We have trekked from the Dominican Republic to Arizona to West Virginia to Modesto to Arkansas to Tacoma as we’ve looked at the talent populating the Mariners system. Some of the lights have been more distant or fainter than others, but as we round into the Top 10 we come to lights that are brighter, closer, or, excitingly, both. From here on out we’ll be profiling two players a day with slightly more in-depth write-ups than our previous forty. Remember if you’ve missed any of the prior installations, you can catch up on numbers 50-11 and the introduction to the series in the main hub here.
2. OF Julio Rodriguez
You’ve probably heard it all about Julio. You’ve heard it here, you’ve heard it from the Mariners themselves, and larger outlets dedicated to covering them. You’ve heard it from every major public scouting outlet. Julio Rodriguez is captivating as a player and an individual. The youngest player in the Arizona Fall League became the youngest player in Mariners big league camp this spring, holding his own in brief outings at both while showing his youth on occasion. What Rodriguez showed as well, in those outings and across Low-A West Virginia and High-A Modesto, was exceptional bat speed, rocketed exit velocities, and a preternatural ability to adjust. He’s athletic, with fluidity in his movement not always seen in players his size, and though his speed is not a plus tool, he showed reasonable base-stealing instincts in the AFL.
The story, in games, though, will be what Rodriguez does at the plate. Rodriguez was right on the heels of players one year (or several years) his senior for the highest average exit velocities in the minors last year. What will matter in 2020 and beyond, for Rodriguez, is finding a balance between his current style of spraying the ball reactively by where it’s pitched, and managing to still get enough loft to make the most of his immense raw power. He’s been fooled on occasion by better breaking balls as well, but even in individual plate appearances he’s had a knack for adjusting. The truth is it’s been a very long time since Seattle has had someone this young, with so many obvious tools, such a well-regarded and well-documented positive personality and work ethic, and exceptional results. Mariners fans just may be too gunshy to embrace it fully yet, and we can pick nits all day - we should, and we will! - but this is what nascent stars look like. ~JT
1. OF Jarred Kelenic
The term “5-tool” player is thrown around so heedlessly these days. In all actuality, there’s a very, very small number of guys that fit the bill. Mookie Betts... Cody Bellinger... Francisco Lindor. There’s an argument to be made for one or two other guys. Jarred Kelenic has a chance... a CHANCE... to be that type of player.
Kelenic was one of just four full season minor leaguers last year to slug over .500, strikeout less than 23 percent of the time (K%), walk more than nine percent of the time (BB%), and steal 15 bags. He’s as polished a power-speed prospect as you’ll find in the minors. The other three to accomplish such a feat, Dylan Carlson, Jeter Downs and Kyle Tucker, are all/were Top 50 prospects by one major publication or another. At just 19 years old for a majority of the campaign, Kelenic’s .291/.364/.540 slash across three levels last season was eye-popping. Even his slightly lesser .253/.315/.543 at AA is a bit skewed. After a slow eight contests out of the gate, Kelenic ran a .293/.338/.642 line over his final two weeks in Arkansas. He adjusted, and took off accordingly.
As far as the tools go, there’s nothing Kelenic doesn’t do well. He has the bag of tricks to hit .300 and run into 30 home runs. He could steal 30 bags, throw runners out at home, and play a plus center field. The chances of a player turning into a superstar, however, is always unlikely. But it’s possible here. Kelenic has what appears to be a glass floor reserved somewhere near the top of the Mariners proverbial roster high-rise. It’s a tense, all-business deck, adorned by a relentless work ethic and an unmatched yearning to exceed your highest expectation. But as mentioned before, this floor is made of a glass, and Kelenic swings hard on and off the field.
My only concern on Kelenic, if it even counts as one, is his unmatched competitive streak. The guy is a total gym rat and wears his emotions and performance on his sleeve. He expects to be great, and nothing short of it. He’s yet to face major adversity, a prolonged slump where he just can’t find it or figure it out. That slump will come. Time will tell how exactly he handles those failures, how he portrays himself through body language, and how quickly he can adjust. - JD