It didn’t feel like Randy Arozarena was a rookie this season.
Tampa Bay’s speedy and powerful outfielder certainly didn’t play like one, either.
Arozarena won AL Rookie of the Year honors with a superb follow-up to his 2020 postseason heroics while Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India earned NL Rookie of the Year.
The standout years for Arozarena and India highlight the changing profile of a good MLB leadoff hitter. Both players have speed and a good eye, but also considerable power. It’s the first time since 1953 that the rookie of the year winners were both primarily leadoff hitters. That season, Detroit’s Harvey Kuenn and Brooklyn’s Jim Gilliam won.
If it didn’t seem like this wasn’t Arozarena’s first year, there’s a reason. The 26-year-old Cuban provided a stunning lift for the Rays during the 2020 postseason with 10 homers in 18 games during their run to the World Series.
But Arozarena didn’t play enough during the 2020 regular season to lose his rookie status so he was eligible for the award this year. He followed up his postseason breakout with an excellent season in 2021, finishing with a .274 average, 32 doubles, 20 homers, 20 stolen bases and 69 RBIs while adding excellent defense, helping the Rays return to the postseason.
“I know I was favored to be the rookie of the year,” Arozarena said through a translator. “But for me, my mind wasn’t set on the award or winning the award. My mind and my goal was to have another good season and continue what I had done the year before.”
Arozarena earned 22 of 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, beating out Houston right-hander Luis Garcia and Tampa Bay infielder Wander Franco.
Arozarena is Tampa Bay’s first rookie of the year since outfielder Wil Myers in 2013.
Five AL players received at least one first-place vote in this year’s tally, including Garcia, Franco, Texas outfielder Adolis Garcia and Cleveland pitcher Emmanuel Clase. Garcia hit 31 homers this season while Clase had a 1.29 ERA in Cleveland’s bullpen.
The 20-year-old Franco has the label as one of MLB’s future stars and his performance in 2021 did nothing to discourage that billing. The infielder hit .288 with seven homers and 39 homers while playing less than half the season.
The 24-year-old Garcia was instrumental in the Astros’ run to the World Series this season. He had an 11-8 record with a 3.48 ERA and struck out 167 batters over 155 1/3 innings.
India won the NL award eight months after earning the team’s second base job during spring training and never letting it go during a stellar first season.
The 24-year-old India received 29 of 30 first-place votes, beating out Miami left-handed pitcher Trevor Rogers and St. Louis outfielder Dylan Carlson. Rogers got one first-place vote. India said it’s been an amazing journey from spring training, where he was a longshot to even make the regular-season roster.
“I didn’t really have a role on the team, I was just there to fill in for some guys who weren’t playing,” India said. “I kind of took it personal. I just wanted to be a big leaguer this season and I made it a point to put my head down and grind.”
India was the No. 5 overall pick in the 2018 draft and played third base in college at Florida, but he’s found a home at second base in the big leagues and become a cornerstone for the Reds’ future. His quick impact in the big leagues was somewhat surprising considering he had just 111 at-bats above Single-A before 2021.
He was the Reds’ first rookie of the year winner since pitcher Scott Williamson in 1999.
The 6-foot, 200-pound India was an all-around threat – particularly during the second half of the season – often batting leadoff and finishing with a .269 average, 34 doubles, 21 homers, 69 RBIs and 12 stolen bases. He also showed good discipline in the batter’s box, coaxing 71 walks to finish with a .376 on-base percentage, and scored 98 runs.
The 23-year-old Rogers finished second. He was chosen as an All-Star during an excellent season that included a 7-8 record and 2.64 ERA over 25 starts. The hard-throwing lefty struck out 155 batters over 133 innings.
Carlson was part of a young, talented outfield for a Cardinals team that made a late-season charge to the playoffs. Playing as a 22-year-old, he batted .266 with 18 homers and provided solid defense in all three outfield spots.
The Managers of the Year will be announced by the BBWAA, followed by the Cy Young Awards, and the MVPs.
The AL finalists for Manager of the Year are Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash, Seattle’s Scott Servais and Houston’s Dusty Baker. The NL finalists are Milwaukee’s Craig Counsell, St. Louis’ Mike Shildt and San Francisco’s Gabe Kapler.