Why Julio Rodríguez is Our Series 1 Cover Star
The Seattle Mariners had missed the Major League Baseball playoffs for 20 straight seasons, their last postseason appearance taking place before the birth of the Apple iPod, the Xbox, and Billie Eilish — the longest drought in North American professional sports. That’s the equivalent of someone in the Emerald City going a whole week without Starbucks.
Then Julio Rodríguez showed up, representing for the city harder than Sir-Mix-A-Lot.
Rodríguez earned American League Rookie of the Year honors in 2022 thanks to a .284/.345/.509 slash line with 28 home runs and 25 stolen bases across 132 games during his standout debut campaign for the M’s. Most importantly, he led Seattle to the postseason for the first time since 2001, the same year he celebrated his first birthday.
The Many Faces of J-Rod
J-Rod’s other accolades included an All-Star Game appearance, a Silver Slugger Award, and a place on the All-MLB Second Team. He also garnered mainstream attention for his memorable run to the finals of the Home Run Derby with 81 homers across three rounds.
Put it all together, and it’s easy to see why the 22-year-old Dominican Republic native was selected as the cover star for Topps’ 2023 Series 1 boxes.
“The selection team, comprised of several Topps employees on the Brand, Sales, Marketing, and Editorial teams, look for players who exemplify both talent and passion and hopefully resonate with MLB fans and Topps collectors,” said Topps Brand Manager Jeremy Fullerton. “For 2023, we had several players who fit this bill, but none more than Julio. We are excited to feature such a talented young superstar of the MLB on 2023 Topps Baseball Series 1 packaging.”
He joins an illustrious group of Series 1 cover athletes that also includes Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr, Albert Pujols, Nolan Ryan, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Shohei Ohtani, among countless other current and future Hall of Famers since the debut of cover athletes in 1993. Talk about a who’s who featuring some of the sport’s biggest names.
Rodríguez quickly emerged as a top prospect for the Mariners after signing as an international free agent in 2017. He posted a .955 OPS across 838 minor league at-bats while rapidly working his way through the club’s system.
While great numbers in the minors don’t always translate to immediate MLB success – thinking of Todd Van Poppel, Ruben Rivera, among others – the outfielder made a seamless transition to the big leagues.
The right-handed hitting sensation, who captured a bronze medal with the Dominican national team at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, finished 21st among all hitters with a 5.3 fWAR as a rookie. That figure ranked seventh among outfielders behind Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Jeff McNeil, and Brandon Nimmo.
His steady rise to superstardom is why Seattle felt comfortable giving him a 12-year, $209.3 million contract extension in August before he finished his first MLB season. He’ll be the face of the franchise for the foreseeable future. Earning nine figures guaranteed in your early 20s is quite the flex.
“That’s a 2022 award,” Rodríguez said after winning Rookie of the Year honors. “That year is closed. It’s over. It’s on to 2023 now. So all those numbers and whatever I did in 2022 are going to stay in 2022. Now we’ve got to get ready for next season, improve this offseason to get ready for the challenge again.”
Between elite-level performance and an infectious love for the game, J-Rod exemplifies a perfect organizational cornerstone and one of the players who’s ready to lead the MLB into the next generation.
And now he’s got another accolade for his swiftly growing career résumé: Topps Series 1 cover athlete. And based on his early career numbers, it may not end up being the only time he receives the honor, potentially joining the likes of Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Trout as multiple-time selections.