photo: Randy Arozarena (Frank Ramirez/The Cardinal Nation)
The St. Louis Cardinals-related social media world has been ablaze for days now and will continue for at least the next week to 10 days through the World Series – and likely much longer.
Every time Tampa Bay Rays outfielder Randy Arozarena adds to his formidable list of postseason accomplishments, another swarm of angry comments are directed at the Cardinals organization for trading the budding star away.
For many, the frustration is magnified since the Rays rookie’s greatest feats have occurred in the same area that the current Cardinals have the greatest need – power hitting. It also did not help that Arozarena’s breakout came on the heels of Luke Voit’s emergence in New York.
There is no doubt that in the early returns, the Rays have taken over as the perceived winner in the January 2020 trade that also brought Class-A pitcher Matthew Liberatore to St. Louis. That is a change from the time the deal was announced. At that point, most observers believed the Cardinals made the superior deal because they added the best of the four players to change organizations – 2018 first-rounder Liberatore.
That may still be proven to be the case over time, but Arozarena is setting the bar higher. And even the possibility that Liberatore may one day achieve his potential does not soothe today’s anger of many. For them, this article will have no effect, as the current results on the field speak for themselves, rubbing more salt in their festering wounds.
Some go further (too far, IMO) in citing lists of departed players in recent years, asserting there is a systematic problem with how the Cardinals develop and evaluate players. Without a similar view of other teams over time, there is no base of comparison to which I could anchor a substantive review.
ESPN prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel has that kind of broader national perspective. He recently observed on 101 ESPN Radio in St. Louis that the players who departed St. Louis were never considered top prospects, complimenting the organization for scouting and developing these kinds of lower-expectation players into productive major leaguers.
McDaniel suspects it is a cyclical matter – noting the Cardinals have had a rougher stretch in this area the last few years than the decade prior despite basically the same people being in charge. The analyst chalked it up to a run of bad luck, noting all organizations look back on trades they could have done differently.
But chances are that minds are already made up and I am not going to try to convince you to change your point of view.
So, putting that aside…
My focus below will be a review of those of us who project prospects – and how we all missed out on Randy – some more than others.
In addition to ranking Cardinals prospects myself, I closely monitor how national analysts see St. Louis’ prospects compared to each other. The additional perspective they add which I cannot is positioning the Cardinals prospects in the much larger pool of all 30 MLB teams’ youngsters.
Missing the mark on Randy
It should not pass without emphasizing that prior to now, Arozarena was never a top 100 national prospect on any major list, at least that I am aware of. In fact, as recently as the last full offseason Randy was a Cardinal, prior to the 2019 campaign, six of eight name-brand national raters I track did not even place him among their top 10 prospects in the Cardinals system.
Those who missed include MLB Pipeline (MLB.com), Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs, 2080 Baseball and Prospects Live. ESPN was an exception, just sliding Randy in at number 10 on their 2019 top Cardinals list.
Further, among the names ahead of Randy on one or more of these 2019 Cardinals prospect top 10 lists were the likes of Evan Mendoza, Luken Baker, Edmundo Sosa and Griffin Roberts.
Those raters with longer lists than 10 prospects generally slotted Randy in the range between nos. 15 and 20 in the Cardinals system. Among St. Louis outfielders alone, Arozarena was ranked as low as the system’s no. 7 outfield prospect – behind Dylan Carlson, Jhon Torres, Adolis Garcia, Lane Thomas, Justin Williams and even Conner Capel. (By this time, Tyler O’Neill had already graduated off prospect lists.)
The clear standout among the eight national prospect watchers was BaseballHQ, which ranked Randy fourth among Cardinals prospects (at all positions). As the highest-ranked outfielder, Arozarena was four spots ahead of Carlson at the time, according to HQ.
Jumping on the bandwagon
Leaping to the present, some are catching on quickly. In recognition of Arozarena’s meteoric rise during the early rounds of the 2020 playoffs, Fangraphs moved him into their national rankings, at number 42. That is being opportunistic – taking advantage of a very fresh lesson learned.
We missed, too
Lest anyone think I am picking on others unfairly, here at The Cardinal Nation, we missed out, too. We had Randy 12th prior to the 2019 season. I wrote that I thought Thomas had a brighter MLB future ahead. Fellow outfielders O’Neill and Carlson were also ranked ahead of Arozarena on our list.
Thanks to his feats during the following summer, Randy jumped up to number 7 in our initial 2020 rankings, unveiled just before his trade. But to reinforce the aforementioned point about the perceived best player in the swap, we placed Liberatore at number 3 when Randy was removed from his no. 7 place in our rankings.
Take a bow, BaseballHQ
As noted previously, BaseballHQ stood alone in their early confidence in Arozarena. Here is his player capsule from HQ’s indispensable Minor League Analyst book for 2019.
|4||Randy Arozarena||79||2019||Starting OF||8D||Athletic OF put together a solid season and can do|
|a bit of everything. Can be overly aggressive at|
|the plate, but was more selective as the season|
|8=solid MLB regular||progressed. The jump to AAA proved challenging|
|D=30% chance||but his base skills remained intact. Above-average|
|defender in LF with a good arm and plus speed.|
As solid as the report was, the 30% confidence was not unusual and reflects the inherent lack of certainty when projecting prospect futures. The “solid regular” tag, was, well, solid.
Even so, Arozarena did not register on HQ’s “Mega-Lists,” which outline the best prospects in the game by position in terms of long-range potential in the Major Leagues as well as in top skills such as power, batting average and speed for position players.
The Mega-Lists also include the top 45 outfield prospects in the game. There was no mention of Randy in 2019.
Post-trade update – not too deep of a bow, though
By the time the 2020 Analyst went to press this spring, Arozarena had been dealt to Tampa Bay. In the loaded Rays system, ranked number 1 in MLB, he was no longer the cream of the crop – slotting in at just no.13.
Arozarena also made his debut on the national top 45 outfielders Mega-List – but he barely placed, at number 44.
His player capsule in the 2020 Analyst showed a new grade of 7B, meaning an improved 70% chance of becoming an average MLB regular. However, that latter mark was a tick lower than the “solid regular” ceiling the year before.
The pre-season 2020 write-up was as follows. (Clarifications in parentheses are mine.)
“Underrated player can do a bit of everything and had a breakout season (at Triple-A Memphis). Aggressive approach is mitigated by quick hands and ability to barrel the ball. Gap-to-gap approach, (relatively small) size and poor pitch recognition limit power profile. Above-average speed, arm and range give him the tools to play all three OF spots.”
So even BaseballHQ did not fully project what was coming for Randy just months later – during this September and October.
What is next?
Who knows where Arozarena will go from here, but one thing is for sure, Cardinals fans will continue to watch with the highest level of interest (and perhaps angst).
When the 2021 Minor League Analyst is made available in January (pre-orders are being taken now), we will again share related Cardinals prospects highlights. I thank them as always for sharing their work with me, and therefore, you.
There is plenty more of the kind of in-depth writing that you just read available here at The Cardinal Nation.
Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system.
© 2020 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.