Drayer: Mariners prospect Julio Rodriguez looks the part of future superstar on and off the field
Mariners spring training is full of names and faces you may recognize, but they belong to players who for the most part have yet to have a chance to make an impression to fans. That’s where our new series comes in.
Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle, is catching up with the highly touted prospects, recent acquisitions and more under-the-radar players in Peoria, Ariz., throughout spring training to provide insight into who are the 2020 Mariners are beyond.
Mariners OF Julio Rodriguez
The early highlight of Mariners camp for me has been the opportunity to catch more than just a glimpse of the players many believe will be the future stars of the organization. Where before we were limited to what we saw on video, social media posts, or the stat sheets, we are now seeing the young crew in action in bullpens, batting practices, situational games and now Cactus League play.
The possibilities we have been hearing and reading about for the better part of the last year become much more real when they are right in front of you and the kids have not disappointed. At the top of the list is the youngest player in camp, Julio Rodriguez.
Just 19 years old, Rodriguez certainly looks the part of future superstar.
Tall and fairly broad through the shoulders, Mariners manager Scott Servais remarked recently that Rodriguez already had his “man muscles.” As curious as I was to see what he did on the field, however, I was even more so to see who he was off the field – and that has been impressive.
A year ago he was the 18 year old in minor league camp who would show up at the Peoria Sports Complex for many of the big league games, often standing on the concourse right behind home plate almost as to signal, “I’m here. I’m ready if you need me. Put me in coach. Please!”
I joked with others that I was convinced he had his uniform on under the sweatsuits he wore, just in case. In getting to know Julio a bit more this year, I wonder if he actually did.
The kid seems to leave no stone unturned in his preparation for achieving his goal with the biggest stone – a boulder, in fact – already crushed. His English, as you can hear in the video, is perfect. The process of learning the language began at an early age when as a kid he found English tapes his mother had at the family home in Loma de Cabrera, a town in the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, separated from Haiti by the Dajabón river. He learned a few words here and there but the real learning began to take place when he was 14 and about to move 90 miles away from his home and family to train in Santiago. His parents insisted he learn the language and put him in a school on Saturdays to do so. At that point, the process what in his hands and he made it his mission to take every opportunity that presented itself to learn.
“When I signed with the Mariners I couldn’t talk a lot because I didn’t have anybody to practice with,” he said. “After I signed, the Mariners sent some American players to the Dominican and I just started talking with them. I realized my English wasn’t good but I decided I was just going to talk. I wasn’t afraid to talk because I wanted to learn.”
Julio understood the importance of learning the language. It took one less thing off his plate in trying to become a big leaguer and also let him be him. Although he’s not stand-out loud, there’s nothing quiet or shy about Julio Rodriguez. The thought of him not being able to communicate with those around him is unimaginable. He’s curious, he’s into everything and, as he says in the video, he’s all about fun. Having to be the quiet guy in the clubhouse? That wasn’t going to happen. He doesn’t want that to happen to others, either.
“I tell the other Latin players you have got to learn,” he said. “You cannot be afraid to learn because if you are afraid to learn you will never learn. You just have to say alright, let’s get it.”
And have some fun along the way. The personality is big. Coaches and organizational folks talk about the charisma. Seeing it in person you find it’s real, as is the confidence. And neither is obnoxious, as often can be with young players who have yet to do anything at the big league level. It’s a friendly, joyous confidence that has those who watch him find themselves sometimes stifling a smile.
Case in point, his final swing of a batting practice on Field 6 last week. Julio launched a ball out to left that cleared the fence, the landscaping and road behind it. Nelson Cruz territory. Believe me, it was noticed, and as Julio finished the swing he just laughed. Then he walked around the back of the cage, patting hitting coach Tim Laker on the rear end as he walked by.
If this kid is the future, the future is going to be fun.
Let’s get to know Julio Rodriguez.