Tim Kissner, then the Mariners international scouting director, was driving near his home in Seattle in February of 2016 when he got a call from Eddy Toledo, the Mariners scouting supervisor in the Dominican Republic. Toledo was on his way back to Santo Domingo after a scouting trip to Santiago, the country’s second-largest province.
As soon as Kissner picked up the phone, he could tell something was different. Hearing the excitement in Toledo’s voice, Kissner pulled over.
“He said, ‘I just saw one of the greatest players I've ever seen,’ ” Kissner said. “And Eddy's been scouting for over 40 years and signed all kinds of really good players.
“And then he drops the name on me: Julio Rodriguez.”
Rodriguez hailed from Loma de Cabrera, a small town of 20,000 people in the Northwest part of the Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border, far from the baseball hotbeds of Santo Domingo, San Pedro De Macoris and Bani in the country’s Southeast. The only prominent major leaguer to come out of the city was Rafael Furcal, who signed back in 1996.
Despite his remote locale, Rodriguez’s power and physicality earned him renown as a young teenager and caught the attention of trainer Quico Peña, who recruited, trained and showcased Rodriguez at his program in Santiago. (Kyle Glaser - Baseball America - Oct., 2022)
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.
Julio eventually earned a GED and is fully bilingual, making it easy to talk to all his teammates, fully bonding with them in the clubhouse.
"He cares about everybody. He cares about the game," GM Jerry DiPoto said. "He loves what he's doing."
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." And his 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.”
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 for Opening Day. Rodríguez was in the starting lineup, batting seventh and playing center field, with his parents in attendance.
A PRIMER ON THE STAR ROOKIE
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 base paths and in center field. More succinctly, Rodríguez 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 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 off-speed 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.
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—Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson all had 44.
“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.
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? 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)
July 2, 2022: There was little doubt that Julio Rodriguez, May’s American League Rookie of the Month, would take home the award again for June. The 21-year-old phenom officially captured his second consecutive Rookie of the Month honor, now amid a seven-game hitting streak.
He became the first Mariner to win back-to-back Rookie of the Month awards since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001, and the first in baseball since Houston’s Yordan Alvarez won consecutive awards in 2019. Both went on to win AL Rookie of the Year. Rodriguez paced AL rookies in, essentially, every conceivable hitting category, including FanGraphs WAR (1.4), wRC+ (162), and hits (30). He mashed seven home runs in June – the last a line-drive missile to dead-center field at T-Mobile Park on June 30 – and drove in 16 RBI. He reached base 44 times and collected 58 total bases, both tops among AL rookies. (Tyler Wicke)
July 3, 2022: Rodríguez became the first player in MLB history to hit 15 home runs and steal 20 bases in the first 81 games of his career.
July 12-13, 2022: J-Rod serve one-game suspension by MLB for his role in the Mariners and Angels' benches-clearing brawl on June 26. Rodríguez was originally suspended two games. After Rodríguez appealed the suspension, it was reduced to one game.
July 2022: Rodríguez was the lone rookie picked to the MLB All-Star Game. He also was invited to participate in the Home Run Derby. Rodríguez was the 14th rookie to participate, and two of those have won outright: Alonso in 2019 and Yankees’ Aaron Judge in 2017.
July 27, 2022: Julio Rodriguez took a new bat up to the plate because “The other one is sleeping. It’s a day game.” He immediately hit a 3 run homer. (Ben Verlander)
MLB All-Star Game 2022: Rodríguez finished second to Juan Soto. He still stole the show, even if he lost to the player whose future has become the biggest story in the sport. Rodríguez mashed 81 home runs, which topped Soto’s 53. His 32 home runs in the first round were the second most in an opening round.
Pete Alonso, who is known pretty much solely for hitting dingers. He won the past two derbies. It’s kind of his thing. But by the end of his night, he was pointing his bat in the direction of Rodríguez, congratulating the man who’d dethroned him.
“He put on an absolute display of what a home run derby should be,” Alonso said. “That was spectacular.”
