Rookie sensation J-Rod enters Derby fray

July 14th, 2022

SEATTLE -- Julio Rodríguez has already achieved some considerable accolades in his breakout rookie season, and he’s now set to try and more substantially etch his way into the record books with another big benchmark:

Youngest Home Run Derby winner.

Rodríguez announced on social media on Wednesday that he’ll compete in Monday’s event, which is presented by T-Mobile and will air at 8 p.m. ET/5 PT on ESPN. He was the first American League participant to be announced. He’s also looking to join some rare rookie territory, as the only first-year players who’ve won outright are the Yankees’ Aaron Judge in 2017 and the Mets’ Pete Alonso in 2019. (Wally Joyner was a rookie when he and Darryl Strawberry were co-champions in 1986.)

Rodríguez said following the club's doubleheader sweep of the Nationals on Wednesday that Quico Pena, his former trainer in the Dominican Republic, will throw to him in the Derby.

“Since we started talking about it, I was interested in participating," Rodríguez said. "Now that it’s official, we’re going to make it happen.”

Rookies to compete in Home Run Derby:
Julio Rodríguez, 2022
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 2019
Pete Alonso, 2019
Cody Bellinger, 2017
Aaron Judge, 2017
Corey Seager, 2016
Kris Bryant, 2015
Joc Pederson, 2015
Evan Longoria, 2008
Nomar Garciaparra, 1997
Mike Piazza, 1993
Mark McGwire, 1987
José Canseco, 1986
Wally Joyner, 1986

Alonso has held the active crown ever since, looking to become the first three-peat Derby winner in history. In fact, the only player who has won three Derbies overall since the event began in 1985 is Mariners icon Ken Griffey Jr., who did so in 1994, 1998 and 1999.

Griffey also represented Seattle in the event four other times. But beyond The Kid, Rodríguez will join only Jay Buhner (1996), Alex Rodríguez (1998), Edgar Martinez (2000), Bret Boone (2001, 2003) and Robinson Canó (2016) as Derby participants.

"Since I was a kid, I had that dream to participate in one. Now that I have a chance to participate in one, it’s pretty surreal that it’s happening right now," Rodríguez said. "So I’m pretty excited to participate in it. ... I remember when Canó won it. I have a lot of memories of Canó in the All-Star Game and in the Home Run Derby. When he brought his dad to throw BP for him, I thought that was pretty cool. That stuck to my memory.”

As for age, at 21 years, 201 days old on Monday, Rodríguez would be the youngest Derby winner by a mile, way behind the active leader Juan González, who was 23 years and 265 days old when he won in 1993.

And for his numbers, Rodríguez entered Game 2 of the Mariners’ doubleheader on Wednesday hitting .274/.334/.477 (.811 OPS) with 15 homers, seven of which have come since June 21, not coincidentally nearly right as Seattle began its surge. The Mariners have won nine straight and 17 of their past 20 following the matinee win against the Nationals on Wednesday.

Moreover, Rodríguez’s underlying power numbers have been off the charts. He’s hitting the ball as hard and as consistently as anyone in the Majors, ranking in the 97th percentile in max exit velocity, 93rd in hard-hit rate, 90th in barrel rate and 90th in average exit velocity, per Statcast. He also owns the Mariners’ longest home run of the year, which was also was the first of his career, a 450-foot moonshot on May 1 in Miami. 

Put it all together, and that should make for a show at Dodger Stadium. The other Derby participants who’ve been announced are Alonso, Washington’s Juan Soto, Philadelphia’s Kyle Schwarber, Atlanta’s Ronald Acuña Jr. and St. Louis’ Albert Pujols.