Julio Rodríguez and Michael Harris II are MLB’s top rookies
By Benjamin Hoffman
One made his team’s opening-day roster. The other was not in the major leagues until late May. But once October came around, Julio Rodríguez of the Seattle Mariners and Michael Harris II of the Atlanta Braves not only were the starting center fielders for their playoff teams but both had signed contract extensions that promised to keep them in place into the 2030s.
On Monday, Rodríguez and Harris, both 21, won MLB’s Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards, which are presented annually by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
For Rodríguez, who spoke boldly before the season about his ability to find personal and team success with Seattle, which had not made the playoffs since 2001, the American League award seemed predestined. He struggled to hit in his first month, but ended up batting .284 with a .345 on-base percentage, 28 home runs and 25 stolen bases.
Mike Trout, for the 2012 Angels, and Chris Young, for the 2007 Diamondbacks, are the only other major leaguers to record a season of at least 25 home runs and at least 25 stolen bases as a rookie.
“I went through some shaky times at the beginning of the year, but I was able to stick to myself, trust myself,” Rodríguez said in an interview on MLB Network. “All the doubts I had throughout the year, I know it’s going to serve me well along my career.”
With his big personality and exciting blend of speed and power, Rodríguez was the AL’s rookie of the month in May and June before being named to the All-Star team in July. His popularity soared after he launched 81 home runs over three rounds in the Home Run Derby, losing in the finals to Juan Soto.
“It’s like a dream,” Rodríguez told reporters after his All-Star selection. “It’s like a dream that I had as a kid, and being able to receive that right now, in my first year, I’m definitely excited about the work that I’ve done.”
The accolades continued, and the Mariners placed an enormous bet on Rodríguez’s future in August by agreeing to a massive (and complicated) contract extension that guarantees him $210 million over 12 years but could be worth up to $470 million if he hits certain benchmarks.
Rodríguez’s charmed season culminated with the Mariners snapping their 20-season playoff drought, which was the longest in the major men’s American team sports leagues. Seattle beat the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card round but lost to the Houston Astros in a division series.
With 29 of 30 first-place votes, Rodríguez held off the AL’s other two finalists, catcher Adley Rutschman of the Baltimore Orioles and outfielder Steven Kwan of the Cleveland Guardians, as well as Astros shortstop Jeremy Peña, who was not a finalist for his work in the regular season — he finished fifth behind the three finalists and Kansas City’s Bobby Witt Jr. — but who was the Most Valuable Player of the AL Championship Series and the World Series.
Harris, a third-round pick in 2019, did not arrive with the same hype as Rodríguez — MLB.com ranked him as the 65th-best prospect in the minor leagues before the season — but he continued a long tradition of Atlanta’s finding gems in its own backyard: He once starred at Stockbridge High School, about 40 miles south of Truist Park, in suburban Atlanta.
“It’s crazy,” Harris said in an interview on MLB Network. “Being in Atlanta, growing up here and just even being able to stay with the home team and playing for a team I grew up rooting for and going to games for all the time. It’s a really crazy moment, but I definitely didn’t have this one as one of my goals.”
After batting .305 with an .878 on-base plus slugging percentage over the first two months of the season at Class AA Mississippi, Harris was promoted to the majors. He proved he could help the team with his bat, legs and glove: He was the National League’s rookie of the month in June, August and September.
Despite playing only 114 games, Harris hit .297 with 19 home runs, stole 20 bases and scored 75 runs. In the field, he tied for the fourth-most defensive wins above replacement among center fielders, according to Baseball Reference, but he played far fewer games than the players ahead of him on the list.
Continuing a recent trend of aggressively pursuing long-term deals with its young stars, Atlanta locked up Harris in August with an eight-year, $72 million extension that has him under contract through 2030 with club options for 2031 and 2032.
With 22 of 30 first-place votes, Harris held off the NL’s other two finalists: teammate Spencer Strider, a right-handed starting pitcher who also signed a lengthy contract extension with the team, and Brendan Donovan, a utility player for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Awards season was to continue this week with the manager of the year awards on Tuesday, the Cy Young awards today and MVP awards Thursday.