Is encore in store for Randy? 'Sky's the limit'

February 24th, 2021

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- When we last saw , he was -- as and others often put it -- “the best player on the planet.”

During his historic tear through the month of October, Arozarena set Major League records for the most hits, home runs and total bases in a single postseason. His home run in Game 6 of the World Series gave him the Rays’ postseason record for most career home runs and hits. In 20 playoff games, he slashed .377/.442/.831 with 10 homers, 14 RBIs and 19 runs scored.

Each of his at-bats became must-see TV. Every game brought more national recognition. Seemingly every swing rewrote the record books.

So, now what?

“Randy better do exactly what he did last October,” Rays manager Kevin Cash joked Tuesday at Charlotte Sports Park.

OK, seriously, what comes next?

“With him, you can't expect anything,” shortstop said, “because he might just go crazier than last year.”

Honestly, though, how would that even be possible for the rookie outfielder? (Yes, he’s still technically eligible to win the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2021, even after he was named the '20 AL Championship Series MVP).

“I mean, I think I've come to find out that I'm never going to doubt what Randy can do,” catcher said.

Arozarena isn’t creating a list of personal goals at the start of Spring Training, saying he just wants to help the Rays win -- something he couldn’t have done much more effectively than he did as their one-man postseason wrecking crew. Speaking on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon, Arozarena said he’s aiming for the encore to be just as impressive.

“I know I put up some great numbers and some great results. That actually gives me motivation to go ahead and do it again and to try and repeat it,” Arozarena said through team interpreter Manny Navarro. “That's the motivation it has given me every time I go back and think about it.

“I try not to set too many unrealistic goals. I just know if I prepare for that game, I'll get the results that I want. And if I prepare accordingly, I think those results will come.”

Hearing the Rays talk about what Arozarena can do, it would seem as if the projection systems are underrating his ability -- and the physical changes he made in quarantine last year, adding 15 pounds of muscle -- in their forecasts. The Steamer system projects a .260/.334/.451 slash line with 23 homers, 76 RBIs and 20 steals in 144 games. The ZiPS system forecasts a .262/.339/.475 line with 21 homers, 60 RBIs and 16 steals in 127 games.

Then again, who knew before last September what he was capable of? And who knows now?

“I don't even think he knows,” Rays starter said. “He's just gonna go out and play.”

Despite some of the more outrageous predictions about what Arozarena might do in a full, 162-game season, general manager Erik Neander made it clear the Rays don’t want to put too much pressure on him. They’re expecting organic improvement from their whole lineup, including full and healthy years from Austin Meadows, Ji-Man Choi and Yandy Díaz.

After his quip on Tuesday, Cash said Wednesday that Tampa Bay doesn’t want to project that level of performance onto anyone as a realistic expectation. They want to make sure Arozarena, who turns 26 on Sunday, maintains the ability to enjoy himself like the cowboy boot-wearing, dance-battle-winning guy they saw late last year.

So far, so good on that front, it seems. Cash said Arozarena has come into camp “very loose and willing to try everything and very accommodating.” He’s joked back and forth with his teammates in the clubhouse, and Glasnow commended Arozarena for the fun-loving energy he has added to their clubhouse.

“I think the sky’s the limit for him,” Glasnow said. “That dude brings it to the field every day.”

And, sure, they also wouldn’t mind if he turns out to be that dude he was during his 23 regular-season games last year, when he only hit .281/.382/.641 with seven homers in 76 plate appearances, as opposed to the otherworldly slugger he became against some of baseball’s best pitchers in October.

“Look, that exceeded any reasonable expectation that we had for Randy, certainly. It shows what he’s capable of at his very best,” Neander said. “I think just to come in with good health, which he has -- he’s in great shape -- and continue to establish himself as a high-end Major League player. What he did during the regular season last year was awfully impressive as well, just not quite as historical as the postseason.”

This offseason was not without incident for Arozarena, however. He was arrested in Mexico in November following a dispute with the mother of his daughter. He was released with no charges filed, and Neander recently said the Rays’ understanding was that Arozarena would not be disciplined by MLB following the league’s investigation.

“It was just an argument I got in with the mom of one of my daughters, and it was just miscommunication on both of our parts,” Arozarena said. “But everything got resolved down there nice and quick, and nothing really bad came out of it.

When asked about the highlights of his offseason, Arozarena first listed the time he spent catching up with his family and his November wedding. He also visited and helped underprivileged children in Mexico and contributed to an upcoming movie depicting his life story.

Arozarena also signed a lot of autographs, as one might expect. He raced a horse and won, a challenge he began in his neighborhood in Cuba, which one might not expect.

What now for Arozarena? What comes next? We’ll find out.

“Obviously with the results and the numbers that I had at the end of the year, they affected how everyone might look at me, but I like to approach every spring the same way,” Arozarena said. “The three Spring Trainings that I've been invited to for big league camps, I just go in there with the same mentality: Don't try to be any different. So I feel the same.”