How do you begin to navigate your way to the top of the NL West when your team has finished fifth, fifth and fourth the last three seasons?
When the top seed in the division is held by the Dodgers, who has made the playoffs in 10 consecutive seasons? What about the Padres, who have mega-deals with Xander Bogaerts, Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. and wouldn’t surprise anyone if they were to join Juan Soto? And the Giants, who won 107 games in 2021 and chased Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa in the offseason and still — without signing either — became the third club in the NL West with a payroll over $200 million for luxury tax purposes?
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who has overseen a team with the fourth-worst combined record in the majors over the last three years, believes this mountain is climbed at the lowest levels. “Around here we talk about gaining an inch.”
The translation: capitalizing on the athletic makeup of his roster and the D’backs’ Chase Field home fast track and focusing on things like playing harder and better defense and having everyone up and down the lineup being able to clean up. called So last November, Ariz. When he would move to a back diamond at the organization’s minor league facility at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Lovullo would be delighted.
“I would see him any day with one of our minor league coaches,” Lovullo said of his young star Corbin Carroll. “That told me a lot about his willingness to improve and his confidence in what we ask of our players. Who wants to work with bunting? It’s like rebounding and (defensively) sliding in basketball. Everyone wants to shoot threes and dunk. He was working on rebounding when no one was watching and that’s discipline for me.”
The Diamondbacks extended Corbin Carroll to a long-term deal over the weekend. Getty Images
It symbolized so much why the Diamondbacks, despite Carroll having just 32 games of major league experience, signed the outfielder to an eight-year, $111 million deal over the weekend. A ninth-year option that, if triggered, would buy Carroll three free years. If all the escalators were completed, the contract would cost $154 million.
Carroll, 22, is seen as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite after last year’s five-tool cameo that included MLB’s best sprint speed (30.7 feet per second). But when Diamondbacks officials rave about Carroll, they’re like the Yankees opposite Anthony Volpe (Carroll was the 16th pick in 2019, Volpe the 30th). Arizona executives love the tools, of course, but they believe that the work ethic, passion and seriousness of baseball will allow the player to maximize his abilities. When it comes to baserunning, for example, elite speed is said to be enhanced by attention to detail in cutting the bases precisely. And of course bunting practice will also mix well with speed.
“I’m just trying to be a great baseball player, help our team win and be a great teammate,” Carroll said last week before his contract expired. “It’s not always easy for me because I like to feel vulnerable and operate with a chip on my shoulder. I’m grateful that people are nice to me now and say good things, but I want to make sure that that’s not where my confidence and motivation come from.”
Corbin Carroll is the overwhelming favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Getty Images
Corbin Carroll’s extension is telling for the Diamondbacks. AP
What makes Carroll’s ascension more interesting is that it feels like a marquee in Arizona, not unlike when the Oriots called up catcher Adley Rutschman last year to signal that a pinnacle of young talent was wide open. Defensively strong center fielder Alek Thomas was already up. Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson joined a rotation that included Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. In the offseason, Arizona traded Daulton Varsho (the Yankees were also deep in those discussions) to Toronto for the straight power of Gabriel Moreno (one of the best catching prospects in the game) and Lourdes Gurriel.
All six teams that made the NL playoffs (Braves, Mets, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, Padres) are eager to make it again. The D’backs are an interesting wild card because even opponents feel the pain they had to play last year because of their athleticism on both sides of the ball. However, it may still be a year away. Because of the poor bullpen, the Diamondbacks had the worst winning percentage (.615) in the majors when leading or tied for the sixth inning (the Dodgers’ .836 was the best).
Corbin Carroll has impressed with his five instruments. USA TODAY Sports
Also, some of his better prospects still aren’t until the end of the year (starter Brandon Pfaadt) or next year (shortstop Jordan Lawlar). But against, say, NL West underdog Colorado, the D’backs project to be more than just a pesky division rival.
“We see the landscape of the National League,” D’backs GM Mike Hazen said. “We know where the best teams are on paper and where we are on paper and the depth of the competition. I think the talent on this team, including Corbin, is better than it’s been in the last two years. My goal for this team is to put pressure where we are in the middle of the season to be a buyer in the front office (within the trade deadline).