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When Corbin Carroll stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning on Friday night, he was greeted with a thundering three-letter chant, the likes of which no Diamondbacks player has heard since franchise icon Paul Goldschmidt: “MVP! MVP! MVP!”
“I had to kind of take a moment and collect myself,” Carroll said.
In demeanor, Carroll and Goldschmidt are alike — both soft-spoken, steady and wise beyond their years from the moment they stepped into a big league batter’s box.
In physical stature, they are quite different. Carroll is not 6-foot-3, 220 pounds like Goldschmidt. He does not have elbows the size of Texas. What he does have with his compact 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame is above-average outfield range, impressive bat-to-ball skills, elite sprint speed and inexplicable raw power that seemingly defies physics.
It is too early to declare Carroll as the next Diamondbacks superstar position player after Goldschmidt, a title that Ketel Marte has flirted with but never fully obtained. But, with 100 games under his belt, it is hard to imagine Carroll becoming anything less than that. Frankly, he looks like a superstar already, and oh yeah: He is 22 years old.
Through 100 career games, Carroll is slashing .293/.372/.565 with 19 homers, 52 RBI, 27 doubles, five triples and 21 stolen bases. That works out to a .937 OPS, the highest by any player in Diamondbacks history through 100 career games. By comparison, Goldschmidt hit .270/.348/.495.
In fairness to Goldschmidt, many star players do not burst on the scene the way Carroll has. Mike Trout had an .858 OPS in his first 100 games. Mookie Betts had a .756 OPS. Freddie Freeman’s came in at .742. Nolan Arenado, despite playing half his games at Coors Field, had a .713 OPS.
Narrowing in on this year alone makes Carroll look even better. He is hitting .307/.389/.593 with 15 homers, 38 RBI, 18 doubles, three triples and 19 stolen bases. Entering play on Sunday, he leads the National League in fWAR (3.5), OPS (.987) and slugging percentage (.593). With those numbers, it comes as no shock that Carroll has built a sizable lead over any competitors in the NL Rookie of the Year race and now looks like a legitimate contender for NL MVP.
When asked if he has ever witnessed a major league career start out this way, Diamondbacks hitting coach Joe Mather was quick to answer.
“No,” he said. “Zero players at this point, at this age, too. He’s a high school sign. Watching [Cincinnati Reds infielder] Jonathan India his rookie year, he did a great job in his first 100 games. He had a few years ahead of [Carroll] with college and a few more minor league games. That’s the closest I’ve seen.
“But with what Corbin has done, and in the minimal minor league games out of high school, I can’t think of a comparison that I’ve seen. I’m sure there’s some back in the past. But yeah, it’s hard to, especially for an American-born kid, he’s flown through the system. And he’s handling it very well up here in the big leagues.”
Carroll’s rise through the Diamondbacks’ system was unprecedented, not only because of the success he had at every step, but the adversity he faced along the way.
Drafted 16th overall in 2019, Carroll entered the D-backs’ system at the age of 18 and hit .299/.409/.487 in 42 games in his first professional season, splitting time between the Rookie League and Low-A.
In 2020, the pandemic struck, forcing Carroll and other top Diamondbacks prospects to the alternate site, where they got plenty of work but missed an entire season of minor league at-bats.
The following year, Carroll suffered a torn labrum on a home run swing just seven games into his season with High-A Hillsboro. The injury required season-ending surgery.
After seeing him make a full recovery, the Diamondbacks aggressively placed Carroll in Double-A Amarillo to open the 2022 season. At this point, he was only 49 minor league games, plus the alt site work, removed from high school.
Again, he continued to impress. In 53 games with Amarillo, Carroll hit .313/.430/.643. On July 10, 2022, he was promoted to Triple-A Reno. He raked there, too, slashing .287/.408/.535. On Aug. 29, he forced his way into the big leagues.
Since then, Carroll ranks third in all of baseball with 4.8 fWAR, trailing only Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees (6.2) and Bo Bichette of the Toronto Blue Jays (5.1). Suffice it to say that the eight-year, $111 million extension Carroll signed before the 2023 season already looks like a bargain.
While Carroll has seemingly been a star from the moment he set foot on a big league field, he has also improved significantly. As late as April 18 of this year, Carroll had a career walk rate of five percent and a career strikeout rate of 26.8 percent. The former was well below the league average walk rate of 8.7 percent and the latter was well above the league average strikeout rate 22.7 percent. Carroll was still doing damage, but it was reasonable to wonder if it was sustainable.
Since then, Carroll’s plate discipline has improved dramatically across the board:
|Aug. 29, 2022 to April 18, 2023||April 19, 2023 to June 17, 2023|
|In-zone swing rate||62.3||66.6|
|Swinging strike rate||11.4||6.9|
From April 19 on, Carroll has chased significantly fewer pitches out of the zone while also increasing his swing rate at pitches in the zone. He has also nearly cut his swinging strike rate in half. Together, those improvements have led to drastically improved strikeout and walk rates of 17.5 and 12.3 percent, respectively.
At this point, Carroll is essentially doing everything well at the plate, including an impressive all-fields approach.
Whether Carroll can maintain this current level of production remains to be seen. Statcast metrics for his 2023 season suggest that he is closer to a top-50 hitter in baseball than a top-five hitter, although speedy players have been known to outperform Statcast’s expectations.
Either way, Carroll seems to believe he has plenty of room to improve.
“Plenty of successes, plenty of failures,” Carroll said, when asked to evaluate his first 100 games in the big leagues. “But it’s just, at the end of the day, plenty of opportunities for growth. And I’m excited about what’s to come and what I can do each day as opposed to kind of what I have done.”
Suffice it to say that manager Torey Lovullo has been impressed.
“I haven’t been this close to somebody that’s gotten this hot this quick and has done the things that he’s done in the first 100 games,” Lovullo said. “But I’ve been around some really good players.
“You would read about them, you play against them and then you’d walk away, thinking, ‘I get it, I understand why Ken Griffey Jr. is going to be the best player in baseball one day.’ But it’s been a lot of fun to watch. And he’ll be the first to tell you, he’s ready to go tomorrow, and he wants to win the day tomorrow. That’s his main objective.”
Top photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic
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