Notes From The Coast: Julio Rodriguez Becomes A ‘Monster’

Image credit: Julio Rodriguez (Photo courtesy of Modesto Nuts)

Julio Rodriguez played just 17 games in the high Class A California League to end the year. That was all the Mariners outfield prospect needed to become the talk of the league.

Rodriguez, 18, hit .462 with a .514 on-base percentage and .738 slugging percentage over the season’s final three weeks for high Class A Modesto. Promoted from low Class A West Virginia on Aug. 15 to replace fellow top prospect Jarred Kelenic as Modesto’s center fielder, Rodriguez went 4-for-5 in his Cal League debut and never stopped hitting. He hit six doubles, three triples and two home runs, scored 13 runs, drove in 19 runs and altogether recorded multiple hits in nine of his 17 games.

Even though it was a small sample size, nothing was small about the impression Rodriguez made. Listed at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds but really closer to 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Rodriguez’s blend of youth, physicality and performance left observers resorting to metaphor.

“He’s a monster,” Visalia manager Shawn Roof said. “I don’t know what it says he’s listed at but when he stands on deck, he’s huge. And he flies. He ran really well. He’s an above-average runner, plays the game hard and seems to have a lot of bat speed.”

Rodriguez, the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect, was already highly regarded after signing for $1.75 million as an international free agent in 2017 and tearing up the low Class A South Atlantic League in his full-season debut this year.

His stint in the Cal League, however, brought him a new level of acclaim from not only scouts and opposing managers, but fellow players.

“We were up in Stockton the second-to-last series and he had a five-hit game,” Modesto manager Denny Hocking said, “Their third baseman just looked at me and goes, ‘He’s just the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen in my life.’”

Rodriguez’s physical skill set was significant, but his positive first impression goes beyond just his tools. On the mental side, he showed the ability to make adjustments within an at-bat and took a mature approach at the plate beyond his years.

In terms of personality, Rodriguez is already fluent in English and kept a constant smile on his face, energizing his teammates in the clubhouse as well as on the field.

For Hocking, that was as impressive as any of Rodriguez’s on-field feats.

“It was a lot of fun watching him walk into that clubhouse with a smile from day one and keep that smile on his face,” Hocking said. “He walked right in and interacted with the guys, and I think energized most of the guys.

“Just approach, happiness, fun to be around, his demeanor never changed. When people talk about him they talk about his skill set, but also how much he loves the game and what a big brother he is to some of the Latin kids as well.”

Opponents didn’t quite get the same look at Rodriguez. All they saw was a teenaged physical specimen destroying their pitchers, one they’d enjoy watching if he wasn’t causing them so much pain.

“Just his presence in the box, he has a different look, a different build to him,” Roof said. “There are guys who come around and play in this league that look like big leaguers. He looks like a big leaguer.”

Leg Kick Unlocks Jordyn Adams

After a slow start to his first full season, Angels’ No. 3 prospect Jordyn Adams hit .305/.406/.441 from July 1 until his Aug. 23 promotion from low Class A Burlington to high Class A Inland Empire. The 2018 first-round pick found his offensive stride after reintroducing the leg kick in his swing that he had in high school.

Adams, 19, replaced his leg kick with a slide step when he got to Rookie-level Orem last year shortly after being drafted. After posting middling offensive numbers through the start of this year, he brought his leg kick back in July with Burlington.

With the return of his leg kick, Adams’ his massive raw power began showing up more often in games without any corresponding increase in his strikeout rate. His strikeout rate remained at 23 percent both before and after July 1 while his slugging percentage surged.

“It’s always nice as a hitter to make good contact,” Adams said. “Just to see the ball fly and progress and get more hits and stuff, that was nice to see as a hitter.”

Adams finished his first full season with a .257/.351/.369 slash line between Burlington and Inland Empire. While the overall numbers don’t pop out, his combination of an advanced approach with elite athleticism—Adams is an 80-grade runner who was committed to play wide receiver at North Carolina—and second-half improvement have the Angels predicting a breakout in the near future.

“He has that athleticism, obviously, but he has a plan up there and he’s able to stick to it really well,” Inland Empire hitting coach Derek Florko said. “He can do pretty much whatever he wants. I’m sure he’ll hit for average, and there’s some power in there, too.”

Lazaro Armenteros Sets Strikeout Record

Athletics outfield prospect Lazaro Armenteros set a Cal League record with 227 strikeouts this season, breaking the previous record of 220 strikeouts set by Wes Kent of the 1984 San Jose Giants.

Armenteros, 20, tied and then broke the record in the same game on Aug. 27 with high Class A Stockton. He then proceeded to strike out six more times in his final four games. The Cuban outfielder struck out at least twice in 77 of the 126 games he played this year.

Armenteros’ 227 strikeouts were also the most in all of minor league baseball. Overall, A’s prospects made up the top three leaders in strikeouts in the minor leagues this season. Double-A Midland catcher Colin Theroux finished second in the minors behind Armenteros with 190 strikeouts. Infielder Jeremy Eierman, Armenteros’ teammate at Stockton, struck out 177 times to finish tied for third with White Sox shortstop prospect Luis Curbelo.

Rancho Cucamonga Racks Up The Whiffs

Rancho Cucamonga, the Dodgers’ high Class A affiliate, set a more desired strikeout record than Armenteros this year. Quakes pitchers recorded a Cal League record 1,447 strikeouts this season, breaking the previous record of 1,423 set by the 1970 Bakersfield Dodgers.

Righthander Wills Montgomerie, a 2017 sixth-round pick from Connecticut, led Rancho’s staff with 126 strikeouts. Lefthander Leo Crawford, a 2014 international signing from Nicaragua, ranked second with 106 strikeouts. Reliever Max Gamboa (97 strikeouts) and hard-throwing righthanded starters Andre Jackson (91), Gerardo Carrillo (86) and Josiah Gray (80) rounded out the Quakes’ top strikeout artists this season.

Modesto also surpassed the previous record with 1,442 strikeouts this season.

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