Mariners’ Dipoto: Young star Julio Rodríguez in his ‘element’ in growing spotlight

Mar 21, 2023, 4:38 PM | Updated: Mar 22, 2023, 1:17 pm

Mariners Julio Rodríguez...

Julio Rodríguez prepares for a spring training plate appearance against the Padres on Feb. 24, 2023. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

(Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

It’s easy to forget how far rising Mariners star Julio Rodríguez has come in the last year.

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When the M’s started spring training in 2022, it wasn’t exactly expected that Rodríguez would break camp with the team. He did, of course, and even with a tough first month in the big leagues, he played well enough to be an All-Star and Home Run Derby participant at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles a few short months later.

After establishing himself as Seattle’s cornerstone and helping the M’s break their long postseason drought, notice has been taken nationally. This offseason alone, Rodríguez has been in commercials, graced the covers of Topps baseball cards and the EA Sports MLB Tap Sports Baseball mobile game, and starred in the World Baseball Classic for his home country, the Dominican Republic.

Oh, by the way, he’s still only 22 years old.

Is there any concern that it’s all too much, too fast for a player who is still essentially a kid?

“I wouldn’t call it a concern,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto told Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob in an interview at the team’s spring training complex that aired Tuesday. “It’s a consideration – because (the amount of attention) has changed.”

Despite the growing spotlight on Rodríguez, he’s proving that the handle he uses on social media – the J-Rod Show – is a fitting moniker.

“What I would say is, in your mind’s eye, go back to July of last year and that home run contest in LA, which I think was his international coming out party,” Dipoto said. “He had already started to rise in the national vision in terms of what he was doing on the field, but not a lot of people had a real idea of what he was in terms of the charisma. He’s got a magnetism about him that you can’t look away. You just watch and you get riveted to what he’s doing.”

According to Dipoto, Rodríguez has shown that he can handle the superstar-level attention that appears to be coming his way.

“I guess what I will always go back to with Julio is he’s grounded,” Dipoto said. “His parents did a wonderful job raising him. He is about as well-balanced a young guy as you’re going to encounter in terms of maturity at his age and for what he’s experienced. And if that day in LA was an indication of what we’ve seen throughout his time in the system and what we’re seeing now, he likes when people are watching. It’s fun for him, he has fun with it, he engages.”

That’s been clear to fans who have been lucky enough to encounter Rodríguez at spring training, Dipoto said.

“You watch him down here in spring training, the time that he spends… he might not be able to get to all 500 people that are hanging for an autograph, but he’s going to make sure to hit five or 10 of them every time he walks by. He’s going to stop for the selfie, and when Julio does the selfie, it’s not your standard, like, (just) stand next to somebody – it’s stand next to somebody and it’s, you know, the smile… He’s fun. I think he enjoys those moments. He doesn’t really view it as chaos, he views this as ‘This is my element. This is what I’m about.'”

Perhaps most important, though, is what Rodríguez does once he takes the field.

“And then when the game starts, he slows it down,” Dipoto said. “His focus on what the right thing to do has never changed from the day we signed him, and I’m proud of that. A lot of that can be attributed to his family and to Julio himself.”

For more conversations like this, listen from 2-7 p.m. each weekday to Seattle Sports’ Wyman and Bob, which is on the ground all this week at the Mariners’ spring training home in Peoria, Ariz.

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