Rodríguez, No. 3 overall prospect, blasts monster HR in 1st spring AB

March 19th, 2022

PEORIA, Ariz. -- He walked to the plate to a hearty ovation before he’d even done anything. Moments later, Julio Rodríguez gave those fans reasons to roar.

In his first Cactus League at-bat, Seattle’s prized outfield prospect put his pure power on display with a three-run homer in Friday's 6-4 loss to the Padres. Facing an 0-2 count against reliever Angel Felipe, Rodríguez yanked an elevated breaking ball and sent it screaming well beyond the left-field mezzanine, with fans racing the souvenir down.

The numbers, according to the Mariners’ Trackman data: 431 feet, a 22-degree launch angle and a 117 mph exit velocity.

Before he watched it land, Rodríguez flipped his bat pinwheel style, strolled toward first base and beamed a wide grin as he rounded his way toward home plate.

“It's a homer -- it’s definitely going to raise the confidence of anybody,” Rodríguez said. “But especially like that, I was expecting them because I worked really hard in the offseason preparing myself for this moment.”

The pull- and power-heavy Rodríguez feasts on fastballs, which made the sixth-inning sequence all the more impressive. Adding to the superlatives -- and acknowledging that the data recorded at the Peoria Sports Complex is unofficial -- only five homers in baseball were hit as hard and went as far last season as Rodríguez’s on Friday, per Statcast. In that regard, J-Rod joins good company: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Giancarlo Stanton, Ronald Acuña Jr., Mike Zunino and Franchy Cordero.

“It's fun to watch, because he's got some kind of ability,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “When he squares it up, it's going to go as far as anybody hits them.”

In his third big league camp, Rodríguez is baseball’s No. 3 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline. The Mariners have put virtually no roadblocks on his Major League timeline, even suggesting that he could be considered for the Opening Day roster.

“You get your takes,” Rodríguez said. “This is Day One.”

“I think, in a lot of ways, he is intent on wowing us, and he always has,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said. “We throw him pitches, and he knocks them out of the park. He’s a wonderful kid. He's well adjusted. He's incredibly talented. I think he's ready for the challenge on the big stage.”

Rodríguez drew a six-pitch walk without swinging the bat in his second and final plate appearance on Friday. He was then thrown out trying to steal second base.

J-Rod played all four of his innings in the field in center, the position that he’ll man for a bulk of his time this spring -- and beyond. Seattle began deploying him there for the final month of last season, then he worked extensively at the position this offseason. Jarred Kelenic is slated to start in center for now, but the Mariners’ assessment of the gig will be ongoing.

Rodríguez’s 6-foot-3, 180-pound frame and plus arm suggest that he profiles best in right field, the spot he’s mostly played in the Minors. But the Mariners believe that he has the athleticism for center.

“As big as he is, he moves," Servais said. "He can throw. You watch how guys move and how they do it, he looks like a baseball player in everything he does. Some of the guys just have that look. He's one of them.”

Rodríguez relishes the spotlight. In last year’s Cactus League opener, he lined a walk-off single that scored Kelenic in a moment that, despite its exhibition setting, felt symbolic in the context of Seattle’s future. He then went on to play in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, earned a bronze medal for the Dominican Republic in the Tokyo Olympics, was promoted from High-A Everett to Double-A Arkansas and received the 2021 Mr. Mariner Award, given to the player that best exhibits exemplary play and leadership skills, both on and off the field.

That makeup is more polished than most 21-year-olds, but the Mariners are cognizant of the adversity Rodríguez can -- and likely will -- face in the big leagues.

“They’ve got to go through it,” Servais said. “Last year, we sat here and were talking about Jarred Kelenic and is he ready? And then he got to the big leagues, and then it was a struggle for a period of time. You know, will Julio hit those struggles? He will at some point. Right now, looking at him and his personality, [we think], ‘He's good. He's good to go. He’ll handle it fine.’ But you never know until they actually go through it.”

Regardless, Rodríguez’s opportunity is on the horizon.

“His potential to impact sooner than later is extremely high," Dipoto said. "It’s not a matter of if Julio impacts our team. It's a matter of when.”