“It ain’t a coming out,” Hall of Fame Mariner Ken Griffey Jr. told The Athletic. “For the last two months, you’ve been watching him play. It’s not like he just showed up at the All-Star Game.”
Maybe for Mariners fans that’s true. Griffey said he has known about Rodríguez’s prowess for four or five years. But Rodríguez’s name is still an emerging one for people across the country. He has garnered comparisons to Griffey, in large part because their early stats eerily align. Griffey wants that to stop.
“Quit comparing him to me,” Griffey said. “Let that man create his own path.”
Hours before both players, Albert Pujols, and Rodriguez, took their first swings, Pujols gave Rodríguez a quick pep talk at the hotel. It wasn’t anything big; Pujols just encouraged him to enjoy the night. A small but meaningful moment from a player who first competed in this event in 2003.This derby was about two superstars at completely different points in their careers. Rodríguez was 4 months old when Pujols first played a Major League Baseball game. Pujols is literally twice Rodríguez’s age.
Now every baseball fan knows about a kid. Not “The Kid.” But a new youngster who Griffey said can be a superstar. A player who has always “had all the tools.” On Monday night in Los Angeles, Rodríguez showed what was possible. And in a different way, so too did Pujols.
One player entering. Another exiting. Simultaneously, in a script fit for the city that served as the backdrop.
“Albert, man, he’s a legend,” Rodríguez said. “He’s a legend. It’s amazing that I’m here sharing the stage with him.” (Blum-TheAthletic.com-July 19th, 2022)
Rodriguez in awe of soccer star girlfriend Jordyn Huitema's brilliance
In a USA Today interview in February, Seattle Mariners outfielder and American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez celebrated his girlfriend and soccer star Jordyn Huitema's sheer brilliance. Jordyn plays as a forward for the National Women's Soccer League club OL Reign and the Canada national soccer team.
"I would watch a lot of the World Cup because of my mom, but I definitely have a bigger reason to watch now. I love watching the games she plays and the strategy behind it," said Julio Rodriguez
Julio also lauded Huitema for her relentlessness and competitive nature to produce the best on the soccer field.
“I just feel like there’s so much teamwork involved, the way they’ve got to basically play together in order to make things happen,’’ Rodriguez says. “Everybody is connected on the field. I think that’s very cool, the teamwork, and how the whole environment works. She has such a great mentality, and so much knowledge. She is really a relentless girl, and such a big competitor. There are a lot of things I can learn from her, too.’’ (Oindrila Chowdhury -Modified Mar 01, 2023)
Aug 26, 2022: The Mariners announced that it has reached a contract extension with J-Rod - their prized rookie. The deal could run through at least through the 2034 season -- 12 guaranteed years -- with options that could carry five more years through 2039.
The deal is worth $210 million guaranteed and carries the possibility of maxing out as the longest and largest in MLB history at $470 million. Based on a variety of player and team options, it can be worth seven, 12, 15 or 17 years beyond the 2022 season.
• The base is for seven years and $105 million beginning next year, plus a $15 million signing bonus, taking him through the 2029 season. But after ‘28, the Mariners must determine whether to pick up a club option that is dependent on Rodriguez’s performance in AL MVP Award voting.• The first club option is for eight or 10 years and ranges from $200 million to $350 million based on MVP balloting, whether Rodriguez wins and where he finishes in the preceding seasons. If Seattle exercises its club option, the guaranteed value reaches $320 million and could possibly push as high as $470 million. The largest contract by total value in MLB history is the 12-year, $426.5 million deal that Mike Trout signed with the Angels in 2019.• If the Mariners don’t pick up the option after Rodriguez’s seventh season, he can exercise a player option following his eighth season (2029) for five years and $90 million -- which underlines the 13-year structure and $210 million floor. It’s also possible that Rodriguez could turn down the player option and reach free agency before turning 30. • He can increase the player option to $125.5 million, or by up to $35.5 million, via incentives based on All-Star Game appearances and Silver Slugger Awards.The value of the club option will break down as follows:$200 million over eight years if Rodríguez receives no MVP votes in his first eight seasons$240 million if he finishes in the top 10 twice or thrice$260 million if he finishes in the top 10 four times$280 million if he wins one MVP Award and places in the top five one other time, or places in the top five three times without winning$350 million if he wins two MVP Awards or places in the top five four times without winning
The base deal buys out Rodríguez’s pre-arbitration years, which probably would’ve only included 2022-23 based on the likelihood of him achieving Super Two status, and the arbitration years, which would be the four years after if he attained Super Two, as well as two free-agent years -- all at a $15 million average annual value, before the club and player options come into play. The earliest that Rodríguez could’ve achieved free agency would’ve been after the 2027 season. (D Kramer - MLB.com - Aug 27, 2022)
Sept. 11, 2022: Although Rodriguez is just 21 years old and in his first season, he has already posted a 5.0 bWAR year. As noted by Alex Mayer, only four other centerfielders have done so at age 21 or younger – Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Trout.
