Mariners center fielder Julio Rodriguez has been 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 called 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 Garcia and Marcus Semien being the others) to reach 25 longballs and steal 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.
Rutschman comes up short of the hardware, although that’s more a matter of timing than any possible indictment of his performance. The first overall pick in the 2019 draft, the switch-hitting backstop was banged up in Spring Training and eventually started the year in the minors. He played 20 minor league games before getting his first big league call in late May, a time when Rodríguez had already cemented himself among the AL favorites.
As soon as he got to the big league level, Rutschman emerged as Baltimore’s top position player. He hit .254/.362/.445 with 13 home runs across 470 plate appearances. Among 29 catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, Rutschman trailed only Toronto’s Alejandro Kirk in on-base percentage and finished eighth in slugging. The former Oregon State star also threw out 11 of 36 attempted base-stealers, rated as 18 runs above average with the glove by measure of Defensive Runs Saved and immediately stepped in to lead a generally young pitching staff.
Rutschman’s arguably already one of the sport’s top three catchers, and his arrival helped kick off an incredibly midseason turnaround for the O’s. 16-24 at the time of his promotion, Balti went more 67-55 after his call-up and shocked much of the baseball world by flirting with Wild Card contention into September. They didn’t make the postseason, but they were far better than most expected and have positioned themselves for a more active offseason than they’ve had since starting their rebuild. Rutschman isn’t responsible for the Orioles turnaround alone, but he’s no doubt the biggest part of what’s an increasingly promising team.
More to come.