- May 15, 2022: It was early enough that the smell of coffee was strong. Most players were still filing in on getaway day. Julio Rodríguez had his headphones in, but he paused briefly and smiled when asked a specific question about if his bat-to-ball uptick the past few weeks would lead to what had been mostly missing in his offensive game: homers.
“That’s definitely going to be the next step, for sure,” Rodríguez said.
Hours later, Rodríguez was back at that locker again, answering questions after reaching base five times via one walk and a career-high four hits -- capped by a huge, game-tying homer that sparked Seattle to an 8-7 win. The deep fly was just the second of his young career, yet both of those homers underscored that when he does find that power stroke consistently, it could be a huge run-production boost for the Mariners.
Sunday’s solo shot left Rodríguez’s bat at 114 mph, a mark that had been reached by just five other Mariners in the Statcast era (since 2015), including Jarred Kelenic earlier this year. Rodríguez’s power profile -- and the fact that he wasn’t even hunting a homer in that 3-2 count -- suggests that he won’t be hitting cheapies.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I was just trying to shoot it to the right side, right-center field,” Rodríguez said. “It wasn’t my two-strike approach on that one, but I was able to get my barrel out and drive it. That’s basically what you’re trying to do with two strikes. If you’re able to get it out there, usually, you’re going to be able to react to it. But my thought process was to drive it to center field.”
The power will come, as it showed. Yet what has stood out more over the past few weeks, albeit in a far less flashy way, is that he has such strong strike-zone awareness, and that he’s remained true to his approach despite a huge number of called strikeouts on pitches outside the zone. Rodríguez was rung up for an MLB-high 10 such calls and zero since Mariners manager Scott Servais was ejected on April 28 arguing on the rookie’s behalf.
For example, he took a six-pitch walk from Carlos Carrasco that loaded the bases and set up Mike Ford to immediately follow with a two-run single. Who knows if those chase pitches would’ve been called in the past -- the important component is that Rodríguez stayed disciplined.
“I feel like it was crucial because if you start getting out of your way or out of what you know, you’re going to experience some things that you’ve never experienced before,” Rodríguez said. “But I feel like me, just staying who I am, I feel like that’s what’s allowed me to all around play better.”
There have still been some glaring learning curves for the 21-year-old, notably a baserunning blunder, when he attempted his 11th stolen base but was doubled up after Ford had popped out to right field as he was sliding into second. Rodríguez charged to third when he saw the ball in the outfield, but didn’t realize that it was a popout. It was another learning experience.
There will continue to be many, but it’s been an upward-trending start. (D kramer - MLB.com - May 17, 2022)
|Birth City:||Loma de Cabrera, D.R.|
|Draft:||2017 - Mariners - Free agent - Out of the D.R.|
July 2017: Rodriguez was age 16 when the Mariners signed him for $1.75 million via scouts Eddy Toledo and Tim Kissner. They first discovered him during a tryout in Santiago when he was 14.
In 2018, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook rated Julio as the 4th-best prospect in the Mariners' organization. He moved up to #2, behind only 1B Evan White, in the offseason before 2019 spring training. Then, he was the #1 M's prospect three springs in a row—2020, 2021, and 2022.
Julio, 17 in 2018, lives in a hotel with his teammates less than a mile from the famous baseball complex, Peoria Sports Complex, the Spring Training home of the Padres and Mariners in Phoenix. This is where you will find him until the middle of November 2018. Rodriguez is fresh off winning the team's Dominican Summer League MVP. It's the Mariners' goal to turn him into a high-impact player on and off the field. And this Arizona suburb is where they will do it.
"We couldn't be happier with the first pro year, both what he did on the field in terms of his performance and what he was able to do in the classroom in terms of high school curriculum, English, cultural simulation," said Andy McKay, the Mariners' Director of Player Development. "All those things have gone wonderfully well, and we want to build on it."
Julio was sent to Arizona at the conclusion of the DSL to continue training and get treated for a foot injury. He's staying in town to participate in the team's six-week high-performance camp that focuses on developing the mind and body that starts on Oct. 1. Rodriguez will also attend the club's Minor League mini-camp in February 2019 at the complex.
"We're trying to build athleticism in our players—strength and flexibility," McKay said. "We're spending a lot of time in the weight room, in the training room, a lot of time in our classroom with mental skills and leadership programs, community service programs. Basically, anything that we can do that doesn't involve being on the field playing."
Rodriguez is up for the challenge. He says life in the United States has been an adjustment, but it's also been fun. He's glad he studied English in school in the Dominican Republic, so he does not have to deal with some of the language issues some of his Spanish-speaking only teammates face.
The biggest hardship he faces is the most obvious one. "I'm only 17 and to leave your family and move to another country is not easy," he said in Spanish. "Honestly, it's really hard, but I'm working for them. I'm following my dream for me and for family."
These days, Rodriguez wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and is at the Peoria Sports Complex 90 minutes later. There's usually a quick breakfast, followed by a stop in the training room before he hits the field for drills. He hits in the batting cages three times a week, lifts weights, and watches more video than he ever has in his life. He ignores the hiking, biking, and other city attractions. Instead, he plays video games with his teammates. His favorite place to eat is a drive-thru restaurant near the hotel that specializes in serving chicken sandwiches with two sliced pickles inside and a side of waffle fries.
"The key for me is being dedicated and focused," Rodriguez said. "Everything I do, I really focus on it and take 100-percent advantage of opportunities given to me. I've learned so much about the details of the game and all of these small things are going to help me become a big player." (Sanchez - mlb.com - 9/10/18)
Rodriguez goes by "J-Rod." Teammates like him.
“He’s got that very charismatic personality,” farm director Andy McKay said. “He loves everything about baseball. He’s always smiling.
"He’s that guy, whether he’s in the classroom, hanging out with teammates or sitting in the dugout before a game. He just loves everything about being a baseball player—and he happens to be a really good one.”
