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The Evolution of a Yankee Killer: How Randy Arozarena went from nobody to somebody

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Is the Rays’ rookie slugger a legit superstar, or just a flash in the pan?

World Series - Tampa Bay Rays v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Six Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In January, the Tampa Bay Rays traded prospects and picks for the Saint Louis Cardinals’ defensively limited, but consistent offensive contributor, José Martinez, and the organization’s tenth ranked prospect, Randy Arozarena. After both of the Rays’ new toys arrived at camp late due to positive COVID-19 tests, the two acquisitions’ performances inverted expectations: Martinez struggled at the plate and was eventually dealt away, whereas Arozarena has now established himself as one of the most electrifying young players in the game.

By applying his rigorous work ethic to his coronavirus quarantine, doing three-hundred pushups a day and refining his diet to a clean chicken and rice combo, as well as reworking his swing mechanics, he made the most of the alleged fifteen pounds of muscle gained.

For the Cardinals, Arozarena received just 23 trips to the plate in 2019, homering once with a .300 batting average, but without establishing himself as more than an organizational depth piece. As quoted in Marc Topkin’s Tampa Bay Times piece from September 8, Nationals manager Davey Martinez raved about Arozarena’s bat-to-ball skills, “He’s got an unbelievably quick bat. We talked about it, said, ‘Hey, don’t try to sneak a fastball by him, because his bat is quick.’”

Arozarena’s bat in Saint Louis was indeed quick.

Here, Randy manhandles Merrill Kelly’s elevated fastball, sending a 103-mph laser into the left field stands for that lone Redbird dinger.

However, the anatomy of Arozarena’s smattering of hits with St. Louis wasn’t necessarily predictive of his 2020 breakout. He recorded a couple of infield singles on the left side, two ropes down the left-field line, and a flare into right.

Despite possessing hands quick enough to draw the attention of the opposition, Arozarena’s relative lower-body immobility limited his potential at the plate.

This time, Arozarena gets another fastball down the middle, albeit a sharper one, but is unable to get full clearance with his hips before the barrel enters the hitting zone as he drops his barrel below the level of the ball, and his hands slide across the zone rather than accelerating through it. The swing worked enough for Arozarena to make the bigs, and even have some success at the major-league level, but it wasn’t yet optimized to drive the ball with force to all parts of the field.

Since joining the Rays, Arozarena has incorporated a more decisive leg kick into his load.

By getting deeper counter-rotation of his hips on his load, and squatting lower into his legs on his plant, Arozarena has maximized his immense athletic “stretch,” generating enormous power through the zone.

Further, Arozarena now generates power directly back through the box instead of spinning over his base like a top. That’s why he’s able to get a full turn and stay right on top of Deivi García’s up and away fastball, driving it over the head of Aaron Judge and into the bleachers with ease.

In the 2020 regular season and playoffs, Arozarena’s batted-ball distribution has become far more democratic than his previous year’s.

Across the shortened season and extended playoffs, Arozarena’s batted .328 and slugged .730. Though some regression beyond his expected stats of .302/.628 seems likely, he’s also seemingly gotten more comfortable with time, even improving upon his stats in each successive round of the playoffs despite the increasingly stiff competition. After becoming the first rookie to ever win the ALCS MVP, he’d have been a likely candidate to win the World Series MVP if the Rays had taken four of seven from the Dodgers. There’s no reason to assume he won’t be able to replicate at least some of his dominance at the plate next season.

His defense, too, deserves more than an afterthought, as he possesses 94th percentile speed and 72nd percentile rated jumps. He has the tools to be a solid outfielder at the very worst.

Unfortunately for the Yankees, Randy Arozarena’s production shows no signs of slowing up, and he’s likely to be a Ray for a long time to come. He’s 25 years old, and he won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2023, with free agency all the way in 2026. As a cost-controlled player who contributes to winning on both sides of the ball, he’s exactly the kind of player the Rays could hope to build future squads around. They still have the top-ranked farm system in the Majors, and plenty of young talents on their roster to remain competitive in the coming seasons. With Arozarena’s emergence as a franchise cornerstone, the Rays have pole position in the AL East with room to grow.