Julio Rodriguez Has That ‘It’ Factor

Despite his youth, 18-year-old outfielder Julio Rodriguez is talented enough to rank as the Mariners’ top prospect.

It’s just that the upper tier of the Seattle farm system got a lot more crowded over the winter following the trade acquisitions of Justus Sheffield and Jarred Kelenic. But Rodriguez—or J-Rod, as he goes by—might be the organization’s most endearing prospect, and not just for his power.

“He’s got that very charismatic personality,” farm director Andy McKay said. “He loves everything about baseball. He’s always smiling. He’s that guy, whether he’s in the classroom, hanging out with teammates or sitting in the dugout before a game. He just loves everything about being a baseball player—and he happens to be a really good one.”

The Mariners signed Rodriguez in 2017 for $1.75 million out of the Dominican Republic. They first discovered him during a tryout in Santiago when he was 14.

But he looks nothing like an adolescent. He posed for a picture next to former Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz, and though they are separated in age by 20 years, Rodriguez is taller and almost compares in build to one of baseball’s premier sluggers. He’s listed at 6-foot-3, 180 pounds.

Rodriguez said his goal is to spend all of 2019 in the U.S. after winning MVP honors in the Dominican Summer League in 2018, when he hit .315/.404/.525 with five home runs and 10 stolen bases in 59 games.

Maybe most impressive is Rodriguez’s English, especially for someone who didn’t grow up speaking it and has had to learn over the past few years.

“His growth off the field in terms of learning English and being in our cultural programs, he’s really exceeded expectations there,” McKay said. “So bringing him over to the U.S. for the first time for our high-performance camp (last October) was really exciting.”

Rodriguez occupies a prominent place in the Mariners’ rebuild, but McKay said they are in no rush to speed his development. He envisioned Rodriguez topping out at low Class A West Virginia this season.

“The whole package is something that makes us all all really excited to watch this play out,” McKay said.

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