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Jordan Lawlar’s Arizona Fall League season was cut short by a fractured left scapula, but that didn’t stop the 20-year-old from showing he belonged in baseball’s most prestigious assembly of minor-league talent.
In 49 plate appearances in the AFL, Lawlar slashed .278/.469/.528 with two homers, four stolen bases and 11 walks. After struggling in a short stint in Double-A before the end of the regular season, Lawlar seems poised to succeed there next year. He could reasonably follow a similar path as Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll, who opened the 2022 season in Double-A and was a big-leaguer by the end of the year.
Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield told The Arizona Republic’s Nick Piecoro that the injury, suffered on a hit-by-pitch on Oct. 21, will “hardly affect” his offseason. However, it is worth noting the D-backs shortstop prospect suffered a posterior labrum tear on the same shoulder in 2021, requiring season-ending surgery.
Now that the dust has settled on Lawlar’s quick but impressive AFL campaign, I spoke with him by phone to discuss his biggest fall league takeaways. Our conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and conciseness.
We’ll start with the injury. How has the recovery process been so far?
Lawlar: There’s not too much that you can really do for it. It’s more time than anything. After two weeks, I felt really good. Right now it feels amazing. I feel like I’m ready to go.
No baseball activities yet, I assume?
Lawlar: No. I’m going to have to wait till the start of December. After that, I’ll probably come back to Arizona and go from there.
Obviously, you dealt with a significant injury last year to the same shoulder after just two minor-league games. It doesn’t sound like this injury will affect you much moving forward, but are you annoyed at all by your bad injury luck?
Lawlar: Never that. It just hit me in an unfortunate spot. It’s an unfortunate circumstance, but it is what it is. I can’t really control it, so I don’t let it bother me too much.
Were you surprised to hear it was a fractured scapula?
Lawlar: Not really, just from the pain I was in. It was pretty crazy. I wasn’t able to move my arm. When I got hit, I was holding my hand because I was wanting it to move again.
Before the injury, your numbers in the AFL were really impressive. What was working for you? Did you make any particular adjustments from the minor league season?
Lawlar: Nothing really, honestly. Just trying to keep it simple, don’t think too much and just go out there and play, have fun with those guys. I think that’s a big takeaway that I started working on towards the end of the season. I’m definitely going to try to keep that approach this whole next season.
From social media and some stuff I’ve read, it seems like you hit it off with Colorado Rockies outfield prospect Zac Veen. How did your relationship with him develop during the AFL?
Lawlar: Yeah, it was pretty cool. I met him at the futures game. We were talking in the outfield a little bit. I was just getting to know him there. But this was a really good opportunity to really build on that relationship. We definitely did that. Also Jordan Walker and Mason Wynn, it was really be around all those guys. We got closer over those few weeks.
In the AFL, 28 players from other organizations become your teammates. Is that odd? I guess it’s pretty cool in some ways?
Lawlar: Very cool, yeah. We’re all a brotherhood at the end of the day. There’s only so many of us that are blessed with this opportunity. We all kind of know what we deal with on a day-to-day basis. It’s nice to be around people that know what it’s like to go to the field every day and play at that kind of level.
Have you gotten to spend some time with Corbin Carroll while in Arizona?
Lawlar: No, he’s actually been back home. He’s trying to, I guess, cool down a little bit from this past season. He’ll come back out soon. We’ll probably have a couple days together.
Have you been able to connect with any other Diamondbacks big leaguers while you’ve been in town?
Lawlar: I’ve talked to a few of them, yeah. Nick Ahmed was one of them. He helped me with some things in the field before the fall league started.
How did the competition in the fall league compare to your expectations? Any surprises there?
Lawlar: Nothing too crazy, no. I wouldn’t say I was too surprised. I just went out there and did what I wanted to achieve out there, trying to approaching every day like it was my last day.
Did you feel like the level of pitching was a significant uptick from Double-A? Roughly the same?
Lawlar: Somewhere around Double-A, yeah. It wasn’t a shock to the system or anything. I felt pretty comfortable at the plate. I just felt like I kind of figured out what I needed to do to feel really good up there.
Did you know well in advance that you would be invited to the fall league?
Lawlar: It was kind of a goal of mine at the start of the year. I was shooting for it, kind of playing as if I was going to be in it. And I think I found out maybe August or so.
What made the fall league so attractive to you?
Lawlar: I just saw the big names that have gone through the league, just being around those guys, being around the top of the top in the game. Figuring out how they think, just kind of seeing how they approach the day. I feel like I could learn a lot from them, and I definitely did.
Looking back on the season as a whole, it seems like it was a really successful year for you on the field. How do you evaluate your performance?
Lawlar: As a spectator and a fan, I’d say it was a really amazing year for my first year, but the competitor in me always looks for little things that I could change. I just want to get better. I kind of nitpick it a little too much sometimes, but I hope next year is even better.
Is there anything in particular you’ll be focusing on this offseason going into next year?
Lawlar: Once I get healthy, I’d like to use the time I have to get a little bit stronger, if possible. And then, at the end of the day, just trying to do what I said earlier, just keeping it simple and not getting too technical.
From a defense standpoint, how would you evaluate this season? Looking at the numbers, it looks like you might have gotten off to a rough start in Low-A Visalia and then made fewer errors as the season progressed.
Lawlar: I just think it comes with time and experience, honestly. I didn’t put too much thought into it. I just was going out there and trying to play and learn the game at a higher level. And I think as the season went on, as the numbers say, I got better. I was able to get out there a little more, see different kinds of speeds, different reads. It definitely improved as the season went on.
Do you have any memories from the fall league that stand out?
Lawlar: Maybe just our first day, going out for BP and picture day and all that. Just hanging around the guys, kind of figuring out how quirky Veen was and stuff like that.
What makes Zac Veen quirky?
Lawlar: Just he’s intense, but just his comments sometimes. Just a funny guy, honestly. He makes me laugh. A couple other guys like Zach Britton do too. I was dying every time I was around him.
I know you’ve been asked this before, but is it safe to say that game you played at Chase Field had special significance for you?
Lawlar: That was pretty special. I can’t believe I forgot to say that. Yeah, that was really cool. My mom actually flew in that night before the game started so the delay helped a little bit there [first pitch occurred at 6:47 p.m. instead of the scheduled 6:35 p.m.]. But yeah, that was pretty cool, hearing her call my name before the game, talking to her and playing in front of that crowd that was there and seeing my name up on the big board.
How did you feel about the ball-strike challenge system that was implemented at Salt River Fields and Chase Field? I imagine you haven’t experienced anything like that in the past?
Lawlar: No, that was the first time I’ve ever experienced anything hitting-wise with the new rule tweaks, but I loved it. I thought it was really cool. It leaves the human element in there with the umpires, but it also gives the player a chance to redeem themselves if they think their eye was a little bit better than the call. I like that opportunity.
Obviously, there has been talk about using an entirely automated ball-strike system in the future that would relieve umpires from calling balls and strikes entirely. Do you prefer this challenge system over that?
Lawlar: I definitely like the human aspect in there. I’ve heard some stories about the automatic strike zone. This is definitely an improvement.
Top photo: Alex Gould/The Republic