He posed for a picture next to Nelson Cruz, and though they are separated in age by 20 years, Rodriguez is taller and almost compares in build to one of baseball’s premier sluggers. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds.
Maybe most impressive is Rodriguez’s English, especially for someone who didn’t grow up speaking it and has had to learn over the past few years.
“His growth off the field in terms of learning English and being in our cultural programs, he’s really exceeded expectations there,” McKay said. “So bringing him over to the U.S. for the first time for our high-performance camp was really exciting.” (TJ Cotterill - Baseball America - May, 2019)
Former Mariners’ supervisor of scouting for the Dominican Republic Eddy Toledo discovered Julio at a tryout in Santiago when he was 14 and immediately made him a top target. There was a lot to like. Rodriguez was a big, muscular teen with tons of athleticism and power potential. The Mariners also loved his makeup. But other teams loved him, too.
And if the Mariners were going to sign Rodriguez, they would have to not only win him over but also win over his parents. Yes, the money mattered, but the size of the signing bonus wasn’t the only factor for the Rodriguez family.
Julio Rodriguez Sr., an agricultural engineer, and his wife, Yasmiry, a dentist, made it clear that the team that signed their son would need to keep him on the right path on and off the field. The parents made education a priority and did not let Rodriguez sign until he graduated from his local high school.
In fact, Rodriguez’s tryouts were scheduled around school exams during the two years he trained with Quico Pena at his baseball academy in Santiago. The teenager often made the three-hour trek from Santiago to his home in Loma de Cabrera, a town near the border with Haiti, to keep up with his schoolwork.
“My father saw a lot of guys drop out of school for baseball, get released and not have a future because they didn’t go to school,” Rodriguez said. “He didn’t want that for me. What happened if I got hurt? It wasn’t easy trying out for teams and going back for exams, but I’m glad my parents made me do it.
“I signed with the Mariners because I believed they want what’s best for me and the organization,” Rodriguez said. “They made me and my parents feel comfortable. That was important, because it was a family decision. It’s just been an incredible experience.”
The Mariners, led by former international scouting director Tim Kissner, assured the Rodriguezes that Julio’s education would continue, and there were programs in place to help him develop as a player and a person. It didn’t hurt that the Mariners had a state-of-the-art academy for international prospects, complete with a dormitory and most of the amenities provided to college athletes in the United States.
“We would bring him in on what was basically recruiting visits, and he would talk about things like wanting to win and wanting to be remembered,” said Cesar Nicolas, the Mariners' Latin America development coordinator, who now serves as the Double-A manager in Arkansas. “He said Derek Jeter was the guy he wanted to be like because Jeter won championships, and we saw that Julio had the same mentality. He’s obviously very talented, but the way he would interact with our current players was something that stood out. He was very confident and outgoing even at that age.”
The Mariners kept their word to the family. Rodriguez excelled in the club’s educational programs, and now he’s fully bilingual. He is also living up to his promise on the field. (Sanchez - mlb.com - 9/23/19)
2019 Season: Rodriguez, the youngest player in the Arizona Fall League, posted a .288/.397/.365 slash line with four doubles and 10 RBIs in 52 at-bats while competing against many of the top prospects in baseball.
The 18-year-old outfielder is ranked as the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, and he has been elevated to No. 25 on the Top 100 overall list. Despite missing two months with a broken bone in his left hand early in the year, Rodriguez hit .293 with 10 homers and 50 RBIs in 67 games for Class A West Virginia and .462 with two homers and 19 RBIs in 17 games for Class A Advanced Modesto after being promoted late in the season.
After putting up a combined .326/.390/.540 line with 12 homers and 69 RBIs in 84 games, Rodriguez was selected as one of 10 finalists for the MiLB Breakout Prospect of the Year Award. He also was chosen to play in the AFL’s Fall Stars Game, then he was shut down for the season.
Rodriguez has outstanding makeup and character and is frequently described as a joy to be around. He has learned English rapidly and takes pride in being able to do interviews in his second language.
Oct 19, 2020: When you’re 19 years old, it’s easy to be impatient. But Julio has learned already in his young life that things don’t always go as planned and it does no good to sulk about setbacks. That's why the talented Mariners outfield prospect once again is the teenager with the broad smile on his face, lighting up rooms after recently returning from a fractured left wrist. Rodriguez is now playing for Seattle’s Fall Developmental League team in Arizona.
“I was kind of frustrated [after the injury],” Rodriguez said via a video call from the team’s complex in Peoria, Ariz. “But God has a plan for everybody. I just took it like it’s part of baseball. That’s something you can’t control. It happened because I was playing hard, so I just took it like that. At first, I was kind of sad. But the guys told me, ‘If I see you sad, that not your personality.’
“I’m really excited to be playing again. Just being on the field, running around, it’s really fun. It’s the same game. I still love the game.”
The only thing Rodriguez doesn’t love is getting hurt, as he did when diving for a ball during the Mariners’ Summer Camp at T-Mobile Park in July. The injury left his wrist in a cast and put his already limited season in jeopardy. Instead of taking part in games against other Mariners prospects at the alternate training site in Tacoma, Wash., Rodriguez spent his time rehabbing the wrist and doing as much conditioning and drill work as possible with one hand.
But now he’s back at full strength and, after getting his timing back over the first week of games, he's gone 4-for-11 with a double and a home run in his past three outings. Rodriguez will continue competing with the developmental squad until heading to the Dominican Republic in November to play what he hopes will be 40-50 games in the Dominican Winter League season in his home country.
For the Mariners’ No. 2 prospect and No. 15 overall by MLB Pipeline, it’s the chance to make up for a lost season.
“This is my first taste of playing a lot of games and facing different guys this year, besides early in Spring Training,” Rodriguez said. “So it’s really important for me because I can put into practice everything I learned while I was hurt, from talking to other guys and my mental side. Now I have a chance to actually put it into play.”
