Sports: Top prospect Julio Rodriguez on making the Mariners roster: 'I'm ready to go.'

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PEORIA, Ariz -- Julio Rodriguez made the telephone call he has dreamed of since the day he picked up his first baseball bat growing up in the Dominican Republic.

“Daddy,’’ he said, “I did it.’’

Then came the outpouring of tears.

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Rodriguez, 21, considered one of baseball’s finest prospects, was officially informed Monday morning that will be on the Seattle Mariners opening-day roster.

Really, it was no surprise, despite Rodriguez, a 6-foot-3, 228-pound power-hitting outfielder, having played only 46 games in Class AA and 217 minor-league games overall since signing in 2017.

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Told by GM Jerry Dipoto when he came to camp that the door would be left open to make the team, Rodriguez knocked the door right off its hinges, hitting .419 with a .471 on-base percentage and .839 slugging percentage. He hit three homers, four doubles, scored nine runs and stole three bases in 12 games.

In earning an opening-day roster spot, top prospect Julio Rodriguez may have forced the Mariners' hand by hitting .419 with three homers in 31 spring training at-bats. © Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports In earning an opening-day roster spot, top prospect Julio Rodriguez may have forced the Mariners' hand by hitting .419 with three homers in 31 spring training at-bats.

If he hadn’t made the team, there would have been a mutiny in Seattle, let alone a likely grievance by the Major League Baseball Players Association for manipulating his service time.

“I’m not surprised, really, because I prepared myself for those results,’’ Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday. “I put myself in the position to perform the way I am now.’’

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Now, of course, will be the most difficult part: Staying in the big leagues.

Just ask teammate Jarred Kelenic.

You see, he was the Julio Rodriguez of the Mariners’ camp a year ago.

Kelenic, 21 at the time, also had a strong spring training in 2021, hitting .300 with a .440 on-base percentage and .700 slugging percentage. Yet he was kept off the opening-day roster, with the Mariners citing that he needed more minor-league experience. He spent a month at the Mariners’ alternate camp, and spent just five days at Triple-A Tacoma.

He was called up May 13 to surreal fanfare in Seattle.

And was demoted two months later, buried in an 0-for-39 slump. He went 3-for-4 with two doubles and a homer in his second game of the season, and promptly hit .067 with one homer and 24 strikeouts in 75 at-bats until his demotion.

“I put way too much pressure on myself,’’ Kelenic said. “There were a lot of expectations on me. I wanted it so bad. I wanted to go out there and help the team the best way I could. I wanted to be that guy who got 10 hits with one swing of the bat.

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“Obviously, that didn’t work.’’

Kelenic returned in July, and wound up hitting .181 with 14 homers for the season, including a strong September when he hit seven homers with 20 RBI and an .854 OPS.

Now, he plans to do everything he can to help Rodriguez avoid the same rookie pitfalls, knowing that the expectations will be unreal, and in many ways, grossly unfair.

“We talk day-in and day-out, and I plan to be there for him,’’ Kelenic says. “Obviously, I can share some of the struggles I went through last year. I know what worked and didn’t work. If and when he struggles, I’ll always be there to help him.’’

The biggest advice Kelenic has offered?

“Enjoy the grind, just enjoy it, every single day,’’ Rodriguez says. “As a kid growing up in the Dominican, I’ve dreamed of this my whole life. We literally breathed baseball growing up. And to be at the top level, to be in the big leagues, is going to be a really cool experience.’’

There will be some glorious moments, and at times he’ll look like one of the greatest young stars in the game, and other times he'll be left wondering whether he belongs.

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That’s the beauty of baseball.

You'd better embrace it or the game will drive you crazy.

“The biggest thing I learned is that I can have a bad week, I can have a bad month,’’ Kelenic says, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a great week the following week. I was fortunate enough to have a really good Sepember last year, and going through the good September made me forget about the bad May and July I had.

“So I’ll stress to him is that just because you’re having a tough month or a tough week, don’t panic.’’

Certainly, Rodriguez’s exuberance and outgoing personality should help ease the difficult times. He can be the life of the clubhouse saying hello and high-fiving everyone, and other times sitting quietly in his locker meditating, getting ready for the hectic day.

“He’s just a fun kid,’’ Mariners manager Scott Servais told reporters Monday. “The joy and the excitement he plays with, I think it’s contagious. It’s going to serve our team very well.’’

Of course, it certainly helps Rodriguez that he has an abundance of talent as the No. 3 prospect in baseball that could translate into being a perennial All-Star.

“He’s a special, special talent,’’ Mariners outfielder Jesse Winker says. “He hits the ball really hard. He runs really fast. He throws really hard. And he’s put together very well, too.

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“I don’t know what else you can ask for in a baseball player. He’s got everything. It's going to be cool to play alongside him and get on base for him.’’

And no one plans to have more fun than Rodriguez, who would love to be the centerpiece of the team that finally ends the Mariners' 21-year playoff drought, the longest in North American team sports.

“It’s just cool being around everybody here,’’ Rodriguez says, “and to be in an environment that represents who I am too. It makes it easier to be yourself when everybody is striving for the same thing.’’

The Seattle fanbase is anxiously awaiting, and so is the Rodriguez family, with a son hoping to make everyone awfully proud.

“We had a lot of great players in the Dominican,’’ Rodriguez says, “but honestly my hero is my dad. He taught me a lot of things. Taught me to be a man. Taught me to do things the right way.

“I can’t wait. It’s on. I’m ready to go.’’

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Top prospect Julio Rodriguez on making the Mariners roster: 'I'm ready to go.'

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