'Fearless' Arozarena wins ROY; Wander 3rd

November 16th, 2021

ST. PETERSBURG – was sitting on his couch Monday night, surrounded by family and holding his 2-month-old daughter Alaia in his arms, when the nerves finally set in. He hadn’t been emotional until just before he began an interview on MLB Network, minutes before the winner of the American League Rookie of the Year was revealed.

Arozarena didn’t begin this year thinking about winning awards, not even after his record-setting run through October last year. He didn’t even think of himself as a rookie, a sentiment shared by the opponents and Rays officials who had to remind themselves of Arozarena’s status.

Well, how’s this for a reminder? Arozarena wasn’t just a rookie. He was the American League Rookie of the Year. The 26-year-old Rays outfielder tilted his head back and shouted in celebration as his family went wild around him.

“I think I was the one that screamed the loudest. I think I was the most excited,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I'm very happy and honored to have gotten the Rookie of the Year and very happy to have the support from my family next to me.”

Arozarena took home the Baseball Writers' Association of America’s annual Jackie Robinson AL Rookie of the Year honor, emerging on top of a pack of candidates that included 20-year-old teammate and Astros starter Luis Garcia. Arozarena received 124 points in the balloting, compared to the second-place Garcia’s 63, while earning 22 of 30 first-place votes.

The Rays fared well in the BBWAA balloting beyond just Arozarena, reflecting how reliant Tampa Bay’s 100-win club was on a bunch of talented young players. Franco finished third with 30 points, including two first-place votes, after living up to the enormous hype as a future star despite only playing in 70 games. Left-hander Shane McClanahan also earned one second-place vote, which put him seventh in the voting.

“I think we have impressive young talent, an impressive young group of guys,” Arozarena said. “I think we can hopefully continue to keep these young guys going and winning for years to come.”

Arozarena is the fourth player in Tampa Bay history to be named Rookie of the Year. He joins Wil Myers (2013), Jeremy Hellickson ('11) and Evan Longoria ('08), and he's the first Rays player to win an end-of-season BBWAA award since Blake Snell captured the AL Cy Young Award in '18. But he might not be the only Ray to take home an award this week. Manager Kevin Cash is up for his second straight AL Manager of the Year Award, which will be presented Tuesday night.

Arozarena is the first player in either league to be named Rookie of the Year after winning a postseason MVP award, as his historic October run last year included AL Championship Series MVP honors. There were a lot of questions entering this season about how he could possibly live up to the lofty standard he set for himself during the Rays’ march to the 2020 World Series, but Arozarena answered them.

“Fearless. I think it goes back to last postseason, to have that little underneath him and to go in and to compete the way that he does and the way that he plays the game,” Rays president of baseball operations Erik Neander said. “There's a lot more maturity to it in terms of the way he plays and the way he ascends to those moments.”

Overall, Arozarena hit .274/.356/.459 with 32 doubles, 69 RBIs and 94 runs scored in 141 games this season. That allowed him to become the sixth Cuban-born Rookie of the Year winner, joining Yordan Alvarez (2019), José Abreu ('14), José Fernández ('13), Jose Canseco (1986) and Tony Oliva ('64).

He led all Major League rookies with 4.1 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference, and ranked second on the Rays (behind only second baseman Brandon Lowe, 4.7) in that statistic. He hit 20 homers and stole 20 bases, becoming only the third rookie (along with Andrew Benintendi and Mike Trout) in the last 10 years with a 20-20 season. He was only the 11th rookie to put together a 20-20 campaign since MLB defined rookie status in 1958, and he’s the sixth one to win Rookie of the Year.

Arozarena deflected a lot of praise after winning the award. He thanked his family and everyone who helped him on his journey from Cuba to Mexico, through the Minors and eventually to the Majors. He said he wanted to share the award “50-50” with Rangers outfielder Adolis García, who finished fourth in the voting, because of how supportive he was during their time together in the Cardinals’ system. And he thanked the fans who cheered and chanted his name at Tropicana Field and elsewhere around the league.

Of his many individual accomplishments, though, Arozarena said he was most proud of his 20-homer, 20-steal season.

“I know what it takes to get this award,” he said. “I know the hard work that I put in for these achievements that I've had this year, and I'm going to continue to work hard and continue to push that for the future to come.”

This time last year, Arozarena had to answer an obvious question: How could he possibly follow up that postseason performance? Now, he faces a similar question: What’s next after a Rookie of the Year season?

“I want to do everything I can to help the team, to be a good teammate. I know the hard work and the hard training is going to help with the wins at the end of the day,” Arozarena said. “Because if we continue to win, that means we get into the playoffs. And if we get into the playoffs, that means there's another chance to hopefully get that victory in the World Series.”