Rodriguez’s training will kick up another gear when he joins Leones del Escogido in the highly competitive Dominican Winter League after the Mariners granted him permission last week to continue his offseason in his homeland.
That figures to be a unique experience for the talented teen, who’ll be one of the youngest players in the league. Coincidentally, there is another Julio Rodriguez, a 23-year-old catcher in the Cardinals' organization, also expected to play for Escogido.
The Mariners' Rodriguez said they’ll have to figure out some sort of nicknames or way to distinguish the two Julios. That’s just one of the many unknowns, as he’s not sure yet if there’ll be fans allowed at the games in the D.R. If so, it figures to be a vastly different experience from the quiet scene at Tacoma and in Peoria at fan-less workouts and games, and that is part of what Rodriguez hopes to soak in.
“It’s just crazy,” he said of pre-COVID times in the D.R. “It’s a different environment. In the Dominican, people get really hyped for those games. Baseball is everything over there and everybody supports those teams. It means everything.”
And for Rodriguez, that is exactly the sort of situation he imagines playing in some day in the Majors as well. Even at 19, he’s not afraid to dream of the day he helps the Mariners reach the postseason in pursuit of a World Series title alongside the young core of talented players coming up in their Minor League system.
“I was watching the Dodgers game last night,” he said. “Those games are cool. I want to play in those. But I don’t want to lose. That’s the thing. I was telling the guys yesterday, 'Whenever I get the chance to go to the playoffs, I want to win,' because I was looking at the other team, and that was heartbreaking over there.
“So whenever I get the opportunity to be there, I’m going to give my all to win. I don’t want to be on that other side in the dugout watching everybody else enjoying the moment. I looked at those other guys, seeing that they lost and their faces, I don’t want to be that guy.” (G Johns - MLB.com - Oct 19, 2020)
His talent and personality give him a chance to be a perennial all-star and the Mariners’ face of the franchise through the 2020s.
- Jan 22, 2021: Julio has been making up for the lost time of the canceled Minor League season and healing from the fractured left wrist he suffered during Summer Camp.
Rodríguez was one of 40 Mariners prospects to take part in the club’s Arizona Instructional League in November 2020, where his exit velocity readings exceeded 105 mph. And he’s recently been playing for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League in his homeland, learning from veterans such as Fernando Rodney and teammates Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Franchy Cordero.
“To be honest with you, it’s been my favorite season so far as a professional,” Rodríguez said of playing in the DWL during the Mariners’ Virtual Baseball Bash. “It’s been the one where I’ve learned the most. I was around a lot of veteran players that taught me a lot of stuff that I didn’t know about baseball. There were a lot of experienced guys out there, like older players I used to watch a lot. So far, it’s been my favorite season as a professional baseball player.”
Rodríguez eyes 2021 looking and sounding every bit like a big leaguer. He’s 6-foot-4 and 195 pounds with world-class bat speed and a rocket arm that could be pinning baserunners down from right field for years to come. His energetic personality is a hit with teammates, and he’s already ahead of the curve with his social brand.
This offseason, Rodríguez launched “Vibin’ with JROD,” a Q&A published through the Mariners’ YouTube channel, where he interviews teammates for 10-15 minutes about topics on and off the field. The segments have been a platform for Rodríguez to showcase his character and are wildly popular among Mariners fans.
“He hits the ball really hard, and the personality and all the things you’re looking for are there. He loves baseball. He loves coming to the park. He loves his teammates. He loves being a Mariner,” manager Scott Servais said.
MLB Pipeline scouting reports say that Rodríguez has about as much offensive upside as any hitter in the Minors. But there are still some parts to his game that need polishing, notably adjusting to Major League pitching. And while his defense and baserunning showed improvement in Arizona, Servais said, they remain a work-in-progress.
There were times during his first big league Spring Training last year where he looked overmatched, and in the limited sample of his DWL stint, Rodríguez hit .196/.297/.250 with 16 strikeouts in 64 plate appearances over 18 games.
“The sky is the limit. The ceiling is very high for Julio. But he needs time,” Servais said. “He missed basically a whole year of development. He is playing a little bit in the winter league, which is good. He’s playing against some older players there, so he’s finding out a little bit more about himself and his swing.”
Rodríguez will be in big league camp when position players report for physicals on Feb. 22. But with the uncertainty over the Minor League season, it’s unclear where Rodríguez will begin the regular season.
In 2019, he played in 84 games and hit .326/.390/.540 with 12 homers and 69 RBIs in 367 plate appearances between Class A West Virginia and Class A Modesto. Before the pandemic, Rodríguez was destined to begin 2020 at Double-A Arkansas with Mariners No. 1 prospect Jarred Kelenic, both of whom would’ve had a chance to quickly progress to Triple-A Tacoma if they checked all the boxes.
But as is the case with the rest of its pipeline, Seattle will have a lot more clarity on where Rodríguez stands after Spring Training.
“I feel like a full Spring Training will dictate a lot of stuff and will dictate my progress during the down time that I had,” Rodríguez said. “I feel like I have [made] a lot of progress during that down time, but it will dictate a much more specific timeline if I have a full Spring Training and full scheduled season, too.”
“The one thing about Julio is the personality doesn’t change,” Servais said. “He can’t wait to get to the ballpark and take that next step toward getting to the big leagues. When does that happen? I’m not sure. He’ll let us know. And when he’s ready, there won’t be anything stopping him.” (D Kramer - MLB.com - Jan 22, 2021)
2021: Rodriguez was selected to play for the Dominican Republic in the Olympics.
June 2021: Rodriguez was selected to represent the Mariners in the All-Star Futures Game.
Sept 2, 2021: The text message arrives around the same time each day, usually in the morning, but sometimes in the evenings after games. It usually only contains a few words, but the sentiment means everything to top Mariners prospect Julio Rodríguez "J-Rod".
