRC+] through 206 plate appearances in Double-A). The Mariners decided to blow him Triple-A to see if he could hack him into the big leagues, and the results indicate yes.

It didn’t take long for Rodríguez to acclimate to life with the Seattle Mariners

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There was indeed an adjustment period for the 21-year-old when he arrived in Seattle. In the first 12 games of his MLB career (48 plate appearances), he only reduced .136 / .208 / .159 with a strikeout rate of 45.8%, all of which led to a 12 wRC+. This wRC+ number was 12e-worst in baseball among skilled hitters. It wouldn’t have been unreasonable to think he’d be sent to Triple-A if his bat showed no signs of life soon.

Well, he did. Since April 22 (295 plate appearances), Rodríguez has reduced .297/.356/.535 with 15 home runs, 17 interceptions, 41 RBIs and 45 runs scored. This performance led to a 157 wRC+. Oh, and his withdrawal rate dropped to 24.4% during that time. The turnaround has been incredible, and the pace he has followed since then would lead to an extremely valuable performance if projected over a full season:

Even with that slow start in his first 12 games, Rodríguez’s 15 homers and 21 stolen bases give him a solid chance to produce a 30-30 season. It would be a way to make a first impression.

Julio Rodríguez did it faster than Ellis Burks and Barry Bonds

The Mariners were in San Diego to face the Padres on July 4. No post-game fireworks were needed, thanks to the absolute float Rodríguez launched atop the Metal Supply Co. building in Petco Park, which you can see above.

It was his 15e home run of the season in his 81st game played. At the time of this explosion, he had already swept 20 bases. As The Score notes on Twitter, no rookie in MLB history has hit more than 15 homers and 20+ stolen bases in fewer games than Rodríguez. The previous record holder was Ellis Burks, who did it in 82 games. Barry Bonds was right behind him at 90 games.

Similar to what we talked about about Yordan Álvarez and the company he keeps at 25, this is an incredible feat by the Mariners outfielder.

For what it’s worth, Burks finished with 20 home runs and 27 interceptions in 606 plate appearances in 1987 for the Boston Red Sox (133 games played). As for Bonds, he hit 16 dingers with 36 interceptions in 484 plate appearances in 1986 (113 games played). If Rodríguez maintains some semblance of his current pace, he could easily get around both of these types.

Where could Rodríguez’s performance ultimately rank all-time?

Seattle Mariners left fielder Julio Rodriguez at the plate. | Alika Jenner/Getty Images

For someone who just dismantles their competition at every opportunity, thinking about historical context is the next logical step. In Rodríguez’s case, it makes what he does all the more impressive, especially if he can keep going.

Looking at rookie year performances since 1900, there have only been 32 players who hit 30 or more homers. However, when we add speed to the equation, this group shrinks. Only nine of those players have paired all of those homers with 10 or more stolen bases.

And inside this group, only three have swept more than 20 goals in their rookie season. These players include Nomar Garciaparra in 1997, Chris Young in 2007, and Mike Trout in 2012. To make the final distinction, Trout is the only rookie in MLB history to post a 30-30 season since 1900. While he finished second to Miguel Cabrera in voting for the AL MVP Award that year, Trout still hit 30 dingers and stole 49 sacks.

The Los Angeles Angels outfielder also racked up 10.1 FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) in the process, which is the highest of any rookie. Are we surprised? No, it’s Mike Trout – when we talk about the best of everything, he’s usually included in one way or another. When it comes to Rodríguez and the historical implications of his own rookie season, he has a chance to do things we don’t often see from a major leaguer in his debut campaign.

With the power and speed he showed in the first half, securing a rookie’s second 30-30 performance is certainly in his sights. He still has work to do in the home run department, but he has hit his 15 home runs since May 1 after not running at all in April. He has also remained consistent in stealing bases each month so far. Rodríguez flew nine in April and five in May and June. He’s currently at two years in July, so one would imagine he’ll hit at least five years before the calendar shifts to August.

Trout’s fWAR record is probably secure – J-Rod has racked up 2.9 fWAR so far this season. But looking at the best rookie performances in this category since 2000, he’s about to be within striking distance of Ichiro Suzuki (6.0 in 2001) and Kris Bryant (6.1 in 2015). ). If that were to happen, his rookie year would be among the five best since the turn of the century.

Rodríguez showed off all of his jaw-dropping tools on the baseball field during the first half of the 2022 MLB regular season. The next test for him will be to show how durable his current pace is in the second half as the league adapts to find ways to bring him out more consistently.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

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