Julio Rodriguez's Hitting Ability Puts Him Among Rare Company
Because he missed time playing in an Olympic qualifier and in the Olympics, Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez is unlikely to qualify for any league’s batting title this year.
Maybe it’s because of that absence that his 2021 season may be sliding a little under the radar. Rodriguez is hitting .347/.446/.546 between High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas through Thursday. If he did meet the plate appearance qualifications, that batting average would rank third best in the minors, and best among all hitters who are not playing in the very inviting hitting conditions of the Triple-A West.
Even more importantly, Rodriguez is hitting .330 for the entirety of his minor league career. Between stops in the Dominican Summer League (.315), Low-A West Virginia (.293), High-A Modesto (.462 in only 65 at-bats), High-A Everett (.325) and Double-A Arkansas (.366), Rodriguez has compiled that .330 batting average in 918 plate appearances. His career batting average hasn’t dipped below .300 since he went 2-for-3 in a Dominican Summer League game on June 29, 2018.
How remarkable is that? The Baseball America stats database has full statistics for every player in the minor leagues going back to 2008, as well as the minor league stats for anyone who was an active MLB or MiLB player in 2007. Every player with 500 or more plate appearances in the U.S. minors and a career average of .325 or higher in that timeframe has made the majors, other than Rodriguez.
Admittedly, at this point saying that we expect Rodriguez, the No. 2 prospect in baseball, to make the majors would be the lowest of low expectations.
But the track record of those who hit .325 or higher for their MiLB careers is pretty exceptional, and the record for those who hit .330 or better, which Rodriguez is doing, is remarkable. The other 25 players who have a .325 career minor league average have combined for 47 all-star appearances so far, with 18 of the 25 making at least one all-star appearance. With players like Wander Franco, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Juan Soto on the list, there are likely many more all-star appearances to come. The group has won six MVP awards already.
Here’s a list of every hitter in our database with a .325 or better career minor league average with 500 or more plate appearances in the minors in the 21st century.
|Vladimir Guerrero Jr.||R||.331||1284||288||1071||192||354||71||6||44||151||139|
There is no one on this list who didn't have some sort of useful MLB career. The “worst” big leaguer on the list—Ken Harvey—made an all-star game. Among those who hit .330, the worst big leaguers are players like Lyle Overbay (14-year MLB career, 1,355 career hits) and Chad Tracy (nine MLB seasons and just shy of 3,000 MLB plate appearances).
Rodriguez has made this list without any time in the Pacific Coast League (which is now the Triple-A West). For years, the hitter-friendly conditions of the PCL, and especially the western part of that league, helped hitters raise their batting averages. Of the 25 other hitters with a .325 career average, 17 of them spent time in the Pacific Coast League. You may also note that recent stars Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.331) and Wander Franco (.332) sit just a little bit ahead of Rodriguez on this list. Juan Soto's .362 average seems more amazing every month, even if it just barely cleared 500 plate appearances because of his extremely rapid ascent.
Padres infielder Euribiel Angeles and Red Sox outfielder Gilberto Jimenez both didn't miss this chart by much. Neither has yet to play above Class A, but Angeles' .343 career batting average would make this list if he had 58 more plate appearances. Jimenez has enough plate appearances, but he currently has a .324 career minor league batting average.
In 2021, batting average is understandably less valued than other more well-rounded stats, but minor league batting averages remain a useful way to measure the pure hitting ability of a prospect, and at the highest levels of production, it’s a strong indicator of future MLB ability.
And when it comes to hitting for average, Rodriguez sits among very good company.