“¿Cómo estás, mi hijo?”
From thousands of miles away in the Dominican Republic, his dad, Julio Rodríguez Sr., is checking in on him. The slugger may be the game’s next superstar, but he is still somebody’s little boy.
“How are you, my son?”
Sometimes, the father and son chat about the mundane. That’s the beauty of their relationship. Julio Sr. cares about everything his son does. He wants to know how his son performed at the plate, but also if his blankets are comfortable enough, and if he’s been eating right.
How was the bus ride?
What did the dentist say?
“It’s amazing to have parents that have your back all of the time and are there for you no matter what,” the outfielder said. “My family keeps me balanced and my mind right. I am who I am because of them.”
Sometimes, a text exchange isn’t enough. Rodríguez’s Dominican Republic team won a medal at the Olympics earlier this month, and if that wasn’t worthy of a phone call, nothing is.
“My father was crying when I called him,” Julio said. “We did it. I still can’t believe we made history and my name will be attached to an Olympic medal forever. That stage was so big that I never thought I would be on it.”
The golden boy with a bronze medal has been praised for his five tools since he was 14 years old. But it’s his sixth tool, the “it” factor, that may make him a household name.
The 20-year-old exudes big league ability and big league charm. He’s funny, but he can be deadly serious when it comes to the sport he loves. His easygoing personality helps him navigate the ups and downs that come with the game of life.
This year in 2021, has provided a preview of what's to come.
“I’ve been around the game for three decades, and it’s rare to find a player and personality that go perfectly together,” Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said. “He’s so talented, and he’s often the most affable person in the room.”
Most of his childhood photos show him in a baseball uniform, either swinging a bat or preparing to swing one. The tiny slugger would often pose like he was standing in the batter’s box and then scare everyone within a three foot radius when he would unleash a full swing at full speed just for laughs.
“Was that right?” Julio would ask his father.
“Yes, son, now watch out for your sister’s head,” Julio Sr. remembers answering.
“I used to say that he was born with a bat in his hands,” the father said in Spanish from his home in the Dominican Republic. “But, you know, that’s not really true. He couldn’t really handle a bat until much later in life. He was probably 2 years old the first time he really swung hard like he knew what he was doing.”
Only in the Rodríguez household is a 2-year-old considered a late bloomer. But it makes sense. Julio Sr. is a life-long baseball fan who played the sport until he left for college at 18. Julio’s mother Yasmiris Reyes says she literally passed on her love for baseball to her son in her genes. Mother’s intuition told her Julio was going to be a great player.
“I knew it when I was pregnant,” Reyes said in Spanish. “I bought him his first bat when I was seven months pregnant. I believed he would be a player and, thank you to God, he is one of the best now. God continues to take care of him and help him fulfill his dream to play in the Major Leagues.”
Rodríguez grew up in Loma de Cabrera, Dominican Republic, a town near the border with Haiti. When he wasn’t swinging a bat, he was riding his bike through the neighborhood. He loved basketball and video games—two passions that followed him into adulthood. Household chores and homework were part of his daily routine.
“Even when he was little, he was able to take advice and learn,” Reyes said. “He has always been a good listener and puts what you tell him in action. Julio is mature in that way. You tell him once, and he understands. He gets what is good and he gets what is bad and why people who he trusts are guiding him.” Julio began playing organized baseball in youth leagues around Loma de Cabrera when he was 6. He hit his first home run over a fence 300 feet away from home plate when he was 12. By 13, he was starring on his father’s company softball team.
“I’ll never forget the first time Julio hit a home run and how hard he hit it,” Julio Sr. said. “That’s when I realized how much talent he had and when we really started working hard at it. I put him up against kids that were 15 and 16, and he could play with them. I knew then that he was special.”
Julio Sr. trained his son six days a week when the boy was 13. Their first workout of the day began at 6 a.m. and continued until 7:30 a.m., when Julio left for school. They would work out for hours in the afternoon, when Julio returned from school and his father came home from work.
“As parents, you do what some think is impossible for your children to give them a better life,” Julio Sr. said. “You guide them, and you love them. We did that with Julio, and we never forgot about his education.”
As Rodríguez developed, his reputation as a future prospect also grew. He’s got the kind of talent that he could be in the big leagues before you blink.
Trainers, sometimes referred to as “buscones,” began calling, and chatter about the huge green-eyed kid from Loma de Cabrera with thunderous power spread across the island. In the Dominican Republic, trainers are an important part of the baseball ecosystem. They find young players, recruit them into their programs and develop them while housing and feeding them until they are eligible to sign with a Major League team at age 16. In return, the trainers receive a percentage of the prospect’s signing bonus.
A scout for a trainer named Quico Pena spotted Rodríguez, who had just turned 14, at a tournament and passed the word on to his boss as soon as he could. Pena, whose program was based three hours away in the northern city of Santiago, saw the teen in person and immediately began the recruiting process.
“I had a lot of competition because other academies wanted to sign him to put him in their programs,” Pena said in Spanish from his home in the Dominican Republic. “It was a serious decision for the family, and it took several months for them to do background checks on me to make sure I was the right person. We talked a lot about morals and values and being a good human being, and they decided on me.”
It was Pena’s job to mold the talented but raw Rodríguez into a prospect for MLB teams, so they trained twice a day, six days a week.
“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to leave your family and your childhood behind at 14 to chase your dream,” Rodríguez said. “We do it to put our families in a better spot in life and because we love baseball, but we sacrifice a lot.”
One of the primary goals for international scouts is to find the next Fernando Tatis Jr., Juan Soto or Ronald Acuña Jr. They scour the back roads across Latin America and the Caribbean in search of these gems.
It’s one of the most difficult jobs in the game. Essentially, it’s their job to evaluate 15-year-old players and try to forecast how they would perform in a big league setting. Every now and then a prospect like Rodríguez comes along. Eddy Toledo, the former Mariners’ supervisor of scouting for the Dominican, first spotted Rodríguez at one of Pena’s tryouts in 2015.