Mariners win one for the ages after Julio Rodriguez delivers stirring pep talk: After the Mariners surrendered the last of five runs in the top of the ninth inning Sunday, they suddenly found themselves three outs away from what would have easily been their most deflating loss of the regular season.
One minute you’re up four runs, the next you’re down a run. It was hard to fathom, tough to digest. But not for Mariners rookie Julio Rodríguez, who let his teammates know that this game wasn’t over as soon as he returned to the home dugout.
“I think Julio said it best,” Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales said. “We’re not going to let our teammates down; we’re going to pick each other up.”
Rodríguez delivered on his promise, hitting a 117 mph score-tying home run. Eugenio Suárez followed with a walk-off homer as the Mariners, improbably, came back for an 8-7 victory.
With one out, Rodríguez jumped all over a 1-1 slider from Jansen, sending it on a line over the left-field wall.
Said Servais, “I don’t think you can hit a ball harder than Julio did.”
The ballpark erupted, as did the dugout, where moments earlier, the 21-year-old Rodríguez implored his teammates to get to work, to win this game despite the long odds.
“At that moment, I just felt like I needed to deliver for the team,” Rodríguez said. “I believe in this team. We just show up. We have guys who can compete with anybody. That’s why I was confident we were going to come through in that last inning.” (Brock-TheAthletic-Sept 11, 2022)
Sept. 14, 2022: Rodriguez became the first player in major league history to hit 25 home runs and steal 25 bases in their debut season.
2022 Season: Rodriguez won Baseball America's 2022 MLB Rookie of the Year and the Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year.
Rodriguez became the 12th player in MLB history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in a season as a rookie. He burst onto the national stage with his impressive showing during the Home Run Derby. And he signed a long term extension that could last as long as 20 years and be worth as much as $450 million.
Sky appears to be the limit for Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez. As impressive as all of that has been, it does not match the ranks of all time greats that Rodriguez joined as a rookie. He had become the fifth centerfielder in MLB history to notch at least 5.0 bWAR as a rookie, joining a group of Tris Speaker, Mickey Mantle, Ken Griffey Jr., and Mike Trout.
He joined another exclusive group once the 2022 regular season came to a close. Rodriguez is one of four rookies in MLB history, joining Ted Williams, Albert Pujols, and Mike Trout as the only players to post a 145 OPS+ and 6.0+ bWAR. That is a pretty impressive group indeed.
it should not be a surprise that Rodriguez is joining such impressive lists. He put together an incredible rookie campaign, posting a .284/.345/.509 batting line in his 560 plate appearances, hitting 28 homers and 25 doubles while stealing 25 bases.
It is incredible to think that this is just the beginning. Rodriguez, in one year, has already carved his name into the history books and is amongst some of the greatest players in the game. Considering it is just one season, he is well on his way to becoming a possible superstar as well. The sky is the limit. (David Hill - Oct. 6, 2022)
Nov 14, 2022: Julio Rodríguez received the most rewarding validation yet for his epic 2022 when he was named the Jackie Robinson American League Rookie of the Year Award winner.
Being a major leaguer goes well beyond what happens on the field.
