J-Rod leads new generation of rookies

NEW YORK — When the Seattle Mariners confirmed that he was part of the team for the opening day of the regular season, Julio Rodríguez rushed to call his parents in the Dominican Republic.

“We’re going to the big leagues now,” he proclaimed.

His father already had an idea and was preparing the trip to Minnesota, where the outfielder and the Mariners will open the campaign on Friday.

“I was buying the suitcase, I’m going to take the big one,” said the father at a time that the team captured and went viral.

“We work for this, nothing for free,” said Rodríguez, who at 21 is part of a litter of prospects who will debut on the first weekend of the campaign.

The others who received the notification were infielder Spencer Torkelson (Detroit), pitcher Hunter Greene (Cincinnati), outfielder Josh Lowe (Tampa Bay) and shortstop Bryson Stott (Philadelphia).

Torkelson’s call – the first pick in the 2020 draft – had a symbolic relay with the Tigers, as Miguel Cabrera – the starter in 12 of his 14 seasons with the team – handed him a first base glove.

“Miggy gave me a big hug. That was a special moment because of what he means,” Torkelson said of the 502-homer Venezuelan.

Manager AJ Hinch noted the changing of the guard: “It was like seeing the first baseman of the past with the first baseman of the future, letting him know he was the first baseman of the present.”

Rodriguez’s exceptional preseason — with an .839 slugging percentage and three home runs — made it easy for Seattle to make the decision not to wait any longer. The Mariners are determined to end a 21-year wait without making the playoffs, the longest such drought in all of professional sports in the United States.

“He’s a really fun guy,” manager Scott Servais said. “The joy and enthusiasm with which he plays is contagious. It’s something that will help us a lot. And he is above all a tremendous player.”

The other notable names:

-Bobby Witt Jr., shortstop, Kansas Royals: The son of the former Texas Rangers pitcher. He was taken by Kansas City with the second pick in the 2019 draft. He turns 22 in June. He hit 33 home runs and stole 29 bases at Double-A and Triple-A last season.

-Adley Rutschman, catcher, Baltimore Orioles. A switch hitter, Rutschman is emerging as the bulwark of a resurgent Orioles, a team that lost 110 games last year. He was the first pick in the 2019 draft, behind Witt. He hit .285 with 23 homers and 75 RBIs in two levels of the minors last season, finishing in Triple A. His debut will have to wait a bit longer.

-Hunter Greene, right-hander, Cincinnati Reds: Owner of a fastball that hit 104 mph in Triple-A last year. He was the second pick in the 2017 draft. He did not pitch in 2019 and 2020 following Tommy John surgery. He will turn 23 in August.

-Oneil Cruz, shortstop, Pittsburgh Pirates: Perhaps the most prominent prospect the Pirates have had in a long time. At 23 years old, he is a giant of 2 meters tall (6.7 feet). He came up to the majors last year for a couple of games and was one of eight players this season to make a contact that was thrown at 118 mph. It remains to be seen whether he will stay at shortstop or be sent to the outfield. Just 21 at-bats above Class A, Pittsburgh preferred to start the season in the minors.

-Bryson Stott, shortstop, Philadelphia Phillies: Earned the spot after a spring in which he had 12 hits in 25 at-bats. The 14th pick in the draft has also played third base.

-Josh Lowe, outfielder, Tampa Bay Rays: The Austin Meadows trade to Detroit opened up a spot on the opening day roster. He had a turn in the majors last year after racking up 22 home runs and a .916 OPS in Triple-A.

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J-Rod leads new generation of rookies