Tampa Bay’s rookie made the history books this postseason. Randy Arozarena quickly became a fan-favorite, and they have Guillermo Armenta to thank for it. Wait, who? Unless you are a tried-and-true MLB fan who follows the Mexican Leagues as well as the MLB, you’ve likely not heard his name. Let’s look at Arozarena and the man who helped bring him to the big leagues.
Randy Arozarena’s start in baseball
Arozarena was born and raised in Cuba. In 2014, while playing ball there, his father suddenly died from an allergic reaction to eating shellfish. Afterward, he felt the need to help out his mother and two younger brothers. He was earning $38 a month, more than his mother made, according to Sports Illustrated. But, he knew he needed to do more.
So Arozarena took a journey on a small boat to Mexico to establish residency in the country with the chance to win a ticket to the big leagues. A former Mexican Leagues second baseman, shortstop, and right fielder, Armenta was working for Toros de Tijuana as the head of player development, and as an MLB scout, at the time of Arozarena’s arrival.
When they met, Armenta talked Arozarena into joining the team’s academy, which has a history of sending prospects to the majors, Arozarena played in the Toros’ minors and by 2016 became a leader in batting and stolen bases for the league.
Arozarena lands an MLB contract
With his newfound prominence, the outfielder was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals with a $1.25 million contract, according to the New York Times. It is a far cry from the $38 per month he earned in Cuba. He played in the minors until 2019 when he made his majors’ debut in August. In his 19 games with the Cards, he batted an average of .300.
During the offseason, Arozarena found himself traded to Tampa Bay. Included in the trade were Jose Martinez, and future considerations for Matthew Liberatore, Edgardo Rodriguez, and future considerations from Tampa. MLB News may have explained the trade best:
“At the time, it seemed like a curious trade, given the parties and players involved,” wrote”It was the kind of deal that most felt would take years to truly evaluate. Little did anyone know that this trade would provide the spark that would catapult the Rays to the World Series for the first time since 2008 and the second time in franchise history.”
Arozarena with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2020
Arozarena is currently in a one-year, $563,000 contract with the Rays, with an adjusted salary of $90,335 for the shortened 2020 season. It’s the lowest salary on the team.
In late July, Arozarena tested positive for COVID-19. He isolated and learned to cook, fixing himself chicken and rice while doing 300 push-ups a day. On August 30, he was able to make his Rays’ debut. While not an everyday player, his hitting proved promising with a .281 average in 23 games and hitting seven home runs by the end of the season.
His play has only gotten better in the postseason. When the Rays won the American League Championship Series, Arozarena earned the MVP title.
By the fifth game of the World Series, Arozarena has set a new record for the most home runs in a postseason, and cleared the previous record owned by Pablo Sandoval, for the most hits in a single postseason, according to ESPN. With another game or two to go at the time of this writing, Arozarena may just be the top candidate for World Series MVP, should the Rays pull off a win.
His game is no surprise to former teammates
While his team and newfound fans are still amazed at his accomplishments, Arozarena’s former teammates, are not. “What he’s doing now,” says Telvin Nash, who played with him in winter ball for the Mayos de Navajoa. “That’s no surprise to guys that have seen him play,” he added, according to the Sports Illustrated article
“It’s crazy how that sounds,” says John Nogowski, who played with him for the Cardinals’ minor league teams. “The dude just broke the record for postseason home runs. And we’re sitting here telling you, ‘Yeah, no, I’m not terribly surprised.'”
“I’ve been calling it since 2017,” says Andrew Knizner, who also played with him in Double-A, Triple-A, and the majors. “I’ve always said, He’s the best player on any field he steps on. And look at him now.”