Major leaguers are those players who, because of their talent and perseverance, have left behind the complicated minor league life and reached the best baseball circuit in the world, with the improved financial prospects that it brings.
A small portion of baseball players in the world reach the majors, and an even smaller percentage are good enough to sign a multi-million deal at 21 years old.
Such is the case of Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez.
J-Rod, the reigning American League Rookie of the Year, signed a 12-year, $209.3 million contract extension with the Mariners this year, although the final number of years and money may vary depending on certain conditions and options.
He is extraordinarily talented, but Rodriguez is also lucky and blessed to be able to make life-changing money at such a young age.
He is making sure to give his hometown a helping hand now that he has the means.
“Mariners star Julio Rodriguez donates an ambulance to the Civil Defense of his hometown Loma de Cabrera, DR, and delivers toys,” MLB insider Hector Gomez tweeted.
Those kids who got toys from one of their heroes will certainly be grateful for life.
It’s important for MLB stars to give back some of what they have earned.
It’s good to see Rodriguez cares about his community and the town in which he was born.
We are sure this won’t be the last donation made by J-Rod to people in Loma de Cabrera.
He has a kind heart and a mean swing.
That’s a nice combination. (Andres Chavez January 9, 2023)
High expectations await the Mariners and Rodríguez in 2023 and beyond, but his manager doesn’t think anything — on or off the field — will change, distract or waylay his star center fielder.
“Never once has that crossed my mind,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said of Rodríguez, whose radiant smile is displayed on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s baseball preview.This isn’t just a gut feeling from Servais, but more a sentiment that’s rooted in reality; observations of how Rodríguez has continually shown a thirst for learning and by the way he processes information and sequences his priorities. Servais said Rodríguez is constantly asking questions, some of which have stopped the manager in his tracks. It’s not just that Rodríguez is curious, but the questions often belie his age.
“I think he’s very intelligent,” Servais said. “He’s street smart, he also has a high baseball IQ and is very coachable. From day one, Julio has been one who is always asking questions. He’s focused on getting better.
“Along the way, he knows he’s going to mess up … he’s still 22 and is still going to make mistakes along the way. But I buy the person.”
And it’s so easy to buy the person, too. Rodríguez is every bit as congenial, affable and lively today as he was the first time he arrived in Arizona for the team’s high-performance camp in the fall of 2018.
If fame and fortune have spoiled him, well, he’s done an Oscar-winning job of concealing it from his manager, teammates and the organization. At this point, it’s fairly safe to assume Rodríguez is being truthful when he says he’s still humble, that he’s still hungry.
“It’s an unbelievable talent, we all can see that,” Servais said. “But Julio is a learner and he wants to continue to learn. He’s very unique. It’s so beyond his years. I’m buying into the person and how he goes about his business.”
The results. The person. The process. All of these are rolled into one player, one unique player who has captured the attention of success-starved fans in Seattle and baseball fans around the world. Wherever he goes — on the road in a Cactus League game or playing in the World Baseball Classic — people flock to see Rodríguez.
He’s become an undisputed star, even if he doesn’t act like one.
“He’s very humble. He’s very engaging,” Servais said. “That’s why fans love him.”(Brock - Mar 29, 2023 - The Athletic)
Feb. 14, 2023: Seattle Mariners center fielder and reigning American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez is the cover star of the 2023 Topps Series One.
Mariners fans can now have breakfast with Julio Rodriguez every morning.
Working with PLB Sports & Entertainment, Seattle’s star outfielder now has his own cereal — JuliO’s.
The cereal features a fruit-loop cereal profile and a cartoon likeness of Rodriguez on the box inspired by his love of anime. Beyond any sort of sustenance in the morning it might provide, it most assuredly will become a collector’s item, similar to the Ken Griffey Jr. candy bars in the early 1990s. Griffey didn’t have his own cereal, though he was on the Wheaties box a handful of times. (Ryan Divish - May 19, 2023)
May 28, 2023: Julio Rodriguez is sure to bring a lot of joy to the Seattle Mariners faithful as he signed a new promotion deal with Alaska Airlines. As part of the new deal, the Airlines will dish out free trips for a few fans every time the outfielder scores a home run. (R. Nikhil Parshy
May 30, 2023: Even if the start to Julio Rodríguez’s 2023 season was just a blip, Scott Servais offered that it might be a good thing in the grand scheme of his player development.
