At the end of the 2017 season, it looked very grim for the Seattle Mariners. They finished the season with a disappointing 78-84 record, the team had a bloated payroll with an aging roster. The cherry on top of this mess was the fact that the ball club had a depleted farm system. In 2017 the team only had one prospect in the MLB Top 100 (Kyle Lewis ranked #42). There was very little optimism for the future, the team was in a win-now mode because at that point there really wasn’t much hope for the future.
Again, the team disappointed in 2018, completely falling apart in the final two months of the season and missed the postseason for the 17th straight year (yikes!). After the 2018 season, the re-build was on, the team traded away all their high-profile players and we’re now focused on restocking the bare cupboard that was their farm system.
The work that Jerry Dipoto and his staff have put in over the last 2-3 years is remarkable. It all started with the drafting of Evan White, Logan Gilbert, and George Kirby. Acquiring Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunne in a trade with the New York Mets, and the signing of international free agent Julio Rodriquez. The M’s went from one top 100 MLB prospect in 2017 to five top 100 prospects (Kelenic #11, Rodriquez #18, Gilbert #38, White #56, and Kirby #100). In just three years the Mariners went from one of the worst farm systems in baseball to one of the best.
Players like Evan White and Logan Gilbert are projected to have nice MLB careers, most scouts believe they’ll be solid pros for a long time. The real hope and excitement for the future lie with two very young talented players; Jarred Kelenic and Julio Rodriquez.
Who are they?
Jarred Kelenic is a 6’1” 20-year-old outfielder from Waukesha, WI. Kelenic was drafted sixth overall by the New York Mets in 2018. After only one season in the Mets organization, he was acquired via trade by the Mariners for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. The Mariners also received pitching prospect Justin Dunne in the trade. It’s now considered by most Mets fans to be the worst trade in the last ten years, and if Kelenic develops as most think, it could be the worst trade in Mets history. Currently Jarred Kelenic is rated as the #1 prospect in the Mariners organization.
Julio Rodriquez is a 6’4” 230 lb. 19-year-old outfield from the Dominican Republic. The Mariners signed Rodriquez as an international free agent when he was only 16 years old. When he showed up to Spring Training in 2018 the organization really didn’t know anything about him. They knew he was a great athlete but learned quickly that year they had a potential superstar. He’s considered the 2nd rated prospect in the organization.
— Jarred Kelenic (@JKelenic_1019) January 20, 2020
He's just 18, but @J_RODrodiguez44 is already imagining what it will be like to play in Seattle.
Get to know one of the most exciting Mariners prospects. 👀 pic.twitter.com/hxmEortzdZ
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) January 31, 2019
The Scouting Report, and what they’re saying
Seattle Mariner scouts are absolutely drooling over these two prospects. It’s very rare you find a player that almost checks every box for a baseball scout, and it appears the Mariners have two of those guys.
Both Kelenic and Rodriguez are exceptional athletes, who play the game with great drive and passion. Their work ethic is unparalleled, and both are considered beyond their years. Coaches and scouts are blown away with the combination of leadership, maturity, and love of baseball these guys possess.
Mariner General Manager Jerry Dipoto on the official Mariner Podcast had this to say about Kelenic. “He hits all the total boxes. His power is significantly better than average. Dipoto further adds that “he runs above average, an above-average bat with great strike zone awareness, and high-end power upside.”
Jason Churchill of Prospect Insider describes Kelenic as, “a very good athlete, offering plus present speed and a plus arm to go with terrific instincts across the board that drives his tools toward refined skill and production on the field.”
The praises for Julio Rodriquez are very similar, and just as optimistic. Director of Player Development for the Seattle Mariners Andy McKay describes Rodriquez as a “wonderful kid, a fantastic athlete, really fun to watch.”
McKay continues, “he has a very charismatic personality. People just gravitate towards him. He’s a guy that will do a lot of damage for us.”
Julio Rodriquez is a big athlete, at just 19 he’s 6’4” 230lbs. Like Kelenic he runs well, plays with that same level of intensity and physicality. The only edge that Kelenic might have over Julio is defense. Most scouts believe Kelenic could become a gold glove outfielder, while Julio projects to be average to above average.
In an interview with Baseball America, the manager of the Modesto Nuts Denny Hocking describes Julio Rodriquez as the, “greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen.”
In 2019, Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic had outstanding seasons. Good enough to move Kelenic up from the 62nd ranked prospect in the MLB to 11th. Julio went from out of the top 100 in 2018 to 18th ranked. Those are some significant jumps in just 1 minor league season of work.
In 2019 Jarred Kelenic played for three minor league teams; The West Virginia Power (A), Modesto Nuts (A+), and finishing the season with the Arkansas Travelers (AA). That season Kelenic appeared in 117 total games, logged 443 at-bats, hit for .291 average with 23 home runs. He drove in 68 runners and had a slugging percentage of .540. The most impressive stat is his on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .904. He posted stellar numbers at three levels, to stay that consistent while changing teams three times is very impressive.
Julio Rodriquez played for two teams that year, he has Jarred Kelenic’s replacement in both West Virginia and Modesto. He played in 84 games, logged 328 at-bats, hit a .326 batter average with 12 home runs. Rodriguez drove in 69 runners and had a slugging percentage of a mind-blowing .540. His OPS was also an astonishing .929.
Both players slugging over .500 and having an OPS over .900 are the main reasons they shot up the prospect rankings after the 2019 season.
They’re from different parts of the world, Kelenic from Wisconsin, and Rodriquez from the Dominican Republic. Yet their talents and love of baseball have their paths forever intertwined.
It was obvious to the Mariner coaches that these guys bonded immediately. Player development director Andy McKay commented after the 2019 Spring Training season that, “Julio and Jarred have created a friendship that is beneficial to both of them.”
They’re both perfectly comfortable sharing the spotlight and taking on the challenge of being the cornerstones of a franchise rebuilding.
McKay continues, “They’re really good kids, and really good players, but have different approaches.” They really compliment each other well, which seems to be the common denominator when coaches and scouts describe their bond. “I’ve seen the best parts of Julio rub off on Jarred, and the best parts of Jarred rub off on Julio”, McKay said.
From all indications, it’s a great friendship between the two young stars. Much like Wisconsin native Larry Appleton and cousin Balki Bartokomous in the great 80’s sitcom Perfect Strangers. Both Larry and Balki come from different parts of the world, knew nothing of each other, yet build a special bond that lasts several wonderful years. The only difference is Larry and Balki are inept, and constantly doing the wrong things. Actually, let’s hope they’re no commonalities between these people.
The Mariner organization is very fortunate to have these young leaders in their system. It’s been a long time since fans felt this confident about the future. The foundation seems to be there if these two players continue to blossom into the superstars they’re projected to be, we could see October baseball at T-Mobile Park. It’s been 18 years since Seattle has played a postseason game, I think Mariner fans are past due, and all indications are these prospects seem to be the hope the organization has been waiting for.