Randy Arozarena (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Cuban center fielder Randy Arozarena should begin his St. Louis Cardinals career in full-season ball, but where?

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues at #17 with an experienced Cuban center fielder, who signed in July for $1.25 million. Details for TCN members.

http://www.scout.com/player/210771-randy-arozarena?s=321

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
NA CF 02 25 95 2016 IFA

Selected 2016 stats

Lg AVG BABIP AB R H 2B HR RBI BB SO SB wOBA OBP SLG OPS
Mex 0.100 0.118 20 3 2 1 0 0 2 3 0 0.169 0.182 0.150 0.332

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (20): Like fellow Cuban signee Johan Oviedo, Randy Arozarena was rated lower during the community vote than the others here, ultimately landing at #20. BobReed was the first to stake claim on Arozarena during the voting, choosing him with his 15th pick.

BobReed had a lot to offer on Arozarena as he fell past his 15th pick without much traction. He compared him to Aledmys Diaz from their time in the Cuban Serie Nacional, as they had quite the resemblance with an OPS of .831 for Arozarena and a .797 OPS for Diaz at the same age with a similar 1:1 K:BB ratio for each player. BobReed also compared Arozarena to Cuban Lourdes Gurriel, who Arozarena outhit during their time in the Cuban League.

Comparing him to Nick Plummer, BobReed believes that Arozarena has more defensive and base-running upside than the former first rounder. Bccran said that he will second Arozarena, as he heard that Arozarena was really opening some eyes playing in Mexico this winter, especially on the defensive side. – Jeremy Byrd

 

Derek Shore (13): In recent years, the Cardinals July 2nd international strategy was to spread money around to low six-figure Latin prospects, but in 2017 they broke the bank, handing out a quartet of million-dollar signing bonuses while blowing past their spending cap in the process.

One top bonus recipient, Randy Arozarena, signed for reported $1.25 million on July 26, but did not make his first appearance with the Cardinals until instructional league this fall.

Arozarena, 21, was Baseball America's ninth-ranked Cuban prospect in 2015 and is known for his on-base skills, line drive capability to all fields, and above-average to plus running speed. The defector, who had been playing for the Toritos del Tecate in the Mexican Northern League prior to signing, slashed .377/.466/.555/1.021 in 296 plate appearances, leading the league in batting average, runs scored (66) and stolen bases, with 42 in 54 attempts.

At 5-foot-11, 170 pounds, Arozarena is a right-handed hitter with a quick, simple stroke that allows him to have above-average bat speed with the ability to keep his bat in the zone long, spraying balls from gap to gap with a line-drive approach to all fields.

Perhaps his biggest strength is his advanced approach, showing an ability to identify and lay off breaking balls. He is not a masher by any means but could mature into 10-15 home run pop with his game revolving around his on-base ability.

As an explosive physical athlete, Arozarena has played mostly shortstop, second base, and center field in his career with the latter likely being his defensive home with the Cardinals. It is not clear he has the actions for second or enough arm to man shortstop, but he profiles well in center, where his speed and strong instincts play. It also allows him to be a premier base stealing threat. Regardless, he has the quick-twitch athleticism to remain up-the-middle.

With all the tools to fit in the outfield, scouts feel Arozarena will need to work on his reads and routes off the bat because of his lack of experience out there.

With his 50 bat, 40 power, 60 speed, 50 arm, and 50 field, Arozarena has the chance to be an everyday leadoff type hitter with on-base skill and speed. Worst-case, he projects as a super-utility player, who can move around and hit near the bottom of the order.

All that said, the Havana, Cuba native was deemed ready for a High-A assignment when he first signed, though the Cardinals have not indicated where he will start his pro career.

 

Brian Walton (20): Here we have another of the Cardinals’ heralded international signings and our second July 2016 Cuban signing in a row, following pitcher Johan Oviedo at #18 yesterday.

