ANAHEIM, Calif. — Julio Rodriguez’s rapid rise through the minor-league system has been sidetracked. No, it wasn’t the difficulty of jumping from the Dominican Summer League to Low-A West Virginia as an 18-year-old. He had a slash line of .355/.442/.452 with three doubles and three RBI in nine games.
Instead, it was a wayward fastball from Augusta Greenjackets right-hander Jake Wong on April 12 that put Rodriguez’s progression on standby. The ball struck Rodriguez on the left hand, producing a hairline fracture in his third metacarpal. Initial X-rays came back negative and Rodriguez’s return was day to day. But later tests revealed the fracture.
Rodriguez was officially placed on West Virginia’s 7-day injured list three days ago.
General manager Jerry Dipoto said via text message that the organization is going to be careful with the injury. Hand and wrist injuries for position players can linger if not properly rested and healed. They will not rush Rodriguez back from the injury.
“We’ll be careful,” Dipoto said. “Expecting he’ll miss four to six weeks.”
Said manager Scott Servais: “Four to six weeks is going to feel like four to six years for Julio.”
Rodriguez is rated as the No. 5 overall prospect in the Mariners organization by both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline. He has power, athleticism and oozes potential.
“Definitely a bummer,” Dipoto said. “But it shouldn’t be anything more than a small speed bump.”
The Mariners made a series of notable moves in their minor-league system over the past few days.
Right-handers Dan Altavilla and Nabil Crismatt were sent down to Class AA Arkansas from Class AAA Tacoma. For Altavilla, the demotions continue in 2019. He started the season on the Mariners’ opening-day roster and traveled with the team to Tokyo despite an uneven showing during spring training.
He made one appearance in that opening series against the A’s, giving up a hit, walking a batter, throwing a wild pitch and getting one out. The Mariners optioned him to Tacoma just before the home opener.
Altavilla struggled with the Rainiers, posting an 11.57 ERA (six earned runs, 4 2/3 innings pitched) in five appearances with three hits allowed, five walks, three hit batters and 11 strikeouts.
“The fastball command just hasn’t been there,” Servais said. “He’s struggled in Tacoma.”
The Mariners believe that Altavilla’s continued quest for incremental improvement has been a hindrance. Servais mentioned that Altavilla needs to simplify everything and get back to basics.
To take the place of Altavilla and Crismatt, the Mariners promoted right-handers Parker Markel and Aaron Northcraft to Tacoma from Arkansas. Both pitchers are 28 years old, which was a little advanced for the Class AA level.
Seattle signed Markel out of the independent leagues after seeing him at tryout camp. He has a fastball that touches 100 mph. Markel made five appearances for the Travelers, posting a 2-0 record and 0.00 ERA. In 7 2/3 innings pitched, he allowed just two hits with a ridiculous 18 strikeouts and two walks.
Northcraft was a 10th-round pick in the 2009 draft by the Braves. He was later traded to the Padres as part of the trade that sent Justin Upton to San Diego. After not pitching in the 2017 season, Northcraft pitched for Aragua in the Venezuelan Winter League, posting a 1-0 record with a 1.53 ERA (three runs in 17 2/3 innings pitched) in 17 appearances with nine walks and 17 strikeouts.
The Mariners also released a pair of outfielders for two very different reasons.
Tito Polo was released from his minor-league contract after being suspended indefinitely by the Pacific Coast League for intentionally spiking El Paso first baseman Alex Dickerson in a game on Wednesday while running to first base. Dickerson required a trip to the hospital for stitches. It was the second time Polo had made such a play in a game. He’d done a similar move the week before against El Paso. The PCL was considering banning Polo from playing in the league for the entire season. The Mariners decided to remove him from the organization. He was hitting .263 with four doubles and three RBI for the Rainiers.
Gareth Morgan was also released from his minor-league contract after five-plus seasons in the organization. Morgan, 23, was a second-round selection in the 2014 amateur draft out of Blyth Academy in Toronto. Standing 6-4 and 220 pounds, he was an imposing presence with raw power potential. He hit 19 homers last season. But he struggled to make contact consistently. He was plagued by swings and misses and strikeouts. He struck out in 50.5 percent of his minor-league at-bats. This season for Class A Modesto, he’s struck out 20 times in 32 plate appearances.