The young teen was big and strong with tons of athleticism and power potential. His makeup was off the charts and his potential was obvious. He became the Mariners’ top target.
But, as is the case with all top international prospects, Rodríguez had other suitors. His included the Angels, Rangers and Tigers. Rodríguez had million-dollar options at his disposal. For him, the decision was about more than just a big signing bonus.
This was a transformational moment that would change everything for him and his family. Julio’s parents knew the team that signed him would play a crucial role in their son’s development as a human being, not just as a baseball player. They interviewed each club interested in signing Julio and allowed the organization to make its best pitch.
Julio Sr., an agricultural engineer by trade, led the talks. He spent two decades working for Save the Children of the Dominican Republic, a humanitarian organization that focuses on rights, healthcare, education and the development of children, so he knew which questions to ask and what answers he was seeking. The wrong answer could eliminate a club from contention.
“We raised our son to have values and morals,” Julio Sr. said. “Julio is the way he is because that comes from home and us. He’s been able to keep a calm head because that’s how he was raised. That’s what he knows, and who he is. We wanted to keep him that way.”
The Mariners, led by former international scouting director Tim Kissner, assured the Rodríguezes that Julio’s education would continue. There were programs in place to help him, Kissner said, and more programs waiting for him in the United States.
The recruiting efforts included a tour of the club’s new state-of-the-art academy for international prospects in the Dominican Republic. The complex, which includes a dormitory, a weight room, computer lab and other amenities, rivals the facilities used by the best college athletes at the top athletic programs in the United States.
Sold on the Mariners, Julio’s parents did make one final demand: They insisted Julio graduate high school before he signed his pro deal.
The request surprised no one. Rodríguez’s tryouts were scheduled around school exams during the two years he trained with Pena. The teenager often made the long ride from Santiago back to his home in Loma de Cabrera to keep up with his schoolwork and to take tests.
The Mariners didn’t only agree to the terms; they offered English classes and other educational opportunities to seal the deal.
Months later, Rodríguez signed at age 16. He now speaks English and Spanish fluently.
“One of the things we do, especially with our international signs who start in our Dominican complex, is recognize that it is on us to help finish the job parents have started, because they are just 16 years old,” Dipoto said. “It’s on us to help finish their education and help them to be as productive as they can be as they mature into grown men. Julio is a great example of that.”
In his first taste of pro ball, Rodríguez dominated the Dominican Summer League. He had a .315/.404/.525 slash line and more hits (69) than games played (59) on his way to being named his team’s MVP in 2018.
Under the guidance of Mariners director of player development Andy McKay, he attended the six-week, high-performance camp that focused on developing the mind and body. It’s an important part of the process for international prospects like Rodríguez as they make the transition from life at the academy in the D.R. to Minor League ball in the United States.
“Baseball is a global game, and we are as invested in signing international players and developing them as anyone, because it’s a critical part to what we do,” Dipoto said. “Our system has produced a lot of interesting players, and it’s ongoing. These players have a chance to be a big part of the foundation we are putting together, and it’s important to us.”
The Arizona Fall League, which runs for two months throughout the greater Phoenix area, is known as the finishing school for the game’s top prospects. The biggest names in the game have played there, and it’s common for its participants to make the leap to Triple-A or the big leagues the next season.
The Mariners sent Rodríguez to the AFL in 2019 in part because they wanted to see how the teenager would fare against top competition, but also because his regular season was cut short by a fractured wrist. Rodríguez, then 18, had yet to play above Class A, but he thrived in Arizona, hitting .288 in 15 games.
The stop and start to Rodríguez’s career continued the next year, when he spent 2020 at the Mariners' alternate training site after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the Minor League season. He made up for lost time by playing for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League.
This season (2021), Rodríguez started the year at High-A Everett and was promoted to Double-A Arkansas in July. Within a span of a few weeks, he was selected to play in the 2021 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and his Dominican Republic team qualified for the Olympics. Rodríguez went 12-for-34 with nine runs scored and seven RBIs across two Olympic qualifying tournaments. In Tokyo, he hit .417 with a 1.069 OPS and was one of only four players in the tournament to record at least 10 hits, including a home run during the bronze medal game.
“Those are experiences that you can’t replicate anywhere in baseball, because it’s different than Minor League playoffs and it’s different than a regular-season Major League game,” Dipoto said. “I’m thrilled for him, and it means a lot for the future of Julio Rodríguez and, frankly, for the Mariners.”
Off the field, Rodríguez stays busy with video games and social media. He created "Vibin' with JROD," a YouTube show where he interviews and plays games with other top Mariners prospects. He’s bonded with Ichiro Suzuki, admires Alex Rodriguez and shrugged off the offensive and inappropriate remarks about his English by former Mariners team president Kevin Mather with a funny tweet.
“I’ve been through some tough situations before, but I’ve always looked on the bright side of things,” Rodríguez said. “I just try to keep it moving and going forward. That’s the way I look at life. There’s no place for the negative.”
Rodríguez remains a work in progress. He has still played fewer than 200 Minor League games and needs to make up at-bats lost during his Olympic journey. Yet there’s still a chance he will make his big league debut in 2022 at the age of 21.
“I would not put a limit on what comes next for Julio,” Dipoto said. “He’s got the kind of talent that he could be in the big leagues before you blink. How quickly he comes is a byproduct of his performance. We also trust the person.”
The text exchanged between the father and son after the big league call is going to be one to remember.
