Rays: Who is Randy Arozarena and how did he become Yankee nightmare?
Who is Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena, the biggest thorn in the New York Yankees’ side in the ALDS?
Raise your hand if you expected Tampa Bay Rays oufielder Randy Arozarena to push the New York Yankees to the brink in the ALDS.
Everyone with your hands up, give yourselves a round of applause.
Just know that a lot of people around New York might not believe you.
Through the first four games of the series, Arozarena is batting .500, with three of his eight hits for the series leaving the field at Petco Park.
That puts him at a 1.592 OPS, just shy of Giancarlo Stanton’s leading 1.599.
Arozarena’s also scored the most runs of anyone in the series, five.
While many people outside of Florida tries to figure out who Arozaerana is, he made a name for himself in his short time with the team, spanning just 23 games during the 2020 regular season after coming over from St. Louis in a trade during the offseason.
He showed power in 76 plate appearances this year. Clearly not as much power as he’s presented against the Yankees, but he’s not exactly your light-hitting middle infielder either.
The 25-year-old batted .281 this season with a .641 slugging average for about 360 points of isolated power. By contrast, Stanton’s career ISO is .281.
Baseball America named Arozarena its Rays Rookie of the Year, writing:
"Called up on Aug. 30, the 25-year-old Cuban outfielder went on a tear through the end of the regular season that continued in the postseason and left teammates struggling for adjectives and context."
So, Arozarena has been doing this against major league pitching, at least so far in his young career.
But, where, exactly did he come from?
Randy Arozarena has been a top prospect since arriving from Cuba
More recently, the Cardinals. The Rays traded for him and Jose Martinez, with Matthew Liberatore being the key piece that went over to St. Louis.
At the beginning though? Cuba.
Juan Toribo, writing for MLB.com, recently dove deeper into Arozarena’s story.
From Havana, Cuba, originally, Arozarena played third base for Pinar del Río in the Cuban National Series.
After the death of his father in 2014, when Arozarena was just a teenager, he knew it was up to him to take care of his family. So he made the decision to defect, going to Mexico, where he played at age 21.
"“When you’re in the ocean, the only thing you’re thinking about and hoping for is that you get there safely,” Arozarena told MLB.com. “There’s been people that are out in the ocean for days, months, and there are others that don’t make it because they die. But when you’re in one of those fake boats in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, the only thing you could do is hope that you survive.”"
He signed with the Cardinals at age 22 in 2017 and made his way through the system. Baseball America had him at No. 10 in the Cardinals system after 2019.
Derrick Goold noted for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"The lickety-split outfielder has hit at every level he’s played, from Mexico to Memphis. At 24, Arozarena hit .344/.431/.571 for a 1.003 OPS and 15 homers at two levels this past year. He was second only to Dylan Carlson really in offensive production, and his OPS was higher than the Cardinals’ top prospect – and at a higher level, too"
The Cardinals had a log jam. The Rays knew what they needed. The deal was probably good for both teams, but SB Nation site Viva El Birdos knew what it was losing:
"At various times, Randy Arozarena has shown plus contact ability, plus power, and plus plate discipline. What he hasn’t really done is shown all of those things at the same time. It’s been an interesting process to watch Arozarena move up through the ranks, looking like a substantially different hitter depending upon when and where you happened to see him."
VEB author AE Schafer placed him fourth in the Cards’ system and concluded what they saw in 2019 — a .344 average, .571 slugging, and 1.003 OPS across Double-A and Triple-A competition, before batting .300 with .500 slugging and .891 OPS with the Cardinals in August and September — was real.
Randy Arozarena introduced himself to the nation
So, no, maybe most fans around baseball had no clue who Arozarena was when he took the primetime stage against the Yankees in the ALDS. And maybe nobody expected him to be that good against a team that’s supposed to intimidate you with their pinstripes alone.
But he’s here now, and if he can help the Rays eliminate the Yankees from the playoffs in Game 5, the stages and stage lights will just keep getting bigger and brighter for the upcoming Rays star.