Julio making up for lost time this offseason

October 19th, 2020

When you’re 19 years old, it’s easy to be impatient. But Julio Rodriguez 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 -- and opposing pitchers -- 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 Monday 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 Rodriguez -- ranked as 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 there [in the playoffs], I want to win,' because I was looking at the other team [the Braves] 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.”