“He's going to play this game for another 15-20 years, he's going to struggle again,” the Mariners’ manager said. “I hate to tell people that, but it will happen. And when it does, you look back at, 'OK, how did I get out of this last time?' Did I press too much early? Did I panic a little bit early?’
“It'll pay dividends in the future, but I love him this way when he’s smoking two or three hits every day and hitting the ball out of the ballpark. It's fun.”
“I feel like going through tough times is fun,” Rodríguez told reporters. “It's fun to be able to come on top. And it's definitely been a lot of work with the people close to me. And I'm feeling excited with where things are heading.”
Asked what’s behind his turnaround, Rodríguez put his finger to his lips and good-naturedly preferred not to divulge. But a combination of swing decisions, driving pull-side balls to the air and tapping back into his rare back-spinning, opposite-field power are among primary causes. (D Kramer - MLB.com - May 30, 2023)
June 18, 2023: Seattle Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez has now reached 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in his career, and he was the second-fastest player to do so since 1900, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Julio Rodriguez did that in 200 career games. The player who reached 40 home runs and 40 stolen bases in his career faster was Fernando Tatis Jr. of the San Diego Padres, who reached those numbers in 185 career games.
July 4, 2023: Julio Rodriguez was chosen to the All-Star Game as replacements for Yordan Alvarez. Rodriguez participated in the Home Run Derby.
Even before Julio Rodríguez was announced alongside Mariners legends Ken Griffey Jr., Félix Hernández and Edgar Martinez as one of MLB’s four All-Star ambassadors in Seattle, there was already plenty of excitement surrounding the star outfielder’s participation in this year’s Home Run Derby at T-Mobile Park. As a 21-year-old rookie, Rodríguez put himself on the global stage in last year’s event, hitting 81 home runs and putting on such a show in Los Angeles that he found himself being recognized much more frequently outside of the Pacific Northwest afterward.
In June 2019, the Mariners’ Class-A affiliate West Virginia Power hosted the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and Home Run Derby, which both took place on the same day in Charleston. Rodríguez had played in the rookie-level Dominican Summer League the previous year and this was his first full-season team. Barely two weeks in, on April 16, he got hit with a pitch and injured his hand. Rodríguez was out for nearly two months and was officially activated on June 10, eight days before the All-Star Game. Obviously, he wasn’t an All-Star. That didn’t matter. Rodríguez sat in the stands and every time his teammate — catcher Jake Anchia — was up in the Derby, Rodríguez bolted up. He roared. He filmed him. He did the same thing during the actual All-Star game for Anchia and the other two Power All-Stars to make an appearance: right-handed pitchers Dayeison Arias and Bryan Pall.
Assistant general manager Andy McKay, who was also in attendance, still has the video on his phone of an animated Rodríguez in the seats yelling and filming like an excited kid. He was the loudest guy there. Four years later, Rodríguez still lights up at that memory. He can still rehash every detail of that night as a spectator at Appalachian Power Park.
“These guys are like my brothers,” Rodríguez said as to why that moment meant so much to him. “I was really proud they were out there representing us. I’m just really happy watching friends out there having fun and doing what they love.”
The talent when Seattle signed Rodríguez was evident. But stuff like this? Those little unexpected nuggets have kept showing up in the seven years Rodríguez has been in the organization, even as the reigning American League Rookie of the Year gains fame. He is the rare breed of superstar, one who loves the bright lights but is also desperately pulling for his teammates to be there, too. He makes random phone calls to minor leaguers in the Seattle organization, offering encouragement through the grind of the lower levels.
When Rodríguez struggled in his first month in the majors, he didn’t slam his helmet or break bats in the dugout. He didn’t become surly with teammates. Veterans took notice. The jokes, the whole “J-Rod Show” schtick, the energy. None of it is contrived.