“That’s the dream, and I don’t know when it’s going to happen, but what I can say is that I am going to take advantage of the opportunity,” Rodríguez said. “I’m going to stay ready and keep working hard every single day.” (J Sanchez - MLB.com - Sept 2, 2021)
Oct 1, 2021: Julio is getting his most tangible taste of the big leagues, another reminder that the prized outfield prospect is knocking on the doorstep of the game’s highest level. In town to be recognized with the rest of the Mariners’ Minor League year-end award winners, Rodríguez attended his first Mariners game at T-Mobile Park. And it was quite a scene for the towering 20-year-old to get acclimated to, watching Seattle’s first sellout in 2 1/2 years as the Mariners fight in what he hopes will be the first of many pushes to the playoffs.
“I don’t know how close it feels, but it feels good. This stadium being packed was surreal,” Rodríguez said. “This is my first time coming to a Mariners game. I feel like it was the best thing I’ve seen in my life. This is what I want. All game, I was imagining what it would be like to be out there. I was literally getting chills thinking about myself playing with these guys in front of 47,000 fans.”
The No. 1 prospect in the Mariners’ farm system, Rodríguez received the Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” Award, given annually to the Minor Leaguer who best exhibits exemplary play and leadership skills both on and off the field.
Rodríguez received a hearty ovation when he was introduced with Davis ahead of the October 2 game. But by this time next year, J-Rod might not be eligible for a Minor League award.
Rodríguez, who will skip the Dominican Winter League, plans to exclusively train this winter in Tampa, Fla., and the Mariners’ complex in Peoria, Ariz., which will lead him into Spring Training, where he intends to compete for an Opening Day job.
That might be out of reach, given that he’s not yet reached Triple-A, but the fact that the Mariners at least toyed with the idea of bringing him up for their postseason push lends credence to the notion that he’s as close as he’s ever been.
“I'm going to go out there and compete, like I do all the time,” Rodríguez said. “That's what I do. Even if they say I don’t got a shot, I'm definitely going to go compete. That's what I do.”
Rodríguez, who looked like he’d grown even taller than the 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame he’s listed at, jumped from High-A Everett to Double-A Arkansas and hit a combined .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers and 47 RBIs over 74 games. He likely would’ve posted higher power numbers had he not participated in the Tokyo Olympics, but he said that experience, from a competitive and national pride perspective, was unparalleled.
Rodríguez proudly donned his Olympic bronze medal, saying it was an experience “I cannot even put into words.” It was just the second trip ever for the D.R. to the Olympics.
After returning from nearly one month overseas in mid-August, Rodríguez wrapped his 2021 season by hitting a gaudy .395/.483/.565 over 32 games at Arkansas, where he finished his season on Sept. 19. He returned home to the D.R. before his visit to Seattle, but he’s been following the big league club closely.
The best part, in his estimation, has been watching his former teammates—Jarred Kelenic and Logan Gilbert among others—contributing to this late season run. Rodríguez was greeted with a big embrace from Gilbert in the dugout and watching Kelenic’s RBI double in the loss gave him goosebumps.
“My goodness, I had to hold myself up there,” Rodríguez said. “For real, man, that was electric. I just love how everybody reacted to it. I love that [Kelenic] started off kind of shaky, but I love seeing his success right now. … It’s just fun to watch guys I played with, being here and being successful right now.”
It might not be all that long until he’s among them. (D Kramer - MLB.com - Oct 2, 2021)
2021 Season: A+/AA: .347/.441/.560, 74 G, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 64 R, 43 BB, 21 SB
It was a busy summer for the 20-year-old slugger that saw him help his native Dominican Republic qualify for the Olympics and then capture bronze at the Games themselves in Japan. Back stateside, he never skipped a beat in his stints at High-A Everett and Double-A Arkansas. His .347 average was second-best among full-season qualifiers, and his 1.001 OPS was seventh. Had he not missed so much time for international play, he would have been a lock for the 20-20 club, considering his power and the fact he already met the steals threshold.
2021 Season: He dominated every level he played at, including the Olympics. Check out his splits from every level that he played at in 2021.
High A (Everett) – 134 PA, .325/.410/.581, 6 HR, 5 SB, 8 2B
AA (Arkansas) – 206 PA, .362/.461/.546, 7 HR, 16 SB, 11 2B
Olympics (DR) – 24 AB, .417/.444/.625, 1 HR, 1 SB, 2 2B
Oct 14, 2021: J-Rod made an early impression on Mariners fans during the final weekend of the regular season. The 20-year-old attended his first game at T-Mobile Park and engaged with many from the sellout crowd pregame, before he was honored as the 2021 Alvin Davis “Mr. Mariner” Award recipient.
As he prepares for what could be his debut season in 2022, Rodríguez is taking his social engagement with Seattle’s fans to an even more prominent level. J-Rod announced this week that he’s launching a personal YouTube channel, which will officially be released to the public. The first episode of the new segment will document his experiences at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game in Denver this past July.
Beyond his success on the field, J-Rod's engaging personality has made him a huge hit with Mariners fans, and this latest series is yet another way he plans to connect with them before making his awaited debut. (D Kramer - MLB.com - Oct 14, 2021)
In addition to his physical skills, Rodriguez is an incredibly charismatic individual and a clubhouse leader. He has been bilingual since he was 18 years old and plays the game with a constant smile on his face, energizing his teammates and lighting up clubhouses with his outgoing, effervescent personality. (Glaser - BAPH - Spring, 2022)
MLB debut (Opening Day - April 2022): “I think it’s time.”
That’s what manager Scott Servais told Julio when he called him into his office, congratulating the 21-year-old on making the Mariners’ Opening Day roster. Unbeknownst to Rodriguez, the Mariners had already told his parents the good news, flying them out to Minnesota for his big-league debut.
April 8, 2022: The Julio Rodríguez era in Seattle is here, as part of the Mariners visiting the Twins at Target Field on Friday for Opening Day. Rodríguez was in the starting lineup, batting seventh and playing center field, with his parents in attendance.
Below is a primer on J-Rod’s big debut, what to watch for and what impact he might have in his first big league action, and beyond:
How can I watch the game?
