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It's time to add a Rookie of the Year Award to the lore of Randy Arozarena.
The Tampa Bay Rays outfielder was named the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year on Monday, further burnishing a young career that already saw him set the MLB record for most home runs in a single postseason. He received 22 of 30 first-place votes, getting the best of a race that saw five different players get a first-place nod.
The 26-year-old Arozarena was among the top hitters on the American League's top team during the regular season, hitting .274/.356/.459 with 20 homers and 20 steals. While that would be considered a breakout season for most rookies, it was the continuation of a story that began last year for Arozarena.
Previously acquired as an afterthought in a trade with the St. Louis Cardinals, Arozarena was a little-known prospect late last season when the Rays called him up and began starting him in the outfield, where he immediately thrived.
During last year's pandemic-altered postseason, Arozarena hit a record 10 homers to carry the Rays to their second-ever World Series appearance. His most exciting moment wasn't a homer, though, but scoring the winning run in a deranged fever dream of a walk-off. The fun continued in this year's playoffs, with Arozarena adding a historic straight steal of home in the ALDS.
Through two postseasons, Arozarena is already 38 percent of the way to Manny Ramirez's playoff-record 29 homers and a recognizable name on the national stage. All he needed was a little of that magic in the regular season to add some hardware.
How was Randy Arozarena eligible for Rookie of the Year?
In case you're wondering how Arozarena could make his MLB debut in 2019, be the star of the 2020 MLB postseason and still be eligible for this season's Rookie of the Year award, that can be explained by MLB's rookie eligibility rules.
An MLB position player is officially considered a rookie until he has accrued one of the following:
130 at-bats in the big leagues
45 total days on an MLB roster prior to Sept. 1, when rosters expand
Entering the 2021 season. Arozarena had 84 career at-bats and had spent around 10 days total on an MLB roster in the non-September portion of the regular season. His postseason heroics counted for nothing, at least as far as rookie eligibility is concerned.
Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Ian Anderson was in a similar situation this year, playing as an official rookie after starring in the 2020 playoffs. He ended up finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.
Arozarena was a deserving Rookie of the Year … and not even the best rookie on his own team
Arozarena is a dynamic young outfielder who should continue to mash for the Rays for years to come, but here's the thing. To most observers, Arozarena wasn't even the best rookie on the Rays this year.
That title belongs to Wander Franco, the shortstop who was unanimously considered the top overall prospect in baseball entering this season and somehow exceeded the hype. He finished third in the voting and garnered two first-place votes.
After his call-up in June, Franco proceeded to hit .288/.347/.463 while playing quality defense at shortstop. His 129 OPS+ was one point behind Arozarena. He also caught fire in the postseason, going 7-for-19 with two homers in the Rays' lone playoff series.
And he did it all at 20 years old.
As far as the criteria goes for Rookie of the Year, Arozarena was the winner because he played a full season in the majors. As far as future evaluation goes, though, Franco is the one with all eyes on him.