How Rays’ Randy Arozarena, Wander Franco became rookie award finalists

One is a 26-year-old with a record-breaking postseason on his resume; the other is a 20-year-old who played in only 70 big-league games.
Randy Arozarena, left, celebrates his home run with Wander Franco during an August game against the Mariners at Tropicana Field.
Randy Arozarena, left, celebrates his home run with Wander Franco during an August game against the Mariners at Tropicana Field. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Nov. 14, 2021|Updated Nov. 14, 2021

Depending on your perspective, it could be a little bit of a surprise that either Randy Arozarena or Wander Franco is a finalist for the American League Rookie of the Year Award.

Arozarena is 26, has played parts of three seasons in the majors and had a record-smashing run through the 2020 postseason that included winning the American League Championship Series Most Valuable Player Award.

Franco is 20, wasn’t called up to the majors until June 22 this year and, though performing impressively overall — including a 43-game on-base streak — has played in only 70 big-league games.

But here they are, along with Houston pitcher Luis Garcia (11-8 with a 3.48 ERA in 30 games), the top three finishers among Baseball Writers’ Association of America voters, with the results to be announced tonight (6, MLB Network).

Arozarena retained his rookie status in playing only the second month of the pandemic-abbreviated 60-game 2020 season, putting him in the unprecedented position to win the rookie award a year after playoff MVP honors.

“It’s still hard for me, and I think many of us, to appreciate that Randy was still a rookie after last postseason,” Rays baseball operations president Erik Neander said.

The heightened expectations made for a tough grading scale, but Arozarena’s encore was still pretty good.

He hit .274 with 20 homers, 69 RBIs, 94 runs scored, 32 doubles, 20 steals and an .815 OPS, and had a WAR rating of 4.2, according to while posting five assists and one error. He became the third player in Rays history with a 20-homer/20-steal season, and was also a finalist for Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards.

Franco, who had been rated the game’s top prospect for two straight years, faced even grander expectations when promoted after playing 40 games at Triple A, his first above Class A in 2019.

He needed a couple of weeks to get settled in, then showed what all the hype was about, hitting .288 overall with seven homers, 39 RBIs, 53 runs and an .810 OPS. From the All-Star break on, he led AL rookies with a .314 average, 69 hits and 45 runs, and he struck out only three times in his last 97 plate appearances.

If he wins the rookie award, his 70 games would be the fewest for a winning position player except for Willie McCovey, who won in 1959 playing in 52.

Though the writers awards are based only on regular-season performance, Franco impressed further in the Rays’ four-game Division Series loss to Boston, hitting .368, going 7-for-19, with two doubles and two homers.

“I think the pace at which he developed as the year went on just speaks to his potential,” Neander said. “I think there probably were moments over the first few weeks that he reminded you that he was 20 years old. And then just all that comes with being a major-league player … it’s a lot. It’s a lot to put on someone that age.

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“But I think it’s fair to say by the postseason, no one was talking about his age. They were just talking about him being one of the best players on the field. And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.”

Contact Marc Topkin at Follow @TBTimes_Rays.

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