For fans back in Seattle, the game will be televised on ROOT Sports Northwest at 1:10 p.m. PT, and for those watching out of market, on MLB.TV. The radio broadcast will be on 710 Seattle Sports and MLB Gameday Audio.
Why is Rodríguez such a big deal?
We could go on about his 70-grade hit tool, the exit velocities nearing 120 mph, his agility on the basepaths and in center field. More succinctly, Rodríguez -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect -- has the “wow” factor.
Just look at his Spring Training, where he crushed a 117 mph homer in his first at-bat, hit an inside-the-parker to show off his ever-growing speed tool and then days later finished a triple shy of the cycle. In the words of president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, each challenge that the Mariners have thrown at the 21-year-old, “he knocks them out of the park.”
There’s also the million-dollar smile and personality that have made him one of the most recognizable players in the organization, well before he’s even debuted. One could make a case that the Mariners haven’t had a prospect with this combination of talent and charisma since Ken Griffey Jr., who debuted in 1989.
What can we expect from him at the plate?
Rodríguez’s most notable -- and impressive -- hitting trait is the level of raw power he’s able to generate to the opposite field. With bat speed that might be among the best in the Mariners’ organization, Rodríguez’s compact, two-handed swing generates such torque that balls leave with significant topspin and just keep carrying.
He’s crushed fastballs at every Minor League stop, and given that he's skipping Triple-A, it’ll be worth watching how he fares against breaking and offspeed pitches. His plate discipline has room for improvement, but he showed a more diligent knack for laying off bad pitches this spring.
“If he doesn't chase, the sky's the limit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “There will be times when he does chase, but being able to hone it in and get to balls that you can really hammer -- if he stays disciplined to that, he's going to have some kind of career.”
What can we expect from him in the field?
Despite a 6-foot-4 and 228-pound frame, Rodríguez glides swiftly, making him the best fit for center among Seattle’s outfield contingent. He moved there more exclusively for 12 games late last year at Double-A Arkansas, perhaps a hint at the Mariners’ plans. He came up as a right fielder and given his frame and 60-grade arm, it’s likely that he’ll see time in the corners when the Mariners spell Jarred Kelenic, Jesse Winker and Mitch Haniger. Of all the players that the Mariners plan to rotate through DH to build in rest, Rodríguez will probably see the least amount of time there.
What number will he wear?
Though Rodríguez wore a range of numbers on his way up the farm system, he will hold on to the No. 44 he’s worn in Spring Training this year. If it seems like that selection carries significance, it does -- Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson donned those digits.
“I feel like the number kind of picked me. … I saw a picture and I said, ‘OK, this number looks like it was made for me,’” Rodríguez said. “And then I saw all the guys [who wore it] and said, ‘OK, I will take it.’”
Rodríguez also alluded to some symbolism for the number as the date that he officially made the team:
How will the Mariners use him?
The plan is for Rodríguez to play every day. The Mariners didn’t call him up to be a role player or part-timer.
Where will he hit in the lineup?
Rodríguez will likely bat in the Nos. 5-7 holes early on, with the opportunity to provide the lower leg of the lineup some much-needed power.
Seattle set out to add impact offense this offseason and did so via trades for Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez and Adam Frazier. But those bats will mostly be hitting near the top of the order, which was where the club got most of its production last year. It was the Nos. 5-9 spots that became a liability, contributing a slash of just .208/.288/.347 (.635 OPS). The hope is that Rodríguez will become a run-producing force once opposing pitchers get through the heart of the order.
Are there player comps for Rodríguez?
There’s no single comp that immediately comes to mind, but what Rodríguez is displaying with his speed and defense could be changing the equation. Physically, his comps will be corner outfielders, though his game is evolving. While a bit dated, complete players such as Frank Robinson, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield are of high ilk, but not completely out of the question.
Within the Mariners’ dugout, J-Rod has a new nickname linking him to one of today’s stars: “Acuña.” Rodríguez probably has more power than the Braves’ outfielder did when he came up in 2018, though Ronald Acuña Jr. was faster. There are enough similarities -- bat speed, gap-to-gap power and above-average athleticism -- that suggest a comp to Acuña is not completely out of the question.
Where is he from?
Rodríguez hails from Loma de Cabrera, a town in the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, part of the Cibao region. The city with a population of roughly 20,000 is the birthplace of four former big leaguers, including Francisco Perez, Jairo Labourt, Alexis Gomez and, the most notable, Rafael Furcal, who came up with the Braves and was a three-time All-Star over parts of 14 seasons.
Rodríguez grew up a big fan of Águilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League, which played roughly three hours from his hometown, and his favorite player was the late Jose Lima.
How did the Mariners acquire him?
Seattle signed Rodríguez for $1.75 million during the 2017-18 international signing period, when he was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 10 prospect in that years’ class, at age 16. The Mariners were the early favorites to acquire him, but they had to stave off a late push from the Yankees that nearly swayed J-Rod to pursue a career in pinstripes.
Why call him up now?
Dipoto hinted at the GM Meetings in November that the club would not put up barriers to Rodríguez and his chances to play his way on to the team, then he reiterated that stance after the lockout was lifted last month. Rodríguez welcomed that opportunity by putting up the best Spring Training of any Mariners player, leading the team in batting average (.412), on-base percentage (.487), slugging (.794) and OPS (1.281) while tying for the lead in homers (three) and RBIs (eight).
Concerns over Rodríguez skipping Triple-A are certainly warranted, as is his limited experience of just 46 games at Double-A. However, it’s clear that he’s at least ready to be challenged at the big league level -- and he’s earned the opportunity. (D Kramer - MLB.com - April 8, 2022)
Rodriguez has grown into what is becoming 70 grade power. Julio hits balls out to all fields with ease, with a loose trigger and excellent bat speed from the right side. He also has a 70 grade hit tool. He has unbelievable feel to hit, especially for his age, and shows a good approach with the ability to retain information and make adjustments at the plate. With plus bat speed and quick hands.
