Looking debonair in a classic black tuxedo, impeccably tailored to fit his linebacker-like frame, Julio Rodriguez stood on the dais of the ballroom at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan to formally accept his Jackie Robinson American League rookie of the year award at the 98th annual New York Baseball Writers’ dinner.

Flashing his trademark smile, and exhibiting his impossibly intoxicating charm, Rodriguez made a brief speech to those in attendance.

After thanking his family and representatives and the other winners of the yearly Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards, Rodriguez became introspective about his journey, growing up in the small town of Loma De Cabrera in the Dominican Republic to a magical rookie season with the Mariners in 2022 and one of baseball’s future superstars.

“For all those young guys out there, I just really hope there’s other guys that come and do this and feel motivated by my role too,” he said. “I just hope that they keep achieving new heights and they also take the game to the next level by playing the game the right way by having fun with it and just keep representing their families. Don’t let anybody set your limits. Don’t let anybody tell you that you cannot do it. Look at my example, I’m really blessed for that.”

Rodriguez received a loud ovation for his heartfelt comments.

It was a fitting end to a sensational rookie season that exceeded expectations for everyone involved, even Rodriguez.

In the fourth installment of our Mariners position overviews, here’s a look at center field:


The 21-year-old man-child arrived at spring training slimmer but still freakishly strong with improved speed and agility and the motivation to make the Mariners’ opening-day roster as the starting center fielder.

From his first at-bat of the spring, which was a 431-foot homer with a 117-mph exit velocity, Rodriguez played his way into his desired role, showing a maturity and acumen to match his precocious baseball talent.

The intense work ethic that Rodriguez approached each day with endeared him to teammates. The exuberance and joy he displayed on the field and his natural charisma made him a favorite of fans.

Even when he struggled in his first month of the season, including some unfavorable treatment from umpires, who rang him up for multiple called third strikes on pitches out of the strike zone, Rodriguez’s confidence didn’t waver. He believed in his approach and process.

“He didn’t panic,” manager Scott Servais said. “A lot of young players panic and he didn’t.”


And he was right.

He started to hit and never stopped. Rodriguez became the Mariners’ most dangerous hitter and best all-around player, leading the organization to its first postseason appearance in 21 years.

Along the way, he was named to the American League All-Star team and put on a magical display of power during the annual home run derby, finishing second to Juan Soto, but establishing himself as a candidate for superstardom. He signed a contract extension with the organization that could pay him almost $500 million through the 2039 season, making him a Mariner for life.

By the end of the season, 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. 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).

He 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 Mike Trout (128 career games).

Beyond the stats, he became the face of the Mariners franchise with a popularity similar to Ken Griffey Jr.’s arrival in 1989.


So what’s next for Rodriguez?

A sophomore slump doesn’t seem likely given his indefatigable motivation to be the best.

“I’m gonna keep that a secret,” he said of his offseason work goals. “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.”

Finding a way to avoid the injured list would be an obvious goal. Rodriguez hated being out of the lineup because of injury. He also must prepare for the possibility of seeing even fewer hittable pitches as the Mariners’ most dangerous hitter.

“Julio is a great learner,” Servais said. “If he makes a mistake, he’s going to talk about it. He learns from it. It’s a great sign for a young player that has that much talent. The player himself, you can’t ask for a better package, but the thing that separates them is the personality. It’s the smile on his face. It’s what gravitates fans toward him, and he’s not afraid of that. Some players don’t like the lights on them. He likes when the lights are on, the brighter they get, the happier he is. It’s very unique to find in today’s game.”  

In the minors

Mariners center fielders in the farm system:

Triple-A Tacoma

  • Cade Marlowe
  • Taylor Trammell

Double-A Arkansas

  • Tanner Kirwer
  • Alberto Rodriguez

High-A Everett

  • Victor Labrada

Low-A Modesto

  • Jonatan Clase

Arizona Complex League

  • George Feliz
  • Curtis Washington