Julio Rodriquez has what it takes to become the face of a franchise. Nineteen years old and seemingly on a fast track to Seattle, the top prospect in the Mariners system possesses more than upper-echelon talent. He’s also blessed with a healthy dose of character and charisma. More on that in a moment.
Rodriguez currently sits 44th on The Board, and there’s a decent chance he’ll climb significantly from that slot in the not-too-distant future. MLB Pipeline has him at No. 18, while Baseball America is even more bullish on the tools Dominican-born outfielder. BA ranks Rodriquez as the eighth-best prospect in the game.
The numbers he put up last year between low-A West Virginia and high-A Modesto are eye-opening. In 367 plate appearances, Rodriguez slashed .326/.390/.540, with a dozen home runs. Keep in mind that he did this as an 18-year-old in his first season stateside. A year earlier, he was a precocious 17 and punishing pitchers in the Dominican Summer League.
Rodriguez is listed at 6’ 4”, 225, and Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto expects his right-handed stroke to propel plenty of baseballs over fences in years to come. Just as importantly, Dipoto sees a well-rounded skill set that is augmented by drive and desire.
“I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface of what he’s capable of from a power perspective,” opined Dipoto. “And he’s committed to improving in the areas you can really control, like defense and base running — the small nuances of the game.”
And then there is the aforementioned character and charisma.
“Along with the five-tool skill set, he’s an unbelievable person,” Dipoto told me at November’s GM Meetings. “He’s one of the wisest and most inquisitive [teenagers] I’ve ever met in baseball. He’s got a great heart. He’s also as good of a teammate as anybody I’ve been around.”
Dipoto disclosed reasons why when I asked if Rodriguez is bilingual.
“He wasn’t when we signed him [in July 2107],” said the executive. “But he learned English just like that. Julio now wants to engage you fully in English. And here’s a quick anecdote: In spring training — having never been to a professional spring training — he would come through the weight room every morning and say hello to every single person in the major-league camp. He would shake their hands and say ‘good morning.’ He would then look at the lineup card posted on the wall, and whoever of the minor leaguers that were listed, he would run around the lockers and high-five them, saying ‘You did it; you’re going to the big leagues today!’ That’s just who Julio is. It was genuine enthusiasm about his teammates, and playing in the big leagues.”
Another anecdote followed.
“We threw him out there, as an 18-year-old, in a major-league game,” said Dipoto. “Julio is in the on deck circle, sunglasses on, and Scott Servais is sitting on a chair near the dugout. Scott slaps him in the back and says, ‘Are you ready for this?’ Julio turns around, confidently, and says, ‘We’re going to find out.’ Then he hits a rocket up the middle for a single.”
That was in a spring-training game. I asked Dipoto if there is any chance of Rodriguez getting fast-tracked all the way to Seattle this coming summer.
“He wants to not only play in the big leagues, he wants to play in the big leagues as a 19-year-old,” Dipoto responded. “He’d obviously need to earn it, but based on his physical abilities, it’s not entirely out of the question.”
Aaron Judge is used to being interviewed. That comes with the territory when you’re a big-name player in baseball’s largest media market. Five years ago, the New York Yankees outfielder received one-on-one training that went a long way toward making him comfortable in front of video cameras and microphones. In sessions set up his agent, Judge worked Johanna Wagner.
“He was in Double-A at the time,” explained Wagner, whose company, LoveMyTeam Consulting, does media training for professional athletes. “Aaron is shy in that he doesn’t like to talk about himself. That’s one of the things I was able to help him with: How do you be respectful when answering a reporter’s question yet not sound like you’re building yourself up?
“We worked on certain practices, like talking about the skill. The skill is not you. You talk about the actual action. What it takes to hit a baseball? What was going right? What is going wrong? Another thing is finding ways to talk about your teammates. Buster Posey — someone I haven’t worked with — is very good at that. Instead of talking about his at bat, he talks about the at bat in front of him and how it set up his own. He’ll be answering the question without [heralding] his own accomplishment. That’s something that put Aaron much more at ease. I think it’s helped him to this day.”
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Teams frequently give names to their proprietary computer systems. The Houston Astros famously dubbed theirs “Ground Control.” The St. Louis Cardinals are “Redbird,” the Chicago Cubs “Ivy,” the Detroit Tigers “Caesar.” So on and so forth.
What type of information is stored on these in-house servers? Hoping for at least a snapshot, I asked Sam Mondry-Cohen what one would find in the file of any player in the Washington Nationals system. The assistant GM couldn’t be comprehensive — nor overly-specific, for obvious reasons — but he did give an overview with some examples.
Mondry-Cohen told me that the roughly 120 people who have access to “The Pentagon” include front office members, coaches and managers at both the big-league and minor-league levels, coordinators, and scouts. Not everyone has the same permission level.
Accessing the file of an individual player, you can find every scouting report that has been written on him by a Nationals employee. If it’s a pitcher, you can see video of every pitch he’s thrown as a professional, from different angles. If all you’re interested in is curveballs low in the strike zone, you can filter for that. Performance by pitch type and batter type are in there. You can see splits. You can see data from TrackMan, such as velocity and spin rates. And while Mondry-Cohen didn’t mention this specifically, Statcast data that extends beyond what’s available in the public realm would be accessible as well.
