The Biggest Rising Star Of 2022, Julio Rodriguez: How High Can His Cards Go?
It’s rare that scouts compare teenage prospects to future Hall of Famers, but when they do, people pay attention. Julio Rodríguez, the Seattle Mariners’ rookie outfielder, is one of those players. Prior to the 2020 season, a FanGraphs scout wrote about something Rodríguez did that reminded him of a young Miguel Cabrera:
Among these is footage of Miguel Cabrera’s big league debut, which I put on one fall night as I prepared to cut up Fall League video of Julio Rodríguez taken earlier in the day. As I split my attention between a fresh-faced Miggy and a young Julio, I noticed a rare similarity: front foot variation. Some hitters are capable of altering their stride direction based on pitch location, perhaps best exemplified by a famous GIF of Cabrera hitting home runs on pitches in six very different parts of the strike zone.
In that GIF you can faintly make out how Cabrera’s footwork varies on several of those swings, and though he doesn’t do it consistently yet, Julio shows glimpses of this same seemingly innate aptitude, especially his ability to open up, clear his hips, and wreck pitches on the inner half. (FanGraphs)
Here’s that incredible GIF:
Julio Rodríguez, of course, isn’t Miguel Cabrera. The triple crown winner and two-time MVP is a once-in-a-generation player. When a young player shows such an advanced skill that few hitters have, however, it puts him on the radar of teams and fans alike.
Julio Rodríguez as an International Prospect and in the Minor Leagues
As a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic, Rodríguez was hailed as a top prospect in the 2017 international class. Scouts agreed both his raw power and outfield arm were plus (60) grades but noted the necessity for Rodríguez to make adjustments against off-speed and breaking pitches.
Because of his big frame and average speed, Rodríguez was also projected as a corner outfielder. The Seattle Mariners inked Rodríguez in 2017, giving him a $1.75 million signing bonus.
After a few months in the team’s instructional league in the Dominican Republic, Rodríguez started his professional career in the 2018 Dominican Summer League. He shredded opposing pitchers, slashing .315/.404/.525 with 27 extra-base hits and 10 stolen bases. Rodríguez’s slash line was the best on the team, earning him All-Star honors in the DSL.
The Mariners were impressed by Rodríguez’s first professional season, making the organization confident in a promotion straight to Single-A in 2019. That spring, scouts at FanGraphs had high praise for the young outfielder: He is an old, reflective soul with an adolescent’s enthusiasm for baseball in the body of a Division I tight end.
The 18-year-old outfielder continued to show signs of improvement, earning him a late-season promotion to High-A at the end of the 2019 season. There, against pitchers four-and-a-half years his senior, Rodríguez played even better.
Julio Rodríguez: 2018-2019 Minor League Statistics
With the 2020 minor league season lost to the pandemic, the Mariners invited Rodríguez to their alternate training site. His time there was short-lived, however, after he fractured his wrist diving for a ball in the outfield.
He struggled in the Dominican winter league at the end of the year, but implemented a swing change the following spring that led to more consistent power while not sacrificing his approach at the plate. He also showed up to camp a lot lighter, making him a serious base-stealing threat. After stealing just one base in 2019, Rodríguez swiped 21 bags in 2021.
After a stellar month in High-A, Rodríguez earned a promotion to Double-A. He continued to impress, posting a 1.007 OPS while improving both his walk and strikeout rates against better competition.
Julio Rodríguez: 2021 Minor League Statistics
Julio Rodríguez’s big league debut
In the spring, the Mariners gave Rodríguez a chance to earn a spot on the team’s 2022 Opening Day roster. His spring training performance — 14-for-34, four doubles, three home runs, and three stolen bases — proved what the rest of baseball knew: he was ready for the big leagues.
It took a while for Rodríguez to get going, though. He struggled in April, hitting just .206 with four extra-base hits and a 37.0% strikeout rate. He managed to steal nine bases, however. Despite most scouts viewing Rodríguez as a corner outfielder, the 21-year-old has patrolled centerfield in every game this season.
