- ESPN baseball reporter. Covered the L.A. Rams for ESPN from 2016 to 2018 and the L.A. Angels for MLB.com from 2012 to 2016.
Julio Rodriguez, the Seattle Mariners’ dynamic young center fielder, was named the American League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America on Monday, topping Baltimore Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman and Cleveland Guardians left fielder Steven Kwan.
Rodriguez received 29 of 30 first-place votes and one second for 148 points from a Baseball Writers’ Association of America panel. Rutschman came in second with one first-place vote, 18 seconds and nine thirds. Kwan came in third with Royals infielder Bobby Witt Jr., Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena and Mariners pitcher George Kirby also receiving votes.
Rodriguez electrified the city of Seattle and captivated an entire nation of baseball fans with his youthful exuberance, pronounced swagger and wide-ranging talent. At 21, he slashed .284/.345/.509 with 28 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 25 doubles while propelling the Mariners to their first postseason berth since 2001, snapping the longest active drought among the four major North American professional sports.
Along the way, Rodriguez consistently came through in big spots, dazzling with his defense and power and speed. His 5.3 FanGraphs wins above replacement tied that of Rutschman for the rookie lead and was topped by only 21 position players throughout the sport.
Rodriguez is the fifth Mariners player to win Rookie of the Year, after Alvin Davis (1984), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000), Ichiro Suzuki (2001) and Kyle Lewis (2020).
Only two other players since 1900 have accumulated at least 28 home runs, 25 stolen bases and 25 doubles in their age-21-or-younger seasons — Mike Trout and Andruw Jones. Rodriguez is the first player ever to combine 25 home runs with 25 stolen bases in his first season in the big leagues and the third to do so while still rookie eligible, along with Trout and Chris Young, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
Rutschman finished with a .254/.362/.445 slash line to go along with 13 homers and 35 doubles while handling the rigors from behind home plate. The Orioles, widely expected to finish last in the hyper-competitive AL East, began the 2022 season 16-24 but went 67-55 after Rutschman’s debut on May 21, nearly making the playoffs.
Kwan, already one of the most skilled hitters in the sport, batted .298/.373/.400 with 168 hits, the most by a Cleveland rookie in the expansion era (since 1961). The only player in the majors with a higher contact rate last season was Minnesota Twins infielder Luis Arraez, who won the AL batting title.
The Mariners envisioned Rodriguez as a potential star when they signed him out of the Dominican Republic for $1.75 million in the summer of 2017, but he profiled more as a power-hitting corner outfielder. Rodriguez worked to turn himself into a five-tool center fielder, zooming through the Mariners’ minor league system — despite losing an entire season to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 — and cracking the team’s Opening Day roster this spring.
Rodriguez struggled mightily in his first month, posting a .544 OPS during that stretch, but he recovered enough to make the All-Star team and ultimately put on a show during the Home Run Derby from Dodger Stadium.
Less than two months later, the Mariners rewarded him with a long-term extension that will pay him anywhere between $210 million and $470 million over the life of his career, an unprecedented — and highly incentivized — contract for someone with less than a full year of major league service time.
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