J-Rod electrifies with 81 HRs in Derby debut

Mariners' 21-year-old star puts on show before falling to Soto in finals

July 19th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Electric. That’s the adjective that’s constantly been used to describe Julio Rodríguez throughout a dazzling debut MLB season. It also defines his performance in what was a memorable first appearance at the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday night.

Taking The J-Rod Show to the national stage, the Mariners' 21-year-old rookie sensation electrified Dodger Stadium by opening with a historic first round. Mashing 32 homers to begin the evening, Rodríguez set a record for most home runs by a rookie in the opening round of a Derby. In fact, his 32 first-round homers to defeat Rangers shortstop Corey Seager (who had 24) were the most by a rookie in any round that has not included a swing-off.

The thrilling first-round effort featured a booming 463-foot homer well up the left-field pavilion to lead it off, and nine home runs of at least 440 feet. In total, Rodríguez’s first 32 home runs traveled a combined 2.54 miles, by far the largest total distance of any competitor in the opening round.

But that was only the appetizer.

Before falling to fellow Dominican countryman Juan Soto of the Nationals in the final round, Rodríguez took it to the two-time defending champion, Pete Alonso, eliminating the Mets slugger with relative ease, 31-23, in the semifinals. In what felt like somewhat of a passing of the torch, Alonso gave Rodríguez his props at the end of the round, pointing to the young star before shaking his hand near home plate.

Entering the night, there had been a total of four 30-homer rounds in the event’s history. Amassing 32 in the first round and 31 in the second, Rodríguez became the first player with two such rounds in a single Derby.

“Being able to perform on this stage, it was pretty fun,” Rodríguez said after his big night. “I feel like maybe a few people didn't think that I really was that kind of power hitter. But I feel that was something I also had in my bag.”

Though his bid to join Ken Griffey Jr. as only the second Mariners player to hoist the Derby trophy came up short -- Rodríguez hit 18 homers in the finals before Soto swatted 19 to win it -- it was a showing that left The Kid impressed. Griffey, who watched on several feet from home plate as the trophy presenter, embraced Rodríguez with a congratulatory handshake and hug after the contest.

“He was really happy,” Rodríguez said of Griffey. “By the mound, he told me that he was really proud and I did a hell of a job. He was really happy about it.

“He’s probably one of the best players that ever played this game and somebody that any young guy can look up to. He’s probably a role model for a lot of people. So having somebody like him say something like that to somebody like me is pretty amazing.”

Rodríguez made an unforgettable first Derby impression. In a prolific display of power that featured eight contestants combining for 291 home runs -- the third most in any Derby -- his 81 total home runs led the field and marked the second most hit by a player in a single Derby. Hitting 33,573 feet worth of home runs -- roughly 6.4 miles -- Rodríguez finished with the second best total distance in any Derby, trailing only Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s 38,641 feet from 2019.

Most home runs in Home Run Derby history
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (2019), 91
Julio Rodríguez (2022), 81
Pete Alonso (2021), 74
Giancarlo Stanton (2016), 61
Joc Pederson (2019), 60

At 21 years and 201 days, Rodríguez became the third youngest Derby participant to reach the finals. If he takes another crack at it in 2023, he’d still have a shot at becoming the youngest player to win it. Soto (23 years, 266 days) just became the second youngest Derby champion behind only Juan González (23 years, 265 days) in 1993.

Would Rodríguez be up for an encore next year, when the All-Star festivities are scheduled to take place at his home ballpark of T-Mobile Park in Seattle?

“Probably,” Rodríguez said. “This was pretty fun. This was a fun time. My family was loving it, so I might do it again.”

Time and time again this season, Rodríguez has proven that not only can he rise to the occasion, but surpass it. Seemingly able to thrive under pressure, he’s the perfect centerpiece for a young Mariners squad that entered the All-Star break riding an impressive 14-game winning streak and appears intent on making a serious run at reaching the postseason for the first time since 2001.

“He’s an amazing, young, talented player,” Soto said of Rodríguez. “What he does is amazing. He helped me out a little bit because he got tired [after the first two rounds]. But he’s an amazing player. He can do it all.”