This has more to do with the Mariners’ lack of a traditional centerfielder than the team believing it would be his long-term position. To his credit though, he’s played solid centerfield that all of the advanced defensive metrics back up.
When the calendar turned the page to May, Rodríguez found his stride and got hot at the plate. He went 3-for-4 on May 1, hitting his first major league home run and jumpstarting a fantastic month. Since then, he’s posted a .288/.347/.538 slash line with 18 home runs and 12 stolen bases since May 1.
Entering July, Rodríguez led the American League with 19 stolen bases and has cemented himself as the AL Rookie of the Year favorite. His true coming-out party, however, was at the 2022 Home Run Derby.
He hit 32 home runs in the opening round, including a 463-foot blast. In a second-round matchup against the back-to-back defending champion Pete Alonso, Rodríguez cruised to a victory with 31 home runs. Although he’d lose to Juan Soto in the final round, Rodríguez was what fans were buzzing about. In all three rounds, he hit a combined 81 home runs, second-most in Home Run Derby history.
Not only does this bode well for the Mariners, it also means good things for investors.
Julio Rodríguez: 2022 Major League Statistics
How does the hobby currently feel about Julio Rodríguez?
Julio Rodríguez’s card values are trending upwards, according to Alt. Multiple auction prices of Rodríguez’s 1st Bowman card, found in the 2019 Bowman Prospects Chrome set, back up Alt’s analysis.
PSA 10 Speckle Refractors (/299) sold for could be bought for $100-$250 in 2019 and 2020. After his impressive start to the season, recent sales have skyrocketed to $1,400 over the past few days. Recent sales for PSA 10 Atomic Refractors (/100) and Autographed Refractors (/499) follow similar trends.
As of July 1, Rodríguez is the favorite for the 2022 AL Rookie of the Year Award. He currently has the best odds, beating out other popular players like Jeremy Peña, Bobby Witt Jr., and Adley Rutschman.
If we look at values from the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner, Jonathan India, his 1st Bowman cards saw a boost in value around the time he was named the winner. For the most part, his cards have maintained a greater value since winning the Rookie of the Year.
Rodríguez was already a well-known prospect way before he made his MLB debut, so he’s been on collectors’ and investors’ radars for a while. Adding a major award in his rookie season, however, will likely boost his value even more.
The Top 5 Julio Rodríguez baseball cards
The list below shows five of Rodríguez’s most valuable cards. The first card, a gold shimmer autograph of Rodríguez’s 1st Bowman card, is a PSA 10 on both the card and autograph. All other cards listed below hold PSA 10 grades.
- 2019 Bowman Chrome Prospect Auto Gold Shimmer (/50): $10,100
- 2019 Bowman Chrome Prospect Auto Atomic Refractor (/100): $9,500
- 2021 Bowman’s Best Future Vibrance: $7,600
- 2019 Bowman Mega Box Chrome Orange Refractor (/25): $6,999
- 2019 Bowman Prospect Autograph – Chrome Green Refractor (/99): $5,000
Bottom Line: Is Julio Rodríguez worth investing in?
In a vacuum, I love Julio Rodríguez from both the standpoint of a fan and the type of player I’d invest in. Along with his rare power-speed combination, the Mariners’ outfielder is the type of electric and explosive player that everyone is bound to fall in love with. The price tags on low-numbered Julio Rodríguez autographs, however, are already pretty high.
In my 2022 Topps Series 2 review, I mentioned my surprise that Topps didn’t include Rodríguez and other top rookies in the Series 2 checklist. After people started ripping packs, however, some lucky fans pulled a short-printed Julio Rodríguez rookie card.
Rodríguez, along with 2020 Bowman prospect Spencer Torkelson and Bobby Witt Jr., are three rookies found in the image variation short prints. Rodríguez is also one player featured in the 1987 Topps Baseball Autographs set. If the 1st Bowman cards are out of your price range, Rodríguez’s first official rookie card (#659, image variation SP and rookie autograph (#87BA-JRO) are cards I’d recommend you check out.