To Ibanez, A-Rod was an immediate standout
Raul Ibanez noticed Alex Rodriguez before many of us had even heard his name. Ibanez can recall the exact moment: both were property of the Seattle Mariners, getting their respective starts playing in the Instructional League in Arizona late in 1993.
The sound of the ball coming off A-Rod’s bat, exploding out of the batting cage and rocketing toward the outfield walls, demanded attention from anyone within a certain distance.
“I watched him in the cage hitting, and I was catching a bullpen,” Ibanez recalled on Saturday, as he reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field for his first spring with the Yankees. “And I said, ‘Who is that kid?’ They said it was the first-round pick, and I said, ‘That’s the next Juan Gonzalez.’”
That was high praise then; in 1993 with the Rangers, Gonzalez led the league with 46 homers and a .632 slugging percentage, finishing fourth in the MVP balloting. Years later, though, Ibanez and the rest of the world would see A-Rod eclipse even those lofty projections.
“Of course, I was off. I’ve apologized since,” Ibanez said. “At the time, it seemed like a really big call.”