PEORIA, Ariz. -- If you’re reading this, you are probably already aware of the hitting exploits of MLB Pipeline’s No. 3 overall prospect Julio Rodríguez.
Just in case -- and because the numbers are fun to look at -- the Mariners outfielder hit .347/.441/.560 with 13 homers and 21 steals over 74 games at High-A and Double-A in 2021. In between that success at Everett and Arkansas, he managed to sneak in a bronze-medal-winning performance for his native Dominican Republic in the Tokyo Olympics last summer. The right-handed slugger has followed all of that up with a solid Spring Training (his first as a member of the 40-man roster), and it’s becoming more of a possibility by the day that he could begin 2022 on Seattle’s Major League Opening Day roster as a center fielder.
On Monday, Rodríguez spoke to MLB Pipeline about his improvements in speed, his Olympic experience, the way he handles nerves and his Major League proximity:
Dykstra: You’re in Major League camp right now. Opening Day is only a few days away at this point. How close do you feel right now? Do you feel like you’re forcing the Major League issue?
Rodríguez: I mean, honestly, I'm just putting my work in. That’s not my decision, but definitely, I'm trying to take care of everything I can to possibly be part of the team.
Dykstra: I know speed has been a point of emphasis in the offseason for you. What did you work on specifically there?
Rodríguez: We work a lot. That was not in my skill set, a lot of people would say. I always knew I had it within me, so we worked on a lot of explosive work because I’m 6-4, 225. I had to really work on getting explosive to put my body in the right position to be able to move in the way I'm moving right now.
Dykstra: When you say this wasn’t something in your game, was that something the Mariners identified? Did you identify it yourself?
Rodríguez: That was me, honestly. If you asked anybody if they would expect me to be running the way I'm running right now, nobody would have told you they were expecting that. There was something within me and my group. That was something that we were worried about, and we worked hard the past two offseasons to get me where I'm at right now.
Dykstra: How much did the readiness of your bat drive that focus on your speed? Like how comfortable do you feel on the offensive side right now?
Rodríguez: I feel really comfortable. I feel like I'm swinging at the right pitches. I'm taking the bad pitches. That's something really good to do right now, early in Spring Training. I've been able to capitalize whenever I have the chance. So it's been good.
Dykstra: Last year was super busy for you, between playing at two different levels and in the Olympics. What was your biggest takeaway from all that?
Rodríguez: How to manage my emotions in big stages. I went to the Olympics, and that was a one-time, once-in-a-lifetime probably experience for me. I have to be able to manage my emotions, like in pressure situations, and be able to deliver and play at a high level. I thought that was my biggest takeaway from last year.
Dykstra: What was your favorite moment then of the whole year?
Rodríguez: Winning a medal for my country, its first-ever for a team sport.
Dykstra: What did you do with the medal?
Rodríguez: It's at home, hanging. We'll make something for my uniform and everything that I used in the Olympics, and we'll put the medal on it.
Dykstra: How many of your friends and family back home in the DR want to touch and see that thing?
Rodríguez: A lot of people. That was a surreal moment when I got back.
Dykstra: Who was the first person you talked to after the Olympics?
Rodríguez: Both my parents, my mom and my dad. I had to call them when I had a chance because the clubhouse was crazy. We were having a great time over there, and I wanted to make sure to let them know we made it through.
Dykstra: What was the discussion like to put aside your Minor League career to head over for the Olympics?
Rodríguez: It was exciting because I never expected that the Mariners would actually let me go. When they actually supported me and they said OK you can go represent your country and go do it for your country, it was really cool that they allowed me to do that.
Dykstra: Mentally when you’re here in Major League camp, is there part of you that tries to recall your Olympic experience?
Rodríguez: It’s kinda different, but I guarantee you I felt more emotional whenever I was wearing the Dominican Republic's national team. I grew up in that country. I’m from there, representing my whole community and basically, everybody. I felt a lot more pressure playing for the Olympics than what I'm feeling right now, honestly.
Dykstra: How do you deal with pressure then?
Rodríguez: I just enjoy it. I’m just chilling with it.
Dykstra: How do you enjoy it then?
Rodríguez: That just comes with baseball. I enjoy everything that comes with the game -- the struggle, the good parts and bad parts, the learning process. I enjoy that because I feel like if you're going to be committed to this game, you have to enjoy every single thing that comes with it, not only the good things.
Dykstra: Are you somebody who allows yourself to think of your first Major League at-bat?
Rodríguez: Oh, definitely. I definitely think about it. That’s the dream. That's what I'm working towards, and that’s something I have in my head -- what it will be like to have that first MLB at-bat.
Dykstra: So what do you envision?
Rodríguez: Honestly, I just want to hit a homer to dead center. Every single time I step in the box, I’m trying to hit a home run to dead center.
Dykstra: Finally, what is most ready about your game to press the issue and get that first Major League at-bat?
Rodríguez: As you can see, a lot of people didn’t expect that I could run. A lot of people didn’t expect me to play defense the way I play. I feel like, not just with my bat, but with the skills I have I could definitely make something happen out there in the big leagues.