Julio s a physical presence at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds with the strength and athleticism to take over games. He destroys baseballs with 80-grade raw power and has been known to hit balls out of stadiums. His longest home runs come to his pull side, but he has the strength to drive balls out the other way with shocking ease.
Rodriguez has the rare ability to get to his power without sacrificing the ability to hit for average. He is a career .331 hitter in the minors who identifies pitches well and stays short to the ball with a simple approach and direct bat path that allows him to make frequent contact in all parts of the strike zone. His swing occasionally gets too big, but he adjusts quickly within at-bats and doesn’t miss the same pitch twice. He is an adept two-strike hitter for a power hitter who stays on tough pitches and rarely strikes out. A plus-plus hitter with plus-plus game power. (Kyle Glaser - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2022)
Julio is a supremely gifted hitter. He posts 115-plus mph exit velocities, showing he can consistently hit the ball as hard as almost anyone in the minors. But because he doesn’t loft the ball consistently, he’s more likely to hit a stinging single or double than a home run.
Rodriguez has every chance to be a plus hitter with plus power at the big league level. The Mariners felt comfortable pushing him as a teenager across levels and to the AFL largely because of his advanced approach from the right side of the plate, something that allows the big, physical outfielder to already tap into his tremendous raw power. (Spring 2021)
Julio is a precocious physical specimen often referred to as a “man-child.” His elite bat speed and quick hands allow balls off his bat to register big exit velocities—he peaked at 111 mph during instructional league—and his swing takes a solid path through the zone. He has an excellent feel to hit and an advanced ability to make adjustments at the plate. With his natural hitting ability and comically easy plus-plus raw power, he projects to be a plus hitter capable of hitting 30-35 home runs per year with power to all fields.
Rodriguez' talent and personality give him a chance to be a perennial all-star and the Mariners’ face of the franchise through the 2020s. (Bill Mitchell - Baseball America Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2021)
Julio is the kind of middle-of-the-order hitter you can build a lineup around.
Rodriguez’s swing has a solid bat path through the zone. He controls the zone well and struck out just a shade over 20 percent of the time in 2019. Rodriguez’s most exhilarating tool is plus-plus raw power to all fields. He makes loud, memorable contact and projects to hit for both average and power when he’s fully developed. (Bill Mitchell - BA Prospect Handbook - Spring, 2020)
Julio's power is arguably the best in the 2017 international draft class, and he has shown the ability to hammer fastballs and perform well against live pitching.
A smart hitter for his age with very good control of the zone and the ability make adjustments at the plate. His rhythmic swing gives him a solid bat path through the zone. He is able to lay off pitches until he finds something he can hammer.
"He has an unbelievable feel for hitting," West Virginia manager David Berg said in 2019. "He’ll take a pitch, and you can see he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got him.'"
With Julio's balanced righthanded stroke that provides a nice bat path through the strike zone, his quick hands work well. He also should develop a 60 grade hit tool.
Julio has a fluid, balanced swing. His barrel stays on plane through the hitting zone for a long time, helping him make frequent, all-fields contact. He has a good idea of the strike zone, giving him a chance to be a high on-base, high-power threat.
2022 Mariners Top International Prospect: Julio Rodríguez, OF, Dominican Republic (No. 1, MLB No. 2). The top international prospect in baseball, Rodríguez signed in July 2017 and has been climbing his way to Seattle since.
One of the best offensive prospects in baseball, J-Rod is coming off a year that saw him hit .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers and 21 steals in 74 games between High-A and Double-A as a 20-year old. He managed to fit in a trip to the Futures Game and a strong Olympic performance for the Dominican Republic as well. (Callis, Boor, Dykstra - MLB.com - Jan 14, 2022)
“What he did on the field and off the field in 2021 was incredibly impressive,” Mariners farm director Andy McKay said. “And the way he went about his business in Everett, in Arkansas and in Japan for the Olympics is just everything that we want in a person and a player.”
Julio is a big, very athletic outfielder. He moves well under way. He projects as a corner outfielder with plenty enough arm to go to right field. He is also adequate in center field and covers plenty of ground in all directions in right field. He is particularly advanced at ranging back on balls and keeps runners from taking extra bases with his plus, accurate arm. Rodriguez occasionally loses focus on defense, but he’s an above-average defender when he’s locked in.
Rodriguez does need to clean up some aspects of his game away from the plate, with some evaluators noting the need for cleaner routes and more consistent concentration overall on defense. His arm is close to average, and he should settle in as an ideally molded right fielder.
Just 20 years old for all of the 2021 season, Rodriguez has played both center and right field during his pro career. He can handle playing up the middle, but is better suited for a corner, where his plus arm plays well, especially given other personnel in the organization. In addition to his obvious on-field tools, Rodriguez brings a passion and joy to the game that should help him become a superstar in short order. (Spring 2021)
Rodriguez has a great arm; a 70 grade!
Rodriguez takes pride in being a complete player. He improved his defensive reads and routes. He displays his athleticism by leaping to rob numerous home runs.
- Julio gets good reads and jumps in the outfield, projecting to be an average defender.
Julio has a 55-grade speed. And he runs faster than ever. He is an above-average runner who is adept at reading pitchers and stealing bases.
- Rodriguez is now a consistent threat to beat out infield hits.
- While he’ll never be a big base-stealing threat, Rodriguez has worked very hard to improve his speed and moves very well for his size.
August 2018: Rodriguez season ended a bit early when he injured a foot attempting to steal a base, but he was able to participate in the fall development programs.
April 19-mid-June 2019: Julio had a hairline fracture in his left hand and missed two months.
Oct 2019: Rodriguez was shut down for the final week of the season due to a minor strain in his lower back.
- July 15-Aug.29, 2020: Rodriguez suffered a hairline fracture in his left wrist after diving for a ball during a postgame drill at T-Mobile Park.