EVERETT — He has only just arrived here in High-A ball, and already it appears Julio Rodriguez has outstayed his welcome.
Actually, outgrown might be a better description in his case.
The batter’s box tends to shrink when Rodriguez, the Mariners’ prized outfield prospect from the Dominican Republic, steps inside it. At 6-foot-3 and some 230 pounds, Rodriguez stands tall at the plate, his hands high, the hope surrounding his potential rising even higher with each at-bat.
“Sometimes he’ll do things and you’re just like — wow,” said Everett pitcher Emerson Hancock, the Mariners’ 2020 first-round pick. “I mean, he’s really, really good.”
Rodriguez, born Dec. 29, 2000, is at 20 years old the youngest player on the AquaSox roster. He passes the eye test in much the same way DK Metcalf does in a Seahawks uniform, and Rodriguez is already hitting home runs out of Everett’s Funko Field — over the 30-foot netting above the fence in right-center field, into the parking lot beyond, and perhaps still circling somewhere over the Cascades.
“From an athletic standpoint, he covers all five tools,” said Pat Dillon, the AquaSox’s longtime radio broadcaster. “And he doesn’t go up there hacking. He’s a very thoughtful hitter. He will work counts, and he has an idea of how they’re trying to pitch him.”
Rodriguez, like Jarred Kelenic, is widely considered a top-five prospect in all of baseball. Kelenic, 21, earned his promotion from Triple-A Tacoma to Seattle last week, the first drop of the next wave of prospects to land in Seattle.
Rodriguez and Kelenic first met during spring training in 2019, and almost immediately they began making plans for how and when they would get to the big leagues. Rodriguez said he sent Kelenic a congratulatory message when Kelenic was promoted last week.
“When I found out (about Kelenic’s call-up), it was a special moment for me,” Rodriguez said. “We talked about that a lot, and it’s really cool to see him play on the big stage.”
How long before Rodriguez might join Kelenic in Seattle?
For his part, Rodriguez says he’s not going to get caught looking too far down the road.
“That shouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “If you’re having success right now and you know you’re preparing yourself, just keep it going. That’s what you work for. That’s how I feel.
“I don’t think too far ahead. I know I’ll have a chance to play in the big leagues if I stay in the moment and focus on right now.”
It’s a mindset that has worked well for him in the first two weeks of the minor-league season. Rodriguez completed his first homestand in Everett by hitting .423 with five home runs and nine RBI in six games, earning league player of the week honors.
“Right now I (feel) really comfortable up there,” he said. “Not just because of all the results we’re having, but the approach I’m having — all my practices, all the swings and everything I’ve been working on. I’m confident about the foundation I’m building, and I’m so confident because I know I’m putting the work in before games. I have my routine, I’m sticking to it … and that’s why I’m having the success I’m having.”
Rodriguez’s most likely arrival in Seattle is probably early 2022 — he did, after all, miss all of the 2020 minor-league season because of the COVID-19 shutdown, and he has been slowed by wrist injuries each of the past two years — but Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto says he’s not ruling anything out when it comes to the right fielder’s rise through the minors.
“He is a dynamic talent,” Dipoto said last week, “and there have been superstar players like Mike Trout, like some of the great players of all-time, who have made their way to the big leagues at such a young age. And I won’t count that as impossible for Julio. He is that kind of talent.
“Again, I don’t want to suppose that that’s likely to happen in 2021. But Julio is the kind of player that can easily move multiple levels in one season. And it wouldn’t be entirely shocking based on his personality and his tool set to see him jump two (or) three levels at this tender age.”
Rodriguez might not be the only Everett player rising quickly. The AquaSox’s roster is loaded with 10 of the Mariners’ top 30 prospects, and Rodriguez (3), Hancock (50) and right-hander George Kirby (93) are ranked among the top 100 prospects in all of baseball.
Earlier this month, Baseball America ranked the AquaSox as the third-best minor-league team in baseball — at any level — and Everett’s off to a 10-4 start with an absurd run differential of plus-52 through 14 games.
“It’s been a blast so far,” Hancock said. “I know it’s only been a short amount of games, but it’s been sweet. This is a great group of guys to learn from.”