Julio Rodríguez has done something few Seattle Mariners prospects have accomplished this century. Live up to expectations.

Sure, Kyle Lewis was the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year. But two-plus years after debuting in the majors, it remains unclear whether the Mercer alum is a future star or something else for the Mariners.

Kyle Seager seems like a shoo-in for the Mariners Hall of Fame. But he wasn’t a hyped prospect. In a way, Seattle’s third round pick in 2009 snuck up on us.

The same can’t be said about Seager’s North Carolina teammate selected second overall in the same draft – Dustin Ackley. Sadly, he was never able to repeat his strong rookie campaign before eventually leaving the organization four years later in 2015. In a sense, Ackley embodies what Seattle fans have come to expect from the organization’s top position player prospects over the last two decades.

Not much.

Hype without the results from their prospects became the Mariners’ brand in the 21st century. Mike Zunino, Justin Smoak, Jeff Clement, Brad Miller, Nick Franklin, D.J. Peterson, and Alex Jackson are examples of names likely to still stir strong emotional responses from long-time followers of the team.

Then there’s Julio.

Impressive Numbers

Through 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’s boasting a 129 OPS+, which suggests 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 adjusts for park and league conditions. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is always league-average. As a result, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 OPS+ would be 20-percent below average.

According to Baseball Reference, Rodríguez’s 2.7 Wins Above Replacement (bWAR) ties him for 21st most valuable position player in the majors with recognizable names such as Trea Turner, Luis Arraez, Byron Buxton, and Bryce Harper. Impressive for a 21-year-old.

On the Mariners, Rodríguez ranks near the top in every significant offensive category. He’s second only to Eugenio Suarez in doubles (16) and home runs (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 amount of incorrect called third strike calls during the first month of the season.

When we contrast Rodríguez to other 2022 freshman, his stats are near the head of the class. The native of Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic is tied for the rookie lead in home runs with Jack Suwinski. He’s also runner-up among first-year players to 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 stands today, Julio is a clear-cut AL Rookie of the Year frontrunner. Not only that, he’s a potential representative for the Mariners at 2022 All-Star game.

A special Mariner

Okay, we’ve established Rodríguez is one of Seattle’s best players and a top-shelf rookie this season. With this in mind, let’s have fun by doing a few comps of Julio to great young players from the past. First up, the 21-year-old’s standing among first-year Mariners using bWAR. He’s looking pretty, pretty good.

Highest bWAR For A First-Year Mariner
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 only one player on the preceding list was younger than Rodríguez – Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.. Everyone else was 22-or-older. On top of that, 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. Barring something catastrophic happening, Rodríguez likely leapfrogs Griffey and Ackley on our bWAR list in the near future. If he continues performing at his current pace, Julio has a chance of catching Mr. Mariner, Alvin Davis. Surpassing Ichiro may be a bridge too far though.

Then again, never say never.

When we turn our attention to the OPS+ of first-year Mariners with 300-plus plate appearances, Rodríguez’s name once again appears near the top of the list. This time, only Mr. Mariner beats out Julio.

Best First-Year OPS+ by M’s
Alvin Davis (147)
Julio Rodríguez (129)
Ichiro Suzuki (126)
Dustin Ackley (120)
Brad Miller (110)
Ken Griffey Jr. (108)
Kenji Johjima (103)
Dae-ho Lee (102)

Again, Julio is the youngest player with the exception of Junior. Added to the mix this time around, 34-year-old Dae-ho Lee from South Korea.

If you’re wondering why Álex Rodríguez, Edgar Martinez, and Seager didn’t make the cut, their first 300 plate appearances were split over multiple seasons. Our focus has been on first-year players immediately delivering results, as Julio has done thus far.

So young, so good

Entering today, Rodríguez is one of just six 21-year-olds to play in the majors this year. No one younger has suited up in 2022. Not yet, at least. With this in mind, let’s consider how Julio compares to previous players debuting at the same age. It turns out, he fares very well among some very notable names.

Since World War II, Rodríguez’s 2.7 bWAR is seventh best among first-year 21-year-old position players.

Best First-Year bWAR By A 21-Year-Old
Albert Pujols (6.6)
Richie Ashburn (4.7)*
Cody Bellinger (3.9)
Curt 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 Famer

Not everyone listed above panned out in the long run. But all things considered, this is an impressive list. Included are four Hall of Famers, plus a future first-ballot selection – Albert Pujols. And let’s not overlook 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 discover only seven boast an OPS+ greater than 120. Naturally, Julio is one of them.

Albert Pujols (157)
Cody Bellinger (143)
Curt Blefary (139)
Julio Rodríguez (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 improbable he comes anywhere near the MLB record of 110 set by Vince Coleman or Ichiro’s Seattle franchise mark (56). On the other hand, swiping 30 bags would tie Julio with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor and Nori Aoki for 15th most by a freshman.

Having said that, I’m drawn back Rodríguez’s youth and early success. When we focus solely on 21-year-old first-year players, Julio’s 19 stolen bases look spectacular.

Most Stolen Bases By 21-Year-Old First-Year Players
Delino DeShields (42)
Barry Bonds (36)
Richie Ashburn (32)
Paul Molitor (30)
Rocco Baldelli (27)
Mike Caruso (22)
Carney Lansford (20)
Julio Rodríguez (19)
Darryl Strawberry (19)
José Tabata (19)

Again, don’t forget Rodríguez has a whopping 76 games on his big-league résumé. His stolen base tally will grow. That said, Julio’s pace could slow as the season progresses. Especially if his base running bases begins to take a toll on his body and bat. Still, catching Delino DeShields isn’t completely outside the realm of the possible for Seattle’s budding superstar.

In the power department, Rodríguez’s 12 home runs may not seem imposing on the surface. But the right-handed hitter didn’t record his first homer until his 21st game meaning he’s hit 12 dingers in 55 contests. Perhaps Julio doesn’t challenge the rookie record of 53 dingers held by Pete Alonso. But a run at Seattle’s franchise mark (27) set by Davis is real possibility.

A bright future awaits

To be clear, Rodríguez isn’t the best youngster to ever emerge on the scene. That’s very clear during an era that’s seen young studs Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Carlos Correa, Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Fernando Tatis Jr. have signature years before reaching their age-21 season.

Still, what Julio is doing is special.

Why?

He’s a Mariner.

With the exception of Félix Hernández, the Mariners fans haven’t had a young player as special as Julio since the days of Junior and A-Rod. And remember, King Félix debuted the majors in 2005. The years have been long and lean in the Emerald City ever since.

Until now.

The Mariners’ front office is no longer run by Bill Bavasi or Jack Zduriencik. While it’s true Seattle hasn’t reached the postseason under current GM Jerry Dipoto, his regime has done something neither Bavasi nor Zduriencik could accomplish during their 12 combined seasons at the helm. Find and develop a player possessing the talent and charisma to become the face of Seattle’s baseball franchise.

And that’s where Julio enters the picture.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved 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 can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park. You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins