J-Rod eyes Opening Day roster spot in '22

October 3rd, 2021

SEATTLE -- is getting his most tangible taste of the big leagues this weekend, 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 on Friday. And it was quite a scene for the towering 20-year-old to get acclimated to, watching Seattle’s first sellout in 2 1/2 years as the Mariners fight in what he hopes will be the first of many pushes to the playoffs.

“I don’t know how close it feels, but it feels good. … This stadium being packed was surreal,” Rodríguez said. “This is my first time coming to a Mariners game. I feel like it was the best thing I’ve seen in my life. This is what I want. All game, I was imagining what it would be like to be out there. I was literally getting chills thinking about myself playing with these guys in front of 47,000 fans.”

The No. 1 prospect in the Mariners’ farm system and No. 2 overall, per MLB Pipeline, 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 Saturday’s 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 on Saturday, 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 on Saturday and watching Kelenic’s RBI double in Friday’s 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.