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Mariners add three players to 40-man roster to protect them from 2021 Rule 5 Draft

OF Julio Rodríguez, LHP Ray Kerr, and OF Alberto Rodríguez all earn 40-man slots

Los Angeles Angels v Seattle Mariners
[tina turner voice] he’s simply the best
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Mariners announced today that they have added three players to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 Draft. Added to the roster are:

  • OF Julio Rodríguez
  • LHP Ray Kerr
  • OF Alberto Rodríguez

I wrote up a primer on the Rule 5 Draft and the decisions facing the Mariners organization a while ago, which you can find here. Definitely give it a read if you’re not familiar with the Rule 5 Draft process, because it is a little bit of a weird one.

Protecting Julio is about as obvious a move for the Mariners as it is for Hulu to renew Only Murders in the Building for a second season (if they would’ve left us on that cliffhanger, I swear). He’s the number two prospect in baseball, he’s clearly not going anywhere. Like anywhere anywhere, so keep dreaming about putting him in trade proposals, fans of other teams. What’s exciting for Mariners fans is this clears one more hurdle standing in between Julio and his big-league debut. Wheeeee!

LHP Ray Kerr isn’t as recognizable a name as Julio, unless you attended games in Tacoma this year, but I did predict the Mariners would likely protect him if they didn’t want to see him selected by another team. Kerr is a lefty who throws 100, so an actual unicorn. What’s really exciting is Kerr can now hit those high-octane numbers with better command, which wasn’t always a feature of his game in the lower minors (and the reason he’s gone unpicked when previously being eligible for the Rule 5). He’s still got work to do in harnessing his stuff, as his walk rate hung out alarmingly close to double digits this year, but he’s exactly the kind of player who gets taken in the Rule 5 Draft: a hard-throwing reliever with experience at the upper minors. This year, instead of picking up some other team’s project and having to put him on the 25-man immediately, the Mariners elected to stick with their own project, who they can now bring along at their leisure. He also represents a left-handed option for the Mariners bullpen with a very different look than curveball-heavy short king Anthony Misiewicz (Kerr is 6’3” and all arms and legs as he comes down the hill), so the prospect of him in the ‘pen is an enticing one.

And what it looks like for batters:

Kerr was an undrafted free agent signing back in late August of 2017, and now he’s on an MLB organization’s 40-man, which is one of those cool baseball stories.

The other player the Mariners added to the 40-man was more of a surprise to me when the news broke last night. OF Alberto Rodríguez was acquired in the Taijuan Walker trade back in 2020 after spending two years at the Rookie level in Toronto’s system, where he was ranked towards the back end of their Top 30 prospects. At the time of the trade, the most notable thing about Rodríguez was that he was top prospect Noelvi Marte’s childhood best friend. Rodríguez wasn’t selected to the Blue Jays’ alternate site player pool in Buffalo during the 2020 season, but as soon as he was traded to the Mariners, the team brought him out of the DR and sent him to train alongside Marte in Tacoma, and then to the High Performance Camp that fall. They paired the two up again in 2021, sending Noelvi and Alberto to Low-A Modesto so they could go through their first stateside season together, and kept the duo together after a late-season promotion, sending them at the same time to High-A Everett before sending them both to HPC again this off-season. Currently, the BFFs are back in the DR, and for the first time in a year-plus will be playing on two different teams again: Noelvi with the Gigantes del Cibao, who drafted him fourth overall in the DR’s first-year player draft, and Alberto with the Águilas del Cibao.

Clearly, the Mariners value the relationship between Noelvi and Alberto and see it as a way for each to bring the best out of the other. After a slow start to his season in Modesto, Rodríguez’s bat came alive, to the point where he was often besting his higher-ranked bestie in the box score. A-Rod (his nickname choice, so let’s honor it). Like his BFF Noelvi transformed his body under the Mariners’ development program, turning the last vestiges of baby fat into lean muscle with a cleaner diet and more regimented training program, so too did Alberto emerge leaner and more powerful, which showed up on the field in a huge later-season power jump. The doubles and triples he was hitting in June turned into over-the-fence power in July and August.

With a thicker lower half that will likely limit his speed on the bases and his defense to a corner—although it should also be noted, A-Rod has an absolute laser for an arm, strong and accurate—this kind of power breakthrough defines a major-league career path for the stocky outfielder. However, it’s still a relatively new breakthrough, and it’s hard to see any other than the most desperate teams snatching him up and hiding him on an MLB roster all season as an upside play. Instead, this feels more like the Mariners rewarding a player who has bought into their player development system full-bore, while at the same time preserving the special relationship between two of their highly-regarded prospects.

The Mariners opted not to protect RHP Devin Sweet despite a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League where he deployed his super-plus changeup to great effect. Sweet had somewhat of a shaky season in his first exposure to the high minors while also dealing with a switch to the bullpen, but he looked to have bounced back to form in the AFL. He’s a solid candidate to get picked, or could be packaged in a trade before the deadline.

Seattle also did not protect RHP Sam Carlson, their 2017 second-round draft pick. Due to injury, Carlson has only just completed his first year of pro ball, and while he was solid and durable in his first go at full-season ball, he also didn’t blow batters away with high-octane stuff or post dazzling strikeout numbers as he continues to refine his starter’s arsenal of pitches. The Mariners are hedging their bets that he’ll go unpicked in the Rule 5, which feels like a safer bet than Sweet, with his out pitch and high-minors experience, getting taken.

With today’s moves, the 40-man roster is now at 39 players, signaling more transactions ahead if the Mariners are serious about adding from the free agent pool.