Watching the joy and enthusiasm that he brings to a baseball field on a daily basis, it seems impossible to believe that the megawatt smile displayed each day from Julio Rodriguez could shine brighter.
But it was apparent Sunday afternoon, when the Mariners’ precocious rookie center fielder was informed that he was selected for the 2022 American League All-Star Game.
“I got very excited when I found out I was going to be part of the All-Star team,” he said. “It’s feels like a dream. It’s a dream that I had when I was a kid and to be able to achieve that right now in my first year, I’m definitely really excited and proud of the work that I’ve done.”
The teams were announced at 2:30 p.m. while the Mariners were in the midst of sweeping the Blue Jays in a four-game series at T-Mobile Park. In the top of the sixth inning, public address announcer Eric Powers notified the crowd of Rodriguez’s selection with a picture on the video board. Nearly all of the people in the crowd of 37,694 rewarded him with a roaring standing ovation.
“It was amazing,” he said. “It is a dream for every kid that plays the game is being able to be a part of that game. And to see the crowd like that and to get the standing ovation when I was on the field and just seeing the big screen. it really touched me.”
Coming into Sunday, Rodriguez posted a .274/.335./.480 slash line in 85 games with 17 doubles, two triples, 15 homers, 50 runs scored, 43 RBI, 25 walks, 96 strikeouts and 21 stolen bases. He has a 3.0 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) and a 3.5 Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement (bWAR).
Among qualified AL outfielders, Rodriguez ranked first in games played (85), stolen bases, tied for third in hits (88), fourth in runs scored, fWAR and bWAR, tied for sixth in doubles, tied for seventh in homers, tied for eighth in homers and 10th in RBI.
He is third Mariners player age 21 or younger to be named to the All-Star team, the other two were Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez, who were named All-Stars at age 20 and 21. The most recent players age 21 or younger to be named All-Stars were Ronald Acuna and Mike Soroka in 2019, Ozzie Albies and Gleyber Torres in 2018 and Cody Bellinger in 2017.
Rodriguez is the sixth Mariners rookie to be chosen as an All-Star, joining Michael Pineda (2011), Ichiro Suzuki (2001), Alvin Davis (1984), Matt Young (1983) and Ruppert Jones (1977).
After a brilliant spring training, which pressed the Mariners to put him on the opening-day roster, Rodriguez — who was considered one of the top prospects in baseball — has still managed to exceed expectations with his play. The Mariners haven’t had a player with this sort of charisma and superstar potential since Griffey.
Admittedly, he didn’t put making the All-Star on his list of immediate goals, but that doesn’t mean he never considered it.
“Like I always say, I never try to set a limit for myself,” he said. “I feel like I just gotta roll with it, trying to take care of it one day at a time. And I feel like that is just a result that happened for me taking care of every single day.”
Rodriguez immediately called his parents in the Dominican Republic.
“They were pretty happy,” he said. “They were very proud and excited to see me out there.”
As a kid growing up in the Dominican Republic where “you breathe baseball,” Rodriguez remembers watching the midsummer classic each year. But the distinct memory of Robinson Cano hitting the go-ahead solo homer off Cubs closer Wade Davis in the top of the 10th inning of the 2017 All-Star in Miami lingers in his mind.
Cano would go on to be named MVP of the game.
Unfortunately for the Mariners and two of his teammates — first baseman Ty France and starting pitcher Logan Gilbert — Rodriguez was the only player chosen in the players vote and manager selections.
“I feel like we should have a few guys going to the All-Star Game,” Rodriguez said. “Guys like Ty and Logan should be a part of that team.”
But the guys from other teams that will be at Dodger Stadium as All-Stars have Rodriguez’s natural curiosity piqued. He can’t wait to talk to them, including future Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols.
“I love it,” he said. “I feel like I’m always out to learn, especially from guys like that. There’s nobody better to learn from than those guys. They actually have been there, they’ve actually have done it. And they’ve had really long careers with a lot of knowledge, so I feel I’m always down to learn. I’ve definitely been looking forward to learning from those guys.”
The snub of France was a bit stunning considering he was a finalist in the fan voting, earning the second highest vote amount in Phase 1 of the All-Star voting and losing out to Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for the starting first base spot in Phase 2 of the voting.
“Very disappointed for Ty France,” manager Scott Servais said. “Ty France is the best first baseman in the league this year. And I certainly have a ton of respect for Vlad and he’s an awesome player. Up until Ty’s injury, I thought he was a shoo-in and he makes it to the final vote and doesn’t get in. Hopefully, he still will get in.”
France couldn’t hide the disappointment in his voice.
“I’ve still not really processed it, but you know it is what it is,” he said. “There’s a lot of good players out there. Not to take anything away from any of them, but I definitely thought I played my way in there.”
While France did miss 12 games with a left elbow strain, he still has the third highest fWAR among AL first baseman at 2.1. He ranks second in batting average (.310), on-base percentage (.384) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.851), weighted runs created (150), third in hits (89), RBI (45), fourth in slugging percentage (.467) and tied for fifth in doubles (15).
After Starting Sunday’s game against the Blue Jays, Gilbert finished the day with a 10-3 record and 2.80 ERA in 18 starts. In 106 innings pitched, he’s struck out 100 with 29 walks with opposing hitters posting a .229/.289/.351 slash line game. The Mariners have a 13-5 record in his 18 starts.
Among AL starters, Gilbert’s 17 starts coming into Sunday were tied for the most in the AL. Only he and Justin Verlander (11) had double digit wins. He ranked fifth in ERA, tied for fifth in bWAR (2.4), eighth in innings pitched and tied for ninth in fWAR (1.7).
There is a chance that either France or Gilbert could still make the team if a player opts out of playing. Houston’s Yordan Alvarez was expected to go on the injured list and Toronto outfielder George Springer is also battling injuries. France will happily take their spot.
“It’s a huge honor to make the team regardless how you get on there,” he said. “The best players in baseball get to go out and enjoy that. If that happens, it happens, but it sucks that it’s that way. I never want an injury to happen to people, but whatever happens, happens.”
Until then, Rodriguez will be Seattle’s only representative.
When asked if he would participate in the home run derby, something Servais probably would prefer that he didn’t, Rodriguez flashed an impish grin, snapping his fingers and saying, “We’ll see.”