Can Tampa Bay Rays star Randy Arozarena ride WBC success to a World Series title?

Randy Arozarena

CHICAGO — Two months after becoming the darling of March baseball on a world stage, Randy Arozarena of the Tampa Bay Rays is doing what looked impossible.

And that only has a little bit to do with that huge smile he showed off while taking a selfie with Chicago Cubs pitcher Javier Assad before a game at Wrigley Field this week.

“He’s a lot of fun, a great teammate,” said Assad, whose dominant performance for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic set the tone for earning his first Opening Day roster assignment this year.

But that impossible thing?

Check out what the rookie sensation of the 2020 postseason is up to these days.

In the middle of perhaps the most star-studded lineup in Rays history, Arozarena also is in the middle of a legit debate over which Ray is the team’s best player as the charismatic left fielder is off to the kind of start that might earn the 2021 Rookie of the Year his first All-Star selection.

In other words, a player who has done nothing short of perform well in the big leagues since a debut with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 and subsequent ill-advised trade to the Rays might have raised his game to another level in 2023 for a best-in-MLB Rays team with their eye on the franchise’s first World Series title.

How Randy Arozarena’s strong season begin at WBC

tampa bay rays

For the WBC haters in New York (Edwin Diaz) or Houston (Jose Altuve) or anywhere else after a series of injuries to star players, Arozarena offers a far more pro-WBC perspective that sounds like it comes from an experience a lot more like Team Mexico teammate Assad’s.

And then some.

“It was important,” Arozarena said in Spanish of how his big performance to help lead Mexico to a lengthy run into the WBC semifinals has influenced his .920-OPS start (through Wednesday).

“It helped me learn, where I’m taking better at-bats,” the Pool C MVP said of facing some of the best pitchers each country had to offer during the intense, emotional tournament. “I’m putting that into practice.”

Specifically, he said, it involved more disciplined at-bats, not chasing, stepping up his defensive game (two catches against Japan in the semifinals making his point) and trying to run the bases better.

“I thank God I’ve had a good start and hope to stay like that, but it was something fundamental for this start,” Arozarena said.

Arozarena, a native of Cuba who eventually became a Mexican citizen after defecting in 2016, has been an All-Star caliber player since he started playing in the big leagues, albeit without the actual All-Star selection.

Rays manager Kevin Cash saw a new level in Arozarena even before the outfielder left for the WBC.

“He came in highly, highly motivated this year,” Cash said. “He’d been a good player — a really good player — in the 2020 postseason, in 2021, in 2022. But he’s very, very driven to be better. There are little things he has brought to his game.

“Basically, he’s kind of become more studious, and prepared.”

Cash said that drive was all Arozarena — no exit-interview suggestions after 2022 or offseason suggestions by the team.

“Just motivation to be better than he already has been,” Cash said. 

Arozarena, 28, shrugged it off as a continuation of what he’s always done in his career.

“I’m always motivated to play baseball,” he said. “I’m always learning something new.”

Arozarena a key in Tampa Bay’s impressive start

And maybe getting even better at just the right time for a Rays team that looks in better position for a deep October run as the calendar turns to June than perhaps even its 2008 and 2020 World Series years.

On Wednesday, Arozarena added another hit and a walk during the Rays’ comeback victory over the Cubs that made the Rays the first team to reach 40 wins.

On May 31.

The only thing to rival the kind of start he and the Rays have had might be that historic WBC run for Mexico in March.

“The WBC was a great experience, for the Mexican team to be in a semifinal for the first time, and I enjoyed it a ton,” he said. “And for me, the WBC was a great experience.

“This season [with the Rays] I didn’t expect us to start like this. We won 13 games in a row [to start the season] and to this point we have the best record in the majors and the whole team continues to improve every day throughout the season. The happiness is equal on both sides.”

That might tilt quite a bit if Arozarena’s season ends similar to how it began — which would seem to go a long way toward the Rays’ season doing the same.

World Baseball Classic history for Mexico?

World Series history for the Rays? 

Maybe that’s something that could surpass the exhilaration of that thrill ride through March?

“Of course, of course,” he said. “But first we have to get there.”

If this guy can interact with pitches, deep fly balls and fans the way he did the last two times he took the world — Series and Baseball Classic versions — by storm, then the world stage can’t wait for its headliner. 


Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.

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