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How Randy Arozarena Became The Breakout Star Of The 2020 Postseason



Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional quotes.

SAN DIEGO—For most of the general public, Randy Arozarena has been a newfound revelation.

The Rays rookie outfielder has emerged as the early star of the 2020 postseason, going 12-for-20 with two doubles, a triple and three home runs and carrying Tampa Bay within a game of the ALCS. That followed a 23-game stint in the regular season where he hit .281 with seven home runs and a 1.022 OPS, rising to the No. 3 spot in the Rays order and becoming a constant in their ever-shifting lineup.

For those with an eye on global baseball, Arozarena’s feats are just a continuation of a career-long trend.

"He was always an athletic guy that could hit," said Cardinals assistant general manager Moises Rodriguez, who was St. Louis' international scouting director when it signed Arozarena in 2016. "It's been a small sample size, but he's always had the skillset to do what he’s doing."

Arozarena first popped up in Cuba’s junior leagues in 2013, when he hit .373/.510/.500 in Cuba’s 18U national league. That earned him a spot on Cuba’s junior national team, where he seized the leadoff spot and finished second on the team in on-base percentage (behind only Yoan Moncada) during tournament play in Taiwan.

The following summer, Arozarena hit .390/.531/.585 in Cuba’s 23U national league. That earned him his first extended playing time in Cuba’s major league, Serie Nacional, with defending champion Pinar del Rio in 2014-15. He hit .291/.412/.419 as a 19-year-old, nearly eight years younger than league average.

On the strength of the bat speed and athleticism that made him such a prolific hitter, Arozarena ranked as the No. 9 prospect in Cuba in the spring of 2015. He left the following year to play in the Mexican League and ranked as the No. 5 prospect in the 2016 international class. The Cardinals went down to Mexico and signed him for $1.25 million, even though he was a prospect without a surefire position.

"Some of the question marks at the time were more on profile because he played second base, a tick of third base...and then when we saw him in Mexico when he was eligible to sign he was full-time playing center field and we had great looks there," Rodriguez said. "Profile muddled the evaluation a little bit, but as far as strength and twitch in his swing, that was never in question."

Arozarena played for Navojoa in the Mexican Winter League after signing and led the league with 14 home runs while batting .292/.366/.588. He hit .292/.377/.477 over the ensuing three years in the minors with the Cardinals, headlined by a Futures Game selection in 2018 and a standout 2019 that led to his first callup big league callup in August. In St. Louis, he hit .300 and earned a spot on the Cardinals postseason roster.

For seven years, in three different countries—Cuba, Mexico and the United States— Arozarena has hit, hit and hit some more.

“I’ve always considered myself a pretty good player and also a pretty good hitter,” Arozarena said through an interpreter prior to Game 2 of the ALDS. “I worked hard and train hard in doing so. Ever since the minor leagues and my time in Cuba, I’ve always hit and I’ve always carried those results over to whatever league and level I’m in.”

The Rays saw that track record and acquired Arozarena with designated hitter Jose Martinez in a five-player trade with the Cardinals in January. The trade raised eyebrows at the time because the Rays sent away lefthanded pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore, the No. 31 prospect in the BA Top 100, in the deal.

In retrospect, it was an indication of the potential the Rays saw in Arozarena. As usual, they were right.

“(He was) just a very athletic player that did a good job of strike-zone recognition and had really come on strong his last year in (Triple-A) Memphis and a little bit in the big leagues,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said following Game 3 of the ALDS. “He put together back-to-back seasons that really caught our eye and guys were excited.

The dividends have come this postseason. Arozarena has reached base in 13 of his last 18 plate appearances. He has homered in all three games of the ALDS and leads all players in the postseason in hits (eight) and runs (five). Half of his 18 batted balls in the postseason have left his bat at 100 mph or more. Against the Yankees in the ALDS, he is 8 for 12.

“Arozarena has to be the best baseball player on earth right now,” Rays righthander Tyler Glasnow said following Game 2. “Just being able to sit back and watch him do what he does is phenomenal.”

"I don't think I've ever seen it before where a guy punishes every single mistake," Yankees catcher Kyle Higashioka said after Game 3. "We can't get away with anything against him right now. It's been pretty frustrating."

Arozarena’s success against fastballs is particularly notable. Known for his bat speed since his days in Cuba, Arozarena hit .316 with an .895 slugging percentage against fastballs during the regular season, according to Statcast, and hasn’t let up in the playoffs.

He is 5-for-9 with a walk in at-bats ending in fastballs the postseason, with two singles, a triple and two home runs, all of which came off the bat at 100 mph or greater. Another resulted in a 111.4 mph lineout.

That success is a product of Arozarena's natural gifts, but also his preparation and work ethic.

“I do my work a lot off the tee in the cage to help me stay closed, because I know the fastball is a tough pitch to hit," Arozarena said. "But if you can hit it square on, you’re going to get good results out of it.

"I take a lot of pride in the tee work that I do in the cage and the angles that I hit it in order to be successful to hit that fastball during the game.”

The truth is, not much is working against Arozarena this postseason. The 25-year-old outfielder is simply having his way with opposing pitchers, and introducing his hitting prowess to MLB on the game's biggest stage.

"When you’re sitting there and watching it firsthand," Cash said, "it’s pretty remarkable what’s taking place.”

Cody Bellinger Getty

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