Spend any time with Mariners outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez and you’ll more than likely come away smiling. The 19-year-old exudes confidence with an infectious personality. He is, at his very core, a people person. So you can only imagine what this time of COVID-19 and quarantine has been like for
Spend any time with Mariners outfield prospect Julio Rodriguez and you’ll more than likely come away smiling. The 19-year-old exudes confidence with an infectious personality. He is, at his very core, a people person. So you can only imagine what this time of COVID-19 and quarantine has been like for the Mariners' No. 2 prospect (No. 18 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects list).
“It’s been kind of difficult,” Rodriguez said. “I like to go out, talk to people, interact with people. It’s been really hard for me. But I’m always playing video games with my friends, so I feel a little closer to them, we’ll talk while we play, too. So that made it a little easier.”
That, of course, leads to the obvious follow-up question. And he provides a fairly predictable answer.
“I play Call of Duty all day,” Rodriguez said. “Literally all day. When I’m not training, I’m playing Call of Duty. That’s how I do.”
He’s been doing it all from Tampa during the shutdown. Rodriguez had been a non-roster invitee to big league camp in Arizona and preparing for what looked like a huge season after a 2019 campaign that saw him hit across two levels of Class A ball and more than hold his own in the Arizona Fall League at age 18. When Spring Training was shut down, he headed to Florida instead of heading home.
“I’m in Tampa and I’m down here because my agent didn’t want me to just to sit around in the Dominican, so he asked me if I wanted to keep training and stay here in the United States and I said, ‘Yeah, I’m down for that,’” Rodriguez said. “I know if I was in the DR I might just be quarantining myself. But here, I have the opportunity to train and keep getting better, too.
“I’m doing great right now, to be honest. I have this place to train, I’ve been hitting, too, I’ve been working out a lot, so I’ve been doing great despite this tough time for us.”
Rodriguez is used to not being with family during this time of year after spending his first full season in the United States in 2019. But it’s a different story in the midst of a pandemic that has swept the globe.
“It’s really hard because you care about your family and with everything going on, you just want to be with them,” Rodriguez said. “It’s good for me to know they’re away from everything, they are staying safe, that makes me feel better, but it’s a little hard because of the time we’re going through right now.”
Despite that, he’s maintained a strict, and socially distanced, routine as he’s waiting for baseball to return. Wake up is around 8:30 a.m. and he heads to the training facility around 10:30-11 a.m., where he works out for an hour or two. From there, he’ll focus on baseball skills, hitting for 30 minutes to an hour. Then he heads back to where he’s staying, rinses and repeats, though he has incorporated some new things into his work.
“Sometimes I do yoga, that’s pretty much it,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something I added because I wanted to be more flexible.”
All of it to get him ready for any kind of season in 2020. Whether Rodriguez figures into a Mariners’ taxi squad remains to be seen, given that he’s yet to play above the Class A Advanced level. That said, his time in the AFL could have served as a springboard to Double-A in a normal season with a chance of him hitting his way to Seattle before he turned 20. That trajectory might have been interrupted, but rest assured Rodriguez will be ready to answer the bell when it rings.
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“If I get a chance, I’m going to keep pushing no matter what because that’s my dream,” Rodriguez said. “I’m chasing that dream. I’m not going to stop no matter what. If I get even one opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of it. No matter where, when, I’m going to keep pushing.”
Helping him push will be fellow Mariners outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, who is ranked as the Mariners’ top prospect ahead of Rodriguez, more of a 1 and 1A than a 1-2 punch. There’s a friendly rivalry that’s been cultivated between the pair that will undoubtedly help them maximize their impact once they get to Seattle.
“It’s funny,” Rodriguez said. “We both know we’re good. Every time we’re together, we always try to get the best out of the other. Doing whatever, even hitting off the tee, we try to get the best out of each other. We know that we’re competing, but we also know it’s really friendly.
"We give advice to each other. Because we both know we’re good and if we both push each other, we’re always going to get to that next level. It’s really cool.”
The first step toward that next level will be a return to baseball in some capacity. To say that Rodriguez is champing at the bit for on-field action of any kind, would be a huge understatement.
“I cannot wait for it,” Rodriguez said. “I just want to be able to practice on the real field. Even taking BP, shag, or whatever. I just want to do something on the field. I just cannot wait for it, but I’m trying to stay calm, let the situation go as I always do. I literally cannot wait for at least having a full practice outside on the field.”
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.