I asked Cardinals international operations director Moises Rodriguez to explain Arozarena’s background.

“Randy is a little older (than most Latin American signings),” Rodriguez said. “He is 21 years old and will play in 2017 at 22 years old. He performed well in Cuba both in youth leagues and in their pro league. He has been playing in international competition for a long time – mostly as sort of a utility type. A lot of that stems from need and fit on the team that he is on.”

Having moved around defensively meant it was unclear when signed where Arozarena would be stationed as a Cardinal. By instructional league, the firm decision had been made. Arozarena will be a center fielder. 

“I don’t think throughout his youth years, he played a ton of center field, that there is a ton of history with him in center field,” Rodriguez said. “This past summer, we saw him a lot in Mexico. The League de la Norte, which is sort of a lower-level league in Mexico, he led that league in hitting. He played center field every day. He has instincts on defense.

“We saw him there and he looked natural because he is a quick twitch athlete. He is a great runner, a 70 on the scouting scale, 4.1 (seconds) from home to first. 5-foot-11 and he needs to get a little stronger. Quick hands at the dish. Showed some plate discipline. Contact hitter with occasional power.”

Just before signing, Arozarena also played briefly in the higher level Mexican League, with those stats reflected above.

This fall, I had the opportunity to watch Arozarena up close at instructs, both in drills and in game action. He is not tall, with a very sturdy-looking build, in contrast to fellow Cuban center fielder Jonatan Machado, who is thinner and wiry. As you might expect, both were among students spending time with Willie McGee in camp. That should continue in the spring.

While Arozarena is supposedly more polished than most and is clearly fast, I have questions about his baserunning instincts. In winter ball in Mexico, he is running quite frequently, but is barely maintaining a 60 percent success rate in stolen base attempts. That means he is running into a lot of outs. Hopefully, McGee and the Cardinals coaches can help him there, too.

In winter action, Arozarena is batting around .290 with an on-base percentage in the .380 range. Not bad. However, looking a bit deeper into the numbers raises several yellow flags. That healthy OBP is buoyed by whopping 14 hit by pitches, just one less than his walk count of 15.

In addition to the caught stealings and the unusual OBP boost, the other concern I have is what seems to be a lack of pop, as indicated by his very low extra-base hit count.

With his legs, one would think the right-handed hitter would have considerably more than just nine extra-base hits in 231 plate appearances - seven doubles, two triples and no home runs. Another interesting note from his time in Mexico is 12 sacrifices, suggesting he does know what he is doing in the batters’ box.

Looking ahead, the arrival of Arozarena leads to an interesting dilemma that will bear watching in Cardinals spring camp. The Cuban shares his defensive position with top 10 prospect Magneuris Sierra. The latter spent all of 2016 with Class-A Peoria and is clearly ready for a promotion. The question is where to best place the new 40-man roster player.

The Cards player development staff is going to want both to play. If Sierra is deemed ready to make the jump to Springfield, that could be the preferred path. His defense is already good enough and the Texas League offers a better hitting environment than the Florida State League. That would enable Arozarena to man center field at high-A Palm Beach to open 2017.

On the other hand, if Arozarena’s bat proves to be as advanced as represented, the Cards could decide to play it conservative with Sierra and put the older, more experienced player, Arozarena, at Double-A instead. If one is in the camp that Arozarena will be the faster mover of the two, this latter approach may be the way to go.

Rodriguez cannot tell the future, so there was no way to try to pin him down on what the organization sees as Arozarena’s most likely April destination. But unless the Cuban is injured, it is not likely to be extended spring training.

“(Arozarena is) somebody you will probably see in full-season ball,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t think we expect to start him much lower than that. Somebody who adds more polish from that group of July 2nd kids.”

The scouting grade I assigned below reflects a bit of uncertainty, with my view of Arozarena’s ceiling currently in between an average and above-average MLB starter.

TCN Scouting Grade: 5.5, Risk: High (click here to review scales)

Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!

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