When people talk about the Rookie of the Year Award, they’re generally talking about the “official” one MLB hands out, voted on by members of the BBWAA. But almost every outlet will do some version of end-of-year awards, and the first of those dropped this week: Baseball America has named Julio Rodríguez their Rookie of the Year.
Julio is the first-ever Mariner to be awarded this honor from the august publication. (Yes, Ken Griffey Jr. didn’t win—because the first year BA gave out this award was 1989, two years after The Kid’s debut.) He’s also the first AL player to be named in three years, with the last AL winner being Shohei Ohtani in 2018. Because BA only gives out one ROY award, not splitting it up by league, their success rate in predicting a future winner from MLB is very high—they missed in 2020, selecting Tony Gonsolin (Devin Williams and his Airbender pitch won, along with the Mariners’ own Kyle Lewis), but before that hadn’t missed since 2010, when BA selected Jayson Heyward, who was narrowly beaten out by Buster Posey in the BBWAA voting. To be fair, 2010 was one of the best years for rookies seen this century: in addition to Heyward, Stephen Strasburg opened his career that year with a fourteen-strikeout outing, and Posey’s batterymate was another rookie named Madison Bumgarner.
Julio might have his own Bumgarner in teammate George Kirby, who has snuck into the Rookie of the Year conversation with his dominant stretch of late, but let’s be clear: this is Julio’s award. In 2017, Aaron Judge was the unanimous AL ROY (including BA’s ROY), putting up a line of .284/.422/.627 in his first full year. Julio currently sits at .280/.342/.502, and he’s doing that without the soft landing Judge got of roughly 100 plate appearances in 2016, in which he batted .179./263/.345. (Julio is also doing it without regularly playing in the bandboxes of the NL East, but that’s another thing.) Julio is also four years younger than Judge was in his ROY season, and had the added challenge—like all the current rookie class did—of losing essentially a full year of development due to the pandemic.
It’s been a year full of accolades and history book notations for the Mariners’ young superstar. He earned back-to-back AL Rookie of the Month awards in May and June, always a strong indicator of year-end performance. He was the lone rookie named to an All-Star team. He was the fastest player in AL history (107 games) to get to the 20/20 club, and the first Mariner to do so since Mike Cameron in 2002; he then repeated the accomplishment in getting to the 25/25 club, beating out Mike Trout by three games, making him and Trout the lone AL rookies to ever achieve 25/25. He was the fastest player ever to get to 15 homers and 20 stolen bases, and the first player in recorded MLB history to get to 15 homers, 20 stolen bases, and 50 RBI in his first 90 career games.
Whew. That’s quite a lot to process. If your eyes glazed over reading all those stats, just know this: Julio has pulled so far ahead that many sports betting sites basically pulled AL ROY odds off the boards by late July; the race has been that lopsided, even with Julio’s recent injury and Adley Rutschman’s strong push towards the end of the season in keeping the Orioles’ playoff hopes on life support. The question isn’t if Julio will be named ROY; it’s if there will be anyone spiteful, misinformed, or parochial enough to pull the equivalent of not voting for Ken Griffey Jr. for the Hall of Fame.
Not only is Julio unlike anything Mariners fans have ever seen, he’s unlike anything baseball has seen. In 2018, a 17-year-old Rodríguez told me that he wanted to “break baseball.” So far, he’s off to a pretty good start.