Like all organizations, the Nationals have their minor-league managers and coaches write reports after every game. These are logged meticulously.
Among the meatier data you’ll find in “The Pentagon” are player projections and trade notes. Mondry-Cohen offered a hypothetical for the latter:
“Say it’s Mookie Betts for Stephen Strasburg. That’s not going to happen, but say the Red Sox would have made that offer three years ago, and we said no. That would be logged into our system. Same thing if we offered a player for someone. And it’s also any sort of discussion with a team, not just formal offers. I think it’s pretty standard for teams to log things like that.”
The Detroit Tigers have hired Arnie Beyeler to manage their Eastern League affiliate, the Erie SeaWolves. An infielder in the Tigers system from 1986-1991, and a minor-league manager for 15 seasons, Beyeler spent last season as the first base coach for the Baltimore Orioles.
Jay Hankins, an outfielder for the Kansas City Athletics in 1961 and 1963, died earlier this week at age 84. Hankins later worked in a scouting capacity for several teams.
Andy Helwig has been hired as the number two broadcaster for the Carolina League’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans, the high-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Helwig is the radio voice of Canisius College Men’s Basketball, and did play-by-play for the short-season Batavia Muckdogs in 2018.
Jerry Trupiano, who did radio play-by-play for the Boston Red Sox from 1993-2006, has been hired as adjunct faculty member of communications at the Dean College (Franklin, MA) School of Business. Trupiano will teach a class called Sports & Entertainment Media Reporting.
As pointed out by ballot-tracker extraordinaire Ryan Thibodaux, Seymour Siwoff — the legendary leader of the Elias Sports Bureau who died at age 99 on November 29th — cast one of the 397 ballots for the 2020 Hall of Fame election.
I didn’t see the interview Curt Schilling did with Bob Costas on the MLB Network earlier this week, but I have read quotes from their conversation. One thing that stood out to me was Schilling’s saying that BBWAA members were “more flawed than anybody else I know,” and that he didn’t want them judging his character.
Writing about Schilling’s Hall of Fame chances, the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham asked us to keep in mind that some of the 119 voters who didn’t check off his name this year could simply disagree with the idea that he had a Hall of Fame career. Abraham added, “That’s not a wholly unreasonable stance. But Schilling clearly enjoys the role of victim. It’s good for his brand.”
Abraham voted for Schilling. Will I do the same when I have the honor of filling out a ballot for the first time next winter? It’s the one of the harder decisions I’ll face.
The most defensive games played at each position:
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez (2,427)
First Base: Eddie Murray (2,413)
Second Base: Eddie Collins (2,650)
Third Base: Brooks Robinson (2,870)
Shortstop: Omar Vizquel (2,709)
Left Field: Barry Bonds (2,715)
Center Field: Willie Mays (2,829)
Right Field: Roberto Clemente (2,305)
Pitcher: Jesse Orosco (1,252)
Six of those nine players are in the Hall of Fame. Bonds and Vizquel remain on the ballot. Orosco received a lone vote in his only year of eligibility.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
Joey Mellows came to the United States and took a marathon baseball road trip that saw him attend games in nearly 150 ballparks. Karen Given wrote about “The Baseball Brit” for WBUR’s “Only a Game.”
At Beyond The Box Score, Sheryl Ring talked to Howard Bryant about the relative dearth of African-Americans in baseball.
Barry Sytluga of The Washington Post (a publication with a policy of not letting its writers vote), presented reasons why sportswriters as a whole shouldn’t be voting for the Hall of Fame, nor for regular season awards.
Over at Forbes, Jim Ingraham wrote about how Omar Vizquel not only played an elite position as an everyday player for nearly a quarter of a century, he did so with electrifying athleticism, creativity, and crowd-pleasing elan.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
Mel Ott had 188 home runs and 306 doubles in away games. He had 323 home runs and 181 doubles in home games.
David Ortiz played in three World Series. In 2004, he slashed .308/.471/.615. In 2007, he slashed .333/.412/.533. In 2013, he slashed .698/.760/1.188.
The International Association, which was founded in 1877, is considered by many to have been baseball’s first minor league. The London (Ontario) Tecumsehs finished with the circuit’s best record in that inaugural season. Candy Cummings, who is considered to have invented the curveball, served as league president.
Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst missed all but five games of the 1959 season after undergoing surgery to remove part of a lung. He’d been diagnosed with tuberculosis the previous winter.
Players born on this date include Hick Cady, who was a part of three World Series championship teams while catching for the Red Sox from 1912-1917. Cady was traded to the Philadelphia Athletics in January 1918 — three months after suffering a broken shoulder in a fatal accident that involved a horse and buggy — depriving him of a fourth title. Boston beat the Chicago Cubs in the 1918 Fall Classic behind the pitching of Carl Mays and Babe Ruth.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.