J-Rod propels DR in Olympic qualifier rout

June 2nd, 2021

SEATTLE -- Julio Rodríguez has taken his raking reels to the Olympic level.

The Mariners’ No. 2 prospect -- and the No. 5 in all of baseball, per MLB Pipeline -- crushed two towering homers in the World Baseball Softball Confederation Olympic qualifiers, leading the Dominican Republic to a 13-3 win over Nicaragua in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

J-Rod also had a single as part of a 3-for-5 day, and he went 4-for-13 in the first three games of the tournament.

“Awesome to see Julio take aggressive swings and punish pitches in the damage zone,” Mariners assistant GM Justin Hollander told MLB.com in a text message. “It sounded loud on TV. It’s a big stage as he tried to help the D.R. qualify for the Olympics, and he seems to be enjoying it.”

Wednesday’s victory pushed the D.R. to the Super Round of the tournament, where the top two teams from Group A will play the top two teams from Group B -- one each on Saturday and Sunday. The team with the overall best record at the end of the Super Round will secure a spot in the Olympic field, while the runner-up and third-place team will advance to the WBSC Final Qualifier from June 22-26 in Mexico, with that winner claiming the sixth and final Olympic spot.

The Mariners have been raving about Rodríguez since signing him as an international amateur in 2017, and he’s impressed in small doses against big league talent, albeit limited to the Cactus League level in Spring Training. He’s now taking his talents to the international stage, possibly chasing a medal later this summer.

It all continues what’s been a stellar start to 2021 for the 20-year-old, who left High-A Everett last week to join the D.R. on the heels of a remarkable 21-game run, in which he hit .322/.404/.575 with five homers, one triple and 15 RBIs, with five stolen bases over 99 plate appearances. He homered in four straight games last month, a streak that was catching attention all the way to the Major League staff.

Rodríguez is seemingly soaring his way through the Mariners’ farm system, with a promotion to Double-A Arkansas likely on his docket in the coming weeks, possibly as soon as he returns from the Olympic qualifiers next week.

Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto tempered his responses to questions last month regarding whether J-Rod could jump all the way to the Majors by the end of 2021, but he also didn’t rule it out, saying, “I won’t count that impossible for Julio.”

However, the more realistic likelihood is that the outfielder spends the bulk of his season at Double-A, and if he checks all the boxes there, he could have a chance to jump to Triple-A Tacoma by season’s end, which would put him on the brink of the big leagues.

But at this rate, it looks like he could be in Tokyo for a chunk of the summer competing on the world’s grandest athletic stage.

“Very excited for Julio and Luis Lib and all of our players who were asked to participate to have the opportunity to compete for and represent their countries,” Hollander said. “I’m sure that it’s a special feeling to put on that uniform.”