“He’s the same person all the time,” said teammate Ty France, who was with Rodríguez as a fellow All-Star last season. “He had struggles last year early on and when you see how he handled that, I think he gained a lot of respect that way.”France, who took it upon himself to be Rodríguez’s water boy for last year’s event, got a front-row seat as Rodríguez clobbered baseball after baseball after swinging and missing at the first pitch. Rodríguez laughs when asked if he will do the same thing this year. France had seen Rodríguez do some insane things already on the baseball field. Nothing the 22-year-old Rodríguez does surprises anyone in the Seattle organization.
The stories about Rodríguez are well-told. How he taught himself English as a boy. How he asked McKay the first time he met him if he could play in the Arizona Fall League that year. (The AFL is reserved for advanced, nearly big-league-ready prospects.) Rodríguez did play in it the following year after his first full season. How he hired a sprint coach in 2020 to improve his foot speed, ensuring he’d stay in center field.
There are more subtle moments, too. Like when McKay saw Rodríguez, the day after injuring his left hand, taking one-handed swings in the cage. It was 2020 and Rodríguez, who was part of the team’s alternate site, was doing tee work with big-league hitting coach Jarret DeHart with a fresh cast on.
“He never flinches, even when he’s dealing with (struggles in the game) inside,” McKay said. “The way he works and treats people doesn’t change.”
“And that’s a real compliment to him. There really aren’t many limits for him. I think that’s part of his core. He thinks differently. He’s not going to be like everybody else.” (Ghiroli - Jul 10, 2023 - The Athletic)
Aug. 17, 2023: Rodriguez became the first player in MLB history to hit 20 home runs and steal 20 bases in his first two seasons. (Chris Novak)Julio Rodríguez is the 4th player in @Mariners history with 20+ HR and 30+ SB in a single season: Julio Rodríguez (20+ HR/30+ SB, 2023) Alex Rodriguez (42 HR/46 SB, 1998) Mike Cameron (25 HR/31 SB, 2002) Mike Cameron (25 HR/34 SB, 2001) Ruppert Jones (21 HR/33 SB, 1979)
Aug 19, 2023: Julio Rodríguez went 4-for-6 with four singles and a stolen base -- and it was his worst game of the past four days.
Rodríguez's historic, hotter-than-hot stretch continued in the Mariners' 10-3 win over the Astros at Minute Maid Park, as he broke the AL/NL record for the most hits in a four-game span with 17.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” manager Scott Servais said. “Nobody in the history of Major League Baseball has seen anything like it. But what can you say? Julio is just smoking hot right now.”
Rodríguez's 17-for-22 streak surpassed the 16 hits by Milt Stock of the Brooklyn Robins in 1925. The center fielder also homered twice in those 22 at-bats, including a huge shot in his 5-for-5 performance. Oh, and he stole five bases during that stretch, which, safe to say, Stock did not. (N Han - MLB.com - Aug 20, 2023)
You’ve heard about the 17 hits in four games. Historic.
You’ve heard about the four games in a row with four hits or more. Amazing.
You’ve probably caught wind of the five steals and two homers he sprinkled onto his stat-sheet salad along the way. Sensational.
But now it’s time for the Julio Rodríguez feat that feels like it’s more impossible, more mind-boggling than any of that. And nobody seems to have noticed.
In that span, Julio Rodríguez put the ball in play 17 times. And he reached base 17 times in a row!
Yes, we’re including that time he reached on an error Friday in Houston. But have you seen that error? It was a funky humpback line drive that was doing a helicopter whirl and, basically, refused to stick in the glove of Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña. Now try to find somebody, anybody who has ever seen anything quite like Julio’s surreal streak, except possibly in T-ball. A man who reached base on 17 batted balls in a row? Our brains have a hard time processing stuff like this. There was also a pitcher on the mound for all 17 of those plate appearances. Not batting-practice pitchers. Actual pitchers — one of whom (Framber Valdez) pitched a game three weeks ago in which he didn’t let anyone get a hit.
