Arozarena, India claim top rookie hardware

November 16th, 2021

One guy entered the year with enormous hype created by an outlandish October. The other had to exceed all expectations just to make the big league squad out of Spring Training. But while Rays outfielder and Reds second baseman took different paths to their Opening Day assignments in 2021, by season’s end their status as 2021's most outstanding rookies was convincingly clear.

In an unsurprising outcome, Arozarena was named the American League winner and India the National League winner of the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America in results unveiled Monday night on MLB Network. While the 2021 rookie class included many great performances, the voters recognized that these two particular position players had everyday impact -- from Opening Day onward -- on two teams with winning records.

Arozarena, 26, is the fourth Rays player to win Rookie of the Year and the first since outfielder Wil Myers in 2013. He received 22 first-place votes and 124 voting points. Astros right-hander Luis Garcia finished second with two first-place votes and 63 points, and Arozarena’s Rays teammate, shortstop Wander Franco, finished third with two first-place votes and 30 points.

Rangers outfielder Adolis García (three) and Cleveland reliever Emmanuel Clase (one) also received first-place votes, finishing fourth and fifth, respectively. The five players to receive first-place votes represented the most in either league since 2011, when the AL also had five and the winner was also a Rays player (Jeremy Hellickson).

“I know last year I had a pretty good year -- a great year, actually,” Arozarena said of his record-setting postseason run in 2020. “I know I was the favorite to be the Rookie of the Year this year. But my mind wasn’t set on winning the award. My goal was to have another good year. There has been a lot of hard work and a lot of sacrifices along the way, and the results at the end of the year made it a well-deserved prize.”

India, 24, is the eighth winner for the Reds and the first since right-hander Scott Williamson in 1999. India received a first-place vote on 29 of 30 ballots, with Marlins left-hander Trevor Rogers finishing second and Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson placing third.

“I said at the beginning of the year this was my goal, my personal goal,” India said. “I don’t set many personal goals for myself. I just had a feeling this was what I wanted.”

For Arozarena -- the sixth Cuban player to win Rookie of the Year and first since the Astros’ Yordan Alvarez in 2019 -- this award was a highly anticipated outcome long before the 2021 season even began. But that only makes the actual achievement all the more impressive. After all, Arozarena had created an impossible standard for himself after setting records for most home runs (10) and hits (29) in a single postseason in 2020.

Maintaining that type of pace -- or anything close to it -- was not going to happen. But Arozarena did lead all Major League rookies with a Baseball-Reference WAR mark of 4.1, while finishing second only to India (3.9) in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, with 3.3.

With exactly 20 homers and 20 steals, Arozarena, who batted primarily in the first four spots of the Rays lineup, was only the third 20-20 rookie in the past decade, joining Mike Trout in 2012 and Andrew Benintendi in ‘17. Arozarena’s .274 average led all rookies, and his 94 runs, 32 doubles, 56 walks, 20 steals, .356 on-base percentage and .815 OPS were tops among AL rookies. Playing primarily in left field, he graded out well defensively, with a plus-1 mark in Outs Above Average and seven Defensive Runs Saved at that position.

And though it didn’t affect BBWAA voting that, as usual, took place prior to the postseason, Arozarena had another star turn in October, with a 5-for-15 showing at the plate and a memorable straight steal of home in the AL Division Series against the Red Sox.

For Arozarena to even be considered the top rookie on the 100-win, AL East champion Rays was itself an accomplishment. Franco’s 43-game on-base streak, which tied Frank Robinson (1956) for the longest in history by an AL/NL player aged 20 or younger, was the statistical highlight of a short (70 games) but superlative rookie year. The Rays also got nearly half of their starts from rookie arms, including lefty Shane McClanahan (3.43 ERA, 115 ERA+), who received one second-place Rookie of the Year vote.

“I’m very excited about the future of the Rays,” Arozarena said. “It’s very evident with the last two seasons, being in the postseason. It’s going to continue in the years to come, because there’s a lot of young talent.”

Whereas Arozarena, who debuted with the Cardinals in 2019 and become a standout trade acquisition for the Rays late in the ‘20 season, was a known commodity coming into ‘21, India used this season to burst on the big league scene.

The fifth overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, India was a late add to spring camp as a non-roster invitee with a remote chance of cracking the club.

“I really didn’t have a role on the team,” he said. “I was just there, filling in for some guys. I kind of took it personal. I wanted to be a big leaguer this year.”

The coronavirus pandemic had wiped out his 2020 season in the Minors. But India had a standout spring to become the youngest player on the Opening Day roster and the first Reds second baseman to debut on Opening Day since Pete Rose in 1963.

India went on to a terrific season, leading all Major League rookies in on-base percentage (.376), doubles (34), walks (71), runs scored (98) and games played (150) while ranking second in OPS (.835). Batting primarily out of the leadoff spot, he also stole a team-high 12 bases, and he led all NL players with 23 hit-by-pitches.

“I did a lot at the alternate site [last year] to help me to be in this position,” India said. “Just working on my craft every day there, putting my head down and grinding. That’s what I did. It put me in a good spot for this year, and I just carried that momentum over and just played with a lot of heart.”