“Well-regarded pitching prospect Matthew Liberatore has been traded from the Tampa Bay Rays to the St. Louis Cardinals…” So then we waited.
Nearly three hours later, the reports were in: in an atypical move for the Rays, Liberatore was traded along with minor league catcher Edgardo Rodriguez in exchange for Jose Martinez and Randy Arozarena. A swap in Competitive Balance Round picks was also included so the Rays would move up in the draft.
First impressions included a fantasy that the Cardinals would flip Liberatore for Nolan Arenado and a clear sense that Martinez will benefit from playing in the American League with the luxury of having a DH. But the man nobody’s been talking about (well, besides Edgardo Rodriguez) is Randy Arozarena. Actually, make that everybody except Rays GM Erik Neander, who thinks the addition raises the chances of their core players going on a “multi-year run.”
Over 111 games across three levels in 2019, the already above average outfielder experienced a power surge. Starting at Double-A, a demotion from where he finished the previous year, Arozarena did nothing but hit: at all three stops, his ISO was at least .200, demonstrating exceptional ability as a slugger. This is a feat he had only achieved once previously in his career. For the 25-year-old, his strength has finally developed into in-game power. Likewise, his wOBA, which is really just a modernized slugging percentage, saw a jump to over .400 in the minors (.380 in MLB). At .432 and .416 in Double- and Triple-A, that would put him in the top five in MLB if he could replicate it at that level. In his brief stint with the Cardinals, his .380 wOBA matched Mookie Betts and Austin Meadows.
The reason Arozarena’s power is such a big deal is because his toolbox only had that one space empty to this point in his career. His speed is the most glaring of the five, as his 29.4 ft/s sprint speed placed him in the 96th percentile among major leaguers. Also, he once turned a popup into a triple.
Arozarena was able to hit .300 or better consistently throughout his promotions in 2019. According to annual scouting reports found on Baseball Savant, he has always been credited for his ability to make “consistent contact” with “excellent bat control” and an “advanced approach”. The quality of contact is what had always been in question, but as I demonstrated above, he has found his power stroke. To prove his bat-to-ball skills, he has only exceeded a 20% strikeout rate once: in a 24 game stint with the Cardinals’ AA team in 2018. Last year, he even saw a slight decrease of about three percent, from 19.8% to 17%. Additionally, his swinging strike percentage usually settles under 10%, which is slightly above average. Hitting the ball has never been a problem for Arozarena, and his newfound power only compounds what he was already capable of at the plate.
As for his fielding, the consensus among the prospect evaluating community is that his glove and arm are at least average. Arozarena himself has said that his arm is like Yasiel Puig’s. Some view him as more of a corner outfielder, though, which would still work with what the Rays have. Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot should mainly work in a center field platoon, although Margot may play the corners at times for an optimized defense.
There isn’t much available data on Arozarena’s defense at this point, since he hasn’t played much in MLB. However, in 43.2 errorless innings in the Cardinals’ outfield last year, he had one Defensive Run Saved. He has not accumulated enough time to really see any of Statcast’s outfield metrics, but his 0 OAA at least shows that in his short time he wasn’t a bad defender. For the team the Rays have in 2020, Arozarena is expected to be one of the better defensive outfielders along with fellow offseason acquisition Hunter Renfroe.
A Game You Can Watch
If at this point you are either so excited about Arozarena and feel the need to see him play or are suffering from some sort of withdrawal without baseball, you can watch him show off all five tools last season on YouTube.