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Hochman: Why isn't there more excitement about Cardinals prospect Arozarena battling for outfield spot?

Hochman: Why isn't there more excitement about Cardinals prospect Arozarena battling for outfield spot?

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Cards workout before Game 3 curtailed by rain

Cardinals outfielders Randy Arozarena, left, and Harrison Bader take batting practice on Saturday, Oct. 04, 2019, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Mo. on a practice day before Game 3 of the NLDS with the Atlanta Braves. Photo by Christian Gooden,

It's funny, these phases of fans.

Last summer, as Randy Arozarena obliterated baseballs in the minors, fans pleaded on social media and radio shows to get Randy to St. Louis. He would be our town's biggest Randy since Savage came to Kiel Auditorium in '86. After all, in Class AAA Memphis, the outfielder slashed .358/.435/.593 in 283 plate appearances.

So, the kid got the call in August.

And got 23 plate appearances.

But as we head into 2020, it feels as if Arozarena is an afterthought to fans. He's not to the organization, I know that. He'll get a legitimate shot to compete for an outfield spot in spring training. But there's this sense around St. Louis that it's all about Lane Thomas, Harrison Bader and, naturally, top hitting prospect Dylan Carlson.

But Arozarena's numbers haven't changed. He still did what he did in the minors last season. Maybe I'm in the minority, but I'm excited about Arozarena. And, if anything, I just feel like he should get more love from the fans.

Of course, things would be a lot easier if lefty Joc Pederson showed up via trade with his 36 homers and career-best .876 OPS from last year. One of the biggest questions in 2020 will be regarding outfield offensive production. But there is optimism with Arozarena, who turns 25 in February. Here are his combined minor-league slash lines each year in the organization (noting that most years, he played at multiple levels):

2017 (high A and AA): .266/.346/.437

2018 (AA and AAA): .274/.359/.433

2019 (AA and AAA): .344/.431/.571

Specifically, in 2019, he started the year at Class AA Springfield, and it was there he slashed .309/.422/.515 in 26 games and 116 plate appearances. At Memphis, his numbers skyrocketed. It is fair to bring up that Class AAA used different balls in 2019, and many hitters took advantage of this. Arozarena blasted 12 homers and 18 doubles in 64 games.

And he has an enticing walk-to-strikeout rate.

His speed is splendid (not that Bader's and Thomas' isn't). Arozarena has the ability to stretch gappers into doubles. He's proven he can steal bags. He has 18, 26, 17 in the three seasons in the organization.

One thing that is eye-catching is how many times he's caught stealing. In 2017, he had the 18 steals but was thrown out seven times. He had the 26 in 2018 and eight CS. And last season, he swiped 17 bags but was thrown out 12 other times!

Hey, at least he's on base to begin with!

So, how lackluster was Arozarena time with the Cards? Not once did his last name make it in a Post-Dispatch headline, even in a notebook, since his July call-up. He was just kinda there.

Side note, the story of his call-up was really great. As Rick Hummel reported for the Post-Dispatch, Arozarena was sleeping when Memphis manager Ben Johnson called to tell him about Randy's promotion. Arozarena was so sleepy, he wondered if he dreamed what happened. So he actually dialed up his manager back on the phone: “Did you call me saying that I’m going to the big leagues?”

Johnson, according to Arozarena, said, “It’s not a dream. It’s reality. You’re going.”

And he made his debut on Aug. 14, wearing in No. 66. Overall in the majors, he was 6-for-20 (.300) with two walks and four strikeouts. He hit one homer, stole two bags and was caught once.

And now, he's in the mix. Dexter Fowler will likely get a starting job. And the other two spots are open to Arozarena, Bader, Thomas, Tyler O'Neill, Justin Williams and, depending on his accelerated progress, the talented Carlson.

One wonders — are there even enough at-bats in spring training to truly get a good sense of all these guys? The Cards will figure it out, and I figure Arozarena will be hard to keep on the bench again.

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