Has anyone else ever done that? We actually double-checked this question. The era of complete, reliable, publicly available play-by-play data goes back 50 seasons, through 1974. Our friends from STATS Perform perused those 50 seasons and found no other hitter who reached base on 17 fair balls in a row, even including errors. Again, that magic word was: Nobody.
Then Baseball Reference’s Katie Sharp went all the way back to 1914, which is as far back as Baseball Reference’s play-by-play data goes. (It’s described as “mostly complete” in those early years, not fully complete.) Nevertheless …
That takes us back 110 seasons. And how many other hitters did she find who have reached base on 17 consecutive balls in play, dating back to the beginning of World War I? Once again, that answer was: Nobody. (Stark - Aug 22, 2023 - The Athletic)
Sept. 4, 2023: Julio Rodríguez is the first player in MLB history to have 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases in each of his first two seasons.
Sept. 18, 2023: Rodriguez was recognized as the 2022 Latino MVP award winner by the Latino Sports Writers and Broadcasters Association.
2023 Season: Julio Rodriguez had an up and down 2023 season. You may not be able to tell just by looking at his stat line, though. He finished 2023 with a slash line of .275/.333/.818 and an OPS+ of 128. He also hit 32 Home Runs and drove in 103, both leading the Mariners. He was an All-Star, he competed in the Home Run Derby, and is a finalist for the Gold Glove Award.
Inconsistency plagued Julio's first half of the season, and his last month as well. If the All-Star Game was not played in Seattle this year, it is likely he would not have been elected to play in the game. His first-half stat line is as follows: .249/.306/.717 with a WRC+ of 101. Had Julio not had the record setting August that he had, his batting average would have been .245.
His strikeout rate (25.4%) is right around his career average (25.1%), and way above the MLB average (22.6%). Even in his rookie season, strikeouts were a problem. Julio struck out 175 times in 2023, the 8th most in baseball. He had the 3rd most on the Mariners this season, trailing Eugenio Suarez (214) and Teoscar Hernandez (211). Combined, those 3 managed to strike out 600 times! Moving forward, I hope that Julio can bring the strikeout numbers down, and if he can, he will take his game to the next level.
What saved his season was the month of August. Julio hit .429/.474/1.197 with a WRC+ of 232. He managed to strike out only 18.4% of his at-bats in August. I am not saying Julio can hit .429 all of the time, but if he would reel in the strikeouts to just 18%, he could be fighting for a batting title. 25% is just too high to stay consistent.
Julio broke an almost century old record in August. From Aug. 16-19, in 4 games, Julio had 17 hits. The previous record (16 hits in 4 games) was held by Milt Stock of the Brooklyn Robins in 1925. Julio went 4-6, 5-5, 4-5 and 4-6 over those 4 games. The Mariners won all 4 games, 2 of them in Houston. He went 17 for 22 in those games. Had he gone 2-17, we may be giving Julio a much worse grade for 2023. (Jeffrey Nooney | Oct 23, 2023)
- Nov 9, 2023: 2023 Silver Slugger Award Winner in the Outfield: Julio Rodríguez, Mariners (second win)
How do you follow up winning a Silver Slugger as a rookie and being the first player to collect 25 homers and 25 steals in your debut season? Win the award again by going 30-30 in your second year. Thanks to 32 homers, 37 steals and an .818 OPS, Rodríguez was the first player to win this award in each of their first two seasons in the big leagues, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. (B Murphy - MLB.com - Nov 9, 2023)
|Loma de Cabrera, D.R.
|2017 - Mariners - Free agent - Out of the D.R.
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.”
July 2, 2022: Julio Rodríguez’s stellar rookie season received another tangible accolade when he was named the AL Rookie of the Month for June. It’s the second consecutive month that the Mariners outfielder received the honor, after winning in May.
He is the AL’s first rookie to receive the award in consecutive months since Houston’s Yordan Alvarez from June-Aug. of 2019, and he’s the first Mariners rookie to win in back-to-back months since Ichiro Suzuki did so twice in his historic 2001 season. Both of those players went on to win the AL Rookie of the Year Award, and Rodríguez is an early favorite for that, too.
