Where Does Julio Rodríguez Rank Among the Game’s Stars?

Julio Rodriguez will be entering his third MLB season in 2024. Where exactly does he rank among the best players in the game right now?

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - JULY 03: Julio Rodriguez #44 of the Seattle Mariners gestures after hitting an RBI double during the sixth inning against the Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park on July 03, 2022 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

Perfectly ranking baseball’s stars is a near-impossible challenge. After Shohei Ohtani, it can go a flurry of ways.

But we’re going to do it anyway. Why? Because hey, it’s the off-season. Plus, it’s a fun exercise that sparks healthy debate.

The focal topic of conversation will revolve around Seattle Mariners center fielder Julio Rodríguez and where he should be placed on the list of the game’s best players right now.

Rodríguez has taken baseball by storm in his first pair of seasons.

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In case you need a SparkNotes version of his resume: through his age-22 season Rodríguez has made back-to-back All-Star Games, finished Top 7 in AL MVP voting both years (including placing 4th in 2023), mashed 60 combined home runs in two seasons, posted a WRC+ of 146 and 126, respectively, already corralled a career 11.3 fWAR and has played spectacular outfield defense from minute one (95th and 97th percentile in OAA in ‘22 and ‘23).

At such an early stage in his career, he has cemented himself as one of the game’s best. But where to put him?

Much like we did on Friday’s episode of the “Marine Layer Podcast”, I created three tiers, all excluding Rodríguez for the moment, and then will officially rank him at the end.

*Note: pitchers were not included in here as it is just too tough to compare a position player’s value to a pitcher aside from comparing WAR’s*

Players That Are Definitively Better Than Julio

This list is not all that long, but there are some names on here. Who I landed on is:

Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuna, Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman. 

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While Rodríguez is phenomenal, there is just not much argument at the moment for him to be ahead of any of these guys. All five players have an MVP to their name, with Ohtani, Betts, and Judge all finding themselves with at least one second place finish as well.

Truthfully, I teetered back and forth with Corey Seager finding himself on this premier tier or not, and I’m still torn. If absolutely forced to pick, he will be in the next group of players, but I could be swayed either way on him specifically. 

Players Who You Can Argue To Place Julio Over But Certainly Will Not Be Unanimous

This sector features players who are perennial MVP candidates, but just don’t quite crack the absolute upper echelon of the game’s elites. They are:

Seager, Mike Trout, Yordan Alvarez, Juan Soto, Jose Ramirez, Matt Olson, Jose Altuve, Francisco Lindor, Marcus Semien.

Players such as Alvarez and Soto more than possess the offensive profile to maneuver their way into the first tier, but their defense holds them back. Where someone like Lindor is a defensive wizard but doesn’t quite put up the production at the plate that the first five do.

Rodríguez has had comparable seasons over the last two years when combining his offense, defense and baserunning to many, if not all, of the players in this group. But there are also perfectly reasonable cases for putting many of these guys ahead of Rodríguez. 

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Players In Julio’s Range That I Would Most Likely Rank Him Over

This group of players still make All-Star Games year-over-year and at any point can string together a season that puts them in the argument for “top five player in baseball”. But due to an injury, a down season, or not quite matching Rodríguez’s production, find themselves in the third tier.

The following players qualify: 

Corbin Carroll, Luis Robert, Kyle Tucker, Austin Riley, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, Bobby Witt Jr., Bo Bichette, Adley Rutschman, Trea Turner, Paul Goldschmidt, Rafael Devers, Nolan Arenado, Alex Bregman.

Turner before this year would have ranked much higher, but he is coming off a down season for his standards. Same goes for Machado.

While Harper looks like he never tore his UCL to begin with by the way he mashed upon return in 2023, the fact is he did have surgery for the injury and could only play first base. Due to him barely being able to throw the baseball, he is a pretty one-dimensional player at the moment. His 3.3 fWAR defends that.

Where Does Julio Rank

There are so many different paths one can take with this. And there is no one perfect answer. But we’re going to take our best crack at this.

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Among all of baseball’s offensive stars, I ranked Rodríguez at eighth. The five players in tier one rank ahead of him, along with Seager and Trout in that order.

And Trout is so tough to measure because he hasn’t played a full season since 2016 and has surpassed 100 games played once since 2020. If Rodríguez puts together one more brilliant season, while Trout continues to be plagued with injuries, it will be easier to move him up. But for now, Trout remains as he still has posted a WRC+ of 160 or better three of the last four years, with a career worst 134 mark in 2023 (quite the “down” year).

As far as the rest of the players, I took defense and baserunning seriously into account here. Rodríguez may not be one of the eight best pure hitters in the game, but he is one of the eight best overall players. 

Soto has virtually no defensive value. Over the last two years he has been one of the game’s worst defenders, especially by OAA (-13 and -9, respectively). Alvarez runs along the same lines. He is not quite as poor of a defender as Soto, but he is well below average in spite of being tasked with managing a miniscule amount of real estate in left field at Minute Maid Park and otherwise serving as a DH.

Ramirez has an argument, but Rodríguez has outhit him in both seasons, plays a more important position on defense and has a level up in regards to impact on the basepaths.

Same for Olson, a player who had a remarkable year featuring 54 bombs and a 160 WRC+, yet still providing little additional value due to playing a non-valuable defensive position (and also recorded -4 OAA).

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Look, you can make high quality cases for numerous players on this list to be viewed as a top-10 player in the sport. But there are very few true five tool players in Major League Baseball. Rodríguez, set to enter his age 23 season, is already one of them. And he deserves to be acknowledged for it.