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Mariners’ Julio Rodriguez named AL Rookie of the Year

Nov. 14, 2022 Updated Mon., Nov. 14, 2022 at 7:58 p.m.

Julio Rodriguez hits a triple to deep center in the fourth inning as the Seattle Mariners play the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Oct. 11 at Minute Maid Park, in Houston, Texas.  (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
Julio Rodriguez hits a triple to deep center in the fourth inning as the Seattle Mariners play the Houston Astros in Game 1 of the American League Division Series Oct. 11 at Minute Maid Park, in Houston, Texas. (Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

When he attacked each moment of offseason work with his typical intensity, ignoring how much the exhausting sessions made his muscles burn and lungs sting from his relentless effort, Julio Rodriguez didn’t use individual awards and accolades as motivation to carry him through.

He simply wanted to show the Mariners and everyone in Major League Baseball what he believed to be true – he was not only ready to play in the big leagues, but ready to succeed at levels reserved for the game’s greatest players.

That singular focus on improvement regardless of accomplishments, instilled by Rodriguez’s parents as he grew up in Loma De Cabrera in the Dominican Republic, an unending desire to continue learning about a game he already understood better than most and, of course, a frightening amount of natural talent is how Rodriguez forced his way onto the opening-day roster at age 21, put together a brilliant debut season and helped lead the Mariners back into the postseason.

It ultimately led to baseball’s highest honor for rookie players.

During a special broadcast Monday on MLB Network, Rodriguez was named the 2022 American League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year, beating out Baltimore’s Adley Rutschman and Cleveland’s Steven Kwan.

“It’s pretty cool,” Rodriguez said in a video conference. “You only get one chance to do that in your career.”

Flanked by his mother and father and surrounded by family, an eruption of cheers followed when Alvin Davis, the Mariners’ first Rookie of the Year in 1984, made the announcement.

Chants of “JU-LI-O!! JU-LI-O!! JU-LI-O!!” followed from the family.

Rodriguez received 29 of the 30 possible first-place votes, with one writer from the Toronto chapter voting Rutschman first and Rodriguez second.

“Everybody that was in that room, somehow in some way, played a big part into me sitting here talking to you guys about being the Rookie of the Year,” he said. “I feel like if I didn’t have them. I wouldn’t be the same. … Because they pushed me, all of this was possible.”

It was the most prestigious accolade for the Mariners’ precocious star center fielder in an offseason filled with them, having already earned a Silver Slugger award, being named the American League’s Outstanding Rookie in The Players Choice awards and rookie of the year honors from Baseball America and Baseball Digest.

He joins Kyle Lewis (2020), Ichiro (2001), Kazuhiro Sasaki (2000) and Davis as Mariners players to win the award, which is voted upon annually by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Beyond inspiring a new generation of fans in the Northwest and around MLB, driving attendance and merchandise sales as the new face of the franchise, Rodriguez’s success also benefitted the Mariners in a new aspect. Under the new collective-bargaining agreement, Rodriguez earned the Mariners an extra draft pick after the first round by winning the award.

Rodriguez posted a .284/.345/.509 slash line with 84 runs scored, 25 doubles, three triples, 28 home runs, 75 RBI, 40 walks and 25 stolen bases in 132 games this season. He was twice placed on the 10-day injured list in the second half of the season, forcing him to miss 21 games.

He led all major-league rookies in home runs, total bases (260), slugging percentage (.509), on-base plus slugging percentage (.853), Baseball Reference WAR (6.0) and FanGraphs WAR (5.3). He ranked second in runs scored, RBI, extra-base hits (57) and stolen bases and third in hits (145).

Rodriguez became just the third rookie in major-league history and the first player in his debut season with 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases. He also became the fastest player in major-league history (125 career games) to reach those feats, surpassing Trout (128 career games).

“If he didn’t have a couple of setbacks physically, the 30-30 thing would have been a reality,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said. “He had a remarkable year. He accepts every challenge, and then when the light gets brighter he seems to shine even more.”

He is the fourth player age 21 or younger to win the award, joining pitcher Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers (1981), infielder Albert Pujols of the Cardinals (2001) and outfielder Mike Trout of the Angels (2012).

And he is one of four American League players 21 or younger to hit 25 or more home runs in his debut season, with Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio (1936), Ted Williams (1939) and Eddie Murray (1977).

Rodriguez was named to the American League All-Star team, the only rookie All-Star in 2022. He became the third Mariners player 21 or younger to be named an All-Star, joining Ken Griffey Jr. (twice) and Alex Rodriguez (twice). Julio Rodriguez also participated in the MLB Home Run Derby at Dodger Stadium, hitting the most home runs (81) and finishing second to Juan Soto.

So what’s next?

Well, Rodriguez had to let his body recover from a 2022 season, in which he played more games than in any season. He dealt with back and hand issues and suffered a broken pinkie finger in Game 3 of the American League Division Series while sliding into second base.

“My body was a little bit tired,” he said. “I was definitely at little beat up. But I went through it, and it’s going to serve as a good foundation for next year.”

But his rest time ended three days ago. He started offseason workouts again. But he wouldn’t share the focus of improvement in those workouts

“I’m gonna keep that a secret,” he said. “There is definitely a lot of room for improvement. We’re gonna explore it. We’re gonna keep on working. We’re gonna do some little tweaks, and we’re just gonna keep on going.”

For him, winning this award ends 2022. The focus is on 2023.

“That’s a 2022 award,” he said. “That year is closed. It’s over. It’s on to 2023 now. So all those numbers and whatever I did in 2022 are going to stay in 2022. Now we’ve got to get ready for next season, improve this offseason to get ready for the challenge again.”

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