Seattle’s 21-year-old outfielder led all AL rookies in virtually every offensive category in June, including wins above replacement, per FanGraphs (1.4), wRC+, an era- and park-neutral stat where 100 is league average (162), hits (30), runs (22), home runs (7), RBI (16), total bases (58) and times on base (44) while tying for the lead among AL rookies in stolen bases (five). (D Kramer - MLB.com - July 2, 2022)
Nov. 10, 2022: Major League Baseball and Louisville Slugger® named Mariners outfielder Julio Rodríguez an American League Silver Slugger Award winner.
Rodríguez, 21, wins the award alongside fellow AL outfielders Aaron Judge-NYY and Mike Trout-LAA. Rodríguez ranked 3rd among AL outfielders in bWAR (6.0), T5th in home runs (28), T3rd in stolen bases (25), 3rd in slugging percentage (.509) and 3rd in OPS (.853). He batted .284 (145x511) with 84 runs, 25 doubles, 3 triples, 28 home runs, 75 RBI, 25 stolen bases and 40 walks, getting on base at a .345 clip, slugging .509 with an .853 OPS in 132 games.
The 21-year-old outfielder is the second Mariners rookie to win a Silver Slugger Award, joining Ichiro Suzuki in 2001.
Aug. 17, 2023: At 22 years & 231 days old, Julio Rodríguez is the youngest player with 9 hits in a 2-game span since Frankie Hayes in 1936. (Sarah Langs)
Aug. 20, 2023: Julio Rodríguez set a major-league record with his 17th hit in four games. (FOX Sports)
Aug. 26, 2023: Rodriguez blasted a 410-foot home run a 15-2 drubbing of the Kansas City Royals. It was the 50th of his young career, making him the fastest Mariner to reach that mark, per the team. That's right, the 22-year-old hit the massive milestone faster than even the great Ken Griffey Jr. (Alex House)
- Aug. 2023: Most 4-hit games in a calendar month, since 1901: May 1921 Ty Cobb: 6 Aug 2023 Julio Rodríguez: 5 Aug 1938 Zeke Bonura: 5 July 1931 Lefty O'Doul: 5 July 1930 Carl Reynolds: 5 July 1922 Bob Meusel: 5 July 1922 Ty Cobb: 5 Aug 1921 George Sisler: 5 - JULIO HAS MOST SINCE 1938!!! (Sarah Langs)
- Nov. 2023: How do you follow up winning a Silver Slugger as a rookie and being the first player to collect 25 homers and 25 steals in your debut season? Win the award again by going 30-30 in your second year. Thanks to 32 homers, 37 steals and an .818 OPS, Rodríguez was the first player to win this award in each of their first two seasons in the big leagues, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
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.
- 2023 Season: Julio was nominated for a Gold Glove. Julio committed just two errors in his 355 chances, one fielding error, and one throwing error. He had the least amount of errors among the finalists. His .994 fielding percentage was tied for 6th in all of baseball, with Atlanta Braves star Michael Harris II. He was ranked 3rd in the American League behind Myles Straw of the Cleveland Guardians and Leody Tavares of the Texas Rangers.
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.
- 2022 Season: Rodriguez was the clear AL Rookie of the Year last season, also winning a Silver Slugger after hitting .284-28-75 with 25 stolen bases. His elite speed shouldn't be a forgotten part of his game, averaging 29.8 feet/second on the basepaths.
- 2023 Season: J-Rod is one of the league's true superstars, already winning AL Rookie of the Year and two Silver Sluggers in two seasons. He had a career-high 37 steals last season, averaging 29.6 feet per second of sprint speed.
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 post-game drill at T-Mobile Park.
July 31-Aug 11, 2022: Rodríguez was placed on the IL. X-Rays were negative after being hit at bat, but his wrist is swollen and will not be able to swing a bat in the next 5 days or so.
- July 23-Oct 3, 2022: Julio was on the IL with lower back strain.