Who is Randy Arozarena? Rays’ bargain slugger an unlikely playoff hero after trade from Cardinals

Randy Arozarena is surely No. 1 on the Los Angeles Dodgers’ pitcher scouting reports for the World Series. And really, who could’ve seen that coming three months ago?

Arozarena has already caught national attention and will only gain more notoriety as he and the Tampa Bay Rays take on the Dodgers for the title of world champions. The Cuban outfielder defected five years ago in the hope of supporting his family, and he’s turned into one of the stories of October. Arozarena has already hit seven home runs and was the ALCS MVP. All that’s left is four more wins for an unlikely champion led by an unlikely player in an unprecedented year.

Here’s what you need to know about Arozarena ahead of the World Series.

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1. Randy Arozarena defected from Cuba to Mexico

Arozarena was born in northwest Cuba, about 4 1/2 hours driving from Havana. He lived in Cuba for the first 20 years of his life. But like many Cuban athletes, he chose to defect. At 20, Arozarena took a small boat from Cuba to Mexico. It was an eight-hour boat ride with big waves, according to The New York Times. Arozarena knew “no one” upon his arrival in Mexico.

He eventually connected with an agent who brought him to the Toros ballclub near Tijuana. In the Mexican minor league, Arozarena played for the Toritos and won both the batting title and stolen base crown. That prompted the St. Louis Cardinals to sign Arozarena to a $1.25-million contract. 

2. The Cardinals traded Randy Arozarena to the Rays

Arozarena made his big-league debut for the Cardinals in 2019, hitting .300 in 20 at bats. Arozarena appeared in five playoff games for the Cardinals, too. The Rays wanted to acquire him ahead of the 2020 season, and not just for that small sample size. Arozarena hit wherever he went, including batting .358 with 12 home runs in Triple-A during 2019 and .396 in 91 Double-A at bats the year prior. 

Tampa Bay took a big swing to acquire Arozarena and Jose Martinez, giving up their top pitching prospect, Matthew Liberatore, along with minor-league catcher Edgardo Rodriguez and a draft pick. At the time, chatter focused more on Martinez being a good acquisition because the poor fielder could DH in the American League. Arozarena was the afterthought. 

3. Randy Arozarena tested positive for COVID-19

On July 23, Arozarena was placed on the minor league COVID-19 list. It wasn’t obvious whether Arozarena was slated to break “Summer Camp” with the Rays or not, but that prevented such an opportunity.

Instead, Arozarena didn’t make his season debut until Aug. 30 after recovering and getting up to speed at Tampa Bay’s alternate training site. While in quarantine, Arozarena taught himself to cook and did 300 pushups a day, according to the Tampa Bay Times. 

4. The Randy Arozarena power outburst is new-ish

Arozarena doesn’t look like a power hitter. He’s 5-11 and 185 pounds. But he started to show power at first during the 2018 Mexican winter league, when he hit 14 home runs in 260 at bats. Then he hit 15 across 343 minor-league at bats in 2019. 

But none of that prepared MLB for what Arozarena is doing in the postseason. He’s got seven home runs in 47 at bats entering the World Series, one off from tying the overall postseason record of eight HRs held by Barry Bonds, Carlos Beltran and Nelson Cruz. Multiple Arozarena home runs have been opposite-field blasts to the right-center gap, prodigious power for a player of his size. 

5. Randy Arozarena is the latest Rays bargain

Entering the World Series, the Rays have paid Arozarena $90,335 in 2020. That’s in part due to the shortened season and in part due to his late arrival to the majors this year. Still, though, it’s a remarkably small number compared to the $10 million the Dodgers have paid Mookie Betts in the short season, for example. That’s more than 100 times what the Rays have paid Arozarena. It’s also $12,905 per playoff home run by Arozarena, which seems like a pretty team-friendly rate. 

6. Randy Arozarena is setting postseason records

Arozarena’s seven home runs entering the World Series is already the rookie record, breaking Evan Longoria’s 2008 mark of six which he set en route to Tampa Bay’s other World Series appearance. And as mentioned above, he’s one away from tying Bonds, Beltran and Cruz for the overall postseason record (with the caveat of a longer postseason in 2020 than ever before).

Other postseason records Arozarena could break in the World Series include:

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