Rodriguez, 17, impresses Mariners on, off field

September 10th, 2018

PHOENIX -- Locals refer to the area northwest of the city limits as the West Valley.

It's known for its beautiful mountain landscapes, scenic hikes and challenging bike trails. The appropriately named Lake Pleasant is there, too, as is the Peoria Sports Complex, the Spring Training home of the Padres and Mariners.

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Seattle prospect Julio Rodriguez, 17, lives in a hotel with his teammates less than a mile from the famous baseball complex, and this is where you will find him until the middle of November. Rodriguez, who ranks No. 4 among Mariners prospects and is fresh off winning the team's Dominican Summer League Most Valuable Player Award, has entered the next phase of his development. It's the Mariners' goal to turn him into a high-impact player on and off the field. The Arizona suburb is where they will do it.

"We couldn't be happier with the first pro year, both what he did on the field in terms of his performance - both with his bat and his defense - and what he was able to do in the classroom in terms of high school curriculum, English, cultural simulation," said Andy McKay, the Mariners' Director of Player Development. "All those things have gone wonderfully well, and we want to build on it."

Rodriguez, who was the No. 10 international prospect when he signed with club for $1.75 million in 2017, dominated the Dominican Summer League. He hit .315/.404/.525 and had more hits (69) than games played (59). The outfielder also racked up 13 doubles, nine triples, five home runs, 36 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. He also scored 50 runs and walked 30 times.

The teen was sent to Arizona at the conclusion of the DSL late last month to continue training and get treated for a foot injury. He's staying in town to participate in the team's six-week high-performance camp that focuses on developing the mind and body that starts on Oct. 1. Rodriguez will also attend the club's Minor League mini-camp in February at the complex.

"We're trying to build athleticism in our players -- strength, and flexibility," McKay said. "We're spending a lot of time in the weight room, in the training room, a lot of time in our classroom with mental skills and leadership programs, community service programs. Basically, anything that we can do that doesn't involve being on the field playing."

The Mariners will have a better idea where Rodriguez will start the 2019 season after Spring Training. His effort during the club's high-performance camp will also factor into their decision.

"One thing with our young international players is that you're also measuring how much supervision they need," McKay said. "You're measuring ability to communicate and cultural issues. Again, you're talking about a 17-year-old. We are not in a hurry. He could be in the Arizona League, he could be up in Everett (Short-Season Class A) or in Clinton (Low A), and that'll all play itself out."

Rodriguez is up for the challenge. He says life in the United States has been an adjustment, but it's also been fun. He's glad he studied English in school in the Dominican Republic, so he does not have to deal with some of the language issues some of his Spanish-speaking only teammates face.

The biggest hardship he faces is the most obvious one.

"I'm only 17 and to leave your family and move to another country is not easy," he said in Spanish. "Honestly, it's really hard, but I'm working for them. I'm following my dream for me and for family."

The Mariners discovered Rodriguez at a tryout in the city of Santiago on the northern part of the island when he was 14. He flashed his athleticism during the workout and the Seattle scouts were also impressed with his makeup in their post-workout conversations. Rodriguez immediately became the club's no. 1 target.

"He was a high-profile international signing and it'd be hard to say he has not shown up and clearly shown to everybody why he was signed," McKay said. "Julio is very confident with a lot of personality, but at the same time, he performs. He works at it. He cares, and he wants to be great."

These days, Rodriguez wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and is at the Peoria Sports Complex 90 minutes later. There's usually a quick breakfast, followed by a stop in the training room before he hits the field for drills. He hits in the batting cages three times a week, lifts weights, and watches more video than he ever has in his life. He ignores the hiking, biking and other city attractions. Instead, he plays video games with his teammates during his free time. His favorite place to eat is a drive-thru restaurant near the hotel and complex that specializes in serving chicken sandwiches with two sliced pickles inside and a side of waffle fries.

"The key for me is being dedicated and focused," Rodriguez said. "Everything I do, I really focus on it and take 100-percent advantage of opportunities given to me. I've learned so much about the details of the game and all of these small things are going to help me become a big player."