The ultimate guide to everything J-Rod

April 8th, 2022

Rodríguez was in the starting lineup, batting seventh and playing center field, with his parents in attendance.

Below is a primer on J-Rod’s big debut, what to watch for and what impact he might have in his first big league action, and beyond:

How can I watch the game?
For fans back in Seattle, the game will be televised on ROOT Sports Northwest at 1:10 p.m. PT, and for those watching out of market, on MLB.TV. The radio broadcast will be on 710 Seattle Sports and MLB Gameday Audio.

Why is Rodríguez such a big deal?
We could go on about his 70-grade hit tool, the exit velocities nearing 120 mph, his agility on the basepaths and in center field. More succinctly, Rodríguez -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect -- has the “wow” factor.

Just look at his Spring Training, where he crushed a 117 mph homer in his first at-bat, hit an inside-the-parker to show off his ever-growing speed tool and then days later finished a triple shy of the cycle. In the words of president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto, each challenge that the Mariners have thrown at the 21-year-old, “he knocks them out of the park.”

There’s also the million-dollar smile and personality that have made him one of the most recognizable players in the organization, well before he’s even debuted. One could make a case that the Mariners haven’t had a prospect with this combination of talent and charisma since Ken Griffey Jr., who debuted in 1989.

What can we expect from him at the plate?
Rodríguez’s most notable -- and impressive -- hitting trait is the level of raw power he’s able to generate to the opposite field. With bat speed that might be among the best in the Mariners’ organization, Rodríguez’s compact, two-handed swing generates such torque that balls leave with significant topspin and just keep carrying.

His homer on Sunday against the Royals is a perfect example:

He’s crushed fastballs at every Minor League stop, and given that he's skipping Triple-A, it’ll be worth watching how he fares against breaking and offspeed pitches. His plate discipline has room for improvement, but he showed a more diligent knack for laying off bad pitches this spring.

“If he doesn't chase, the sky's the limit,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “There will be times when he does chase, but being able to hone it in and get to balls that you can really hammer -- if he stays disciplined to that, he's going to have some kind of career.”

What can we expect from him in the field?
Despite a 6-foot-4 and 228-pound frame, Rodríguez glides swiftly, making him the best fit for center among Seattle’s outfield contingent. He moved there more exclusively for 12 games late last year at Double-A Arkansas, perhaps a hint at the Mariners’ plans. He came up as a right fielder and given his frame and 60-grade arm, it’s likely that he’ll see time in the corners when the Mariners spell Jarred Kelenic, Jesse Winker and Mitch Haniger. Of all the players that the Mariners plan to rotate through DH to build in rest, Rodríguez will probably see the least amount of time there.

What number will he wear?
Though Rodríguez wore a range of numbers on his way up the farm system, he will hold on to the No. 44 he’s worn in Spring Training this year. If it seems like that selection carries significance, it does -- Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Willie McCovey and Reggie Jackson donned those digits.

“I feel like the number kind of picked me. … I saw a picture and I said, ‘OK, this number looks like it was made for me,’” Rodríguez said. “And then I saw all the guys [who wore it] and said, ‘OK, I will take it.’”

Rodríguez also alluded to some symbolism for the number as the date that he officially made the team:

How will the Mariners use him?
The plan is for Rodríguez to play every day. The Mariners didn’t call him up to be a role player or part-timer.

Where will he hit in the lineup?
Rodríguez will likely bat in the Nos. 5-7 holes early on, with the opportunity to provide the lower leg of the lineup some much-needed power.

Seattle set out to add impact offense this offseason and did so via trades for Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suárez and Adam Frazier. But those bats will mostly be hitting near the top of the order, which was where the club got most of its production last year. It was the Nos. 5-9 spots that became a liability, contributing a slash of just .208/.288/.347 (.635 OPS). The hope is that Rodríguez will become a run-producing force once opposing pitchers get through the heart of the order.

Are there player comps for Rodríguez?
There’s no single comp that immediately comes to mind, but what Rodríguez is displaying with his speed and defense could be changing the equation. Physically, his comps will be corner outfielders, though his game is evolving. While a bit dated, complete players such as Frank Robinson, Dale Murphy, Andre Dawson and Dave Winfield are of high ilk, but not completely out of the question.

Within the Mariners’ dugout, J-Rod has a new nickname linking him to one of today’s stars: “Acuña.” Rodríguez probably has more power than the Braves’ outfielder did when he came up in 2018, though Ronald Acuña Jr. was faster. There are enough similarities -- bat speed, gap-to-gap power and above-average athleticism -- that suggest a comp to Acuña is not completely out of the question.

Where is he from?
Rodríguez hails from Loma de Cabrera, a town in the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, part of the Cibao region. The city with a population of roughly 20,000 is the birthplace of four former big leaguers, including Francisco Perez, Jairo Labourt, Alexis Gomez and, the most notable, Rafael Furcal, who came up with the Braves and was a three-time All-Star over parts of 14 seasons.

Rodríguez grew up a big fan of Águilas Cibaeñas of the Dominican Winter League, which played roughly three hours from his hometown, and his favorite player was the late Jose Lima.

How did the Mariners acquire him?
Seattle signed Rodríguez for $1.75 million during the 2017-18 international signing period, when he was ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 10 prospect in that years’ class, at age 16. The Mariners were the early favorites to acquire him, but they had to stave off a late push from the Yankees that nearly swayed J-Rod to pursue a career in pinstripes.

Why call him up now?
Dipoto hinted at the GM Meetings in November that the club would not put up barriers to Rodríguez and his chances to play his way on to the team, then he reiterated that stance after the lockout was lifted last month. Rodríguez welcomed that opportunity by putting up the best Spring Training of any Mariners player, leading the team in batting average (.412), on-base percentage (.487), slugging (.794) and OPS (1.281) while tying for the lead in homers (three) and RBIs (eight).

Concerns over Rodríguez skipping Triple-A are certainly warranted, as is his limited experience of just 46 games at Double-A. However, it’s clear that he’s at least ready to be challenged at the big league level -- and he’s earned the opportunity.