Mariners center fielder Julio Rodríguez has won the Rookie of the Year award in the American League for 2022, according to an announcement from the Baseball Writers Association of America. Orioles catcher Adley Rutschman finished second in the voting, while Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan checked in third.
This year’s rookie class in the Junior Circuit was remarkable, headlined by Rodríguez and Rutschman. The pair of top prospects both hit the ground running against MLB pitching. Seattle carried Rodríguez on the roster as their Opening Day center fielder, looking to build off their surprising 90-win campaign in 2021. The young outfielder got off to a tough start, thanks in part to a number of questionable strike calls in the early going, but he eventually emerged as the best position player on a good Seattle club.
Over 560 plate appearances, Rodríguez posted a .284/.345/.509 line. He connected on 28 home runs and swiped 25 bases in 32 attempts, one of just four players (Kyle Tucker, Adolis García and Marcus Semien being the others) to reach 25 longballs and steals apiece. Rodríguez was particularly electric in the second half, putting up a .303/.361/.576 line coming out of the All-Star Break to help Seattle cruise to its first postseason appearance in more than two decades.
Rodríguez also impressed on the other side of the ball, starting 130 games and playing 1126 2/3 innings in center field. Both Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast credited him with above-average defense, no small feat for a player whom some prospect evaluators suggested might be a better fit for right field. The 21-year-old looks to have put any questions about his defensive home to bed for the time being.
While Rodríguez is surely thrilled to secure Rookie of the Year honors on its own merits, the selection has a tangible effect on the team as well. The new collective bargaining agreement contained measures designed to counteract service time manipulation through the so-called “prospect promotion incentive.” Top-two Rookie of the Year finishers who were Top 100 prospects on at least two preseason lists at Baseball America, ESPN and MLB Pipeline are automatically credited with a full service year. That’s a moot point for Rodríguez, who’d have qualified for a full service year after tallying 172-plus days on the MLB roster regardless. He also signed a massive contract extension midseason that overwrites his path to arbitration and free agency.
The second portion of the PPI does come into effect, though. A team that promotes a player for a full service year who meets the aforementioned prospect criteria and entered the year with less than 60 days of MLB service who subsequently finishes top two in ROY balloting (or top three in Cy Young or MVP voting during their pre-arbitration seasons) earns a bonus draft pick after the first round. Seattle carried Rodríguez on the roster all year, so they’ll collect an extra pick in the 2023 draft in recognition of his achievements.
Rutschman and Kwan check in as runners-up after very strong years in their own right. Baltimore’s catcher hit .254/.362/.445 with 13 home runs in 470 plate appearances. His second-place finish earns him a full year of service time as well. Kwan doesn’t that get that honor for third place, but he earned a full service year after breaking camp in Cleveland regardless. Rutschman’s former teammate at Oregon State, Kwan hit .298/.373/.400 across 638 plate appearances to help the Guards to a division title.
Rodríguez received 29 of 30 first-place votes, while Rutschman collected the other. Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, the lone voter to place Rutschman ahead of Rodríguez, explained his thought process in a well-reasoned Twitter thread. Rodríguez was the only player to be named on all 30 ballots. Rutschman was selected on 28 ballots, while Kwan earned 24 combined second or third-place votes. Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña and Mariners righty George Kirby also picked up some support.
Full vote breakdown found here.