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McCarthy, Vukovich open eyes at D-backs’ instructional league

Several prospects have captured Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield’s attention.

Glendale Desert Dogs v. Salt River Rafters Photo by Buck Davidson/MLB Photos via Getty Images

A pair of notable prospects have impressed at the Arizona Diamondbacks’ fall instructional league.

Center fielder Jake McCarthy and third baseman A.J. Vukovich are standing out amongst the team’s 52-player instructional league roster. McCarthy’s improved bat and Vukovich’s supreme raw power have impressed Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield.

“They’ve both been sensational to this point,” Barfield said. “They each showed what they are capable of doing, and they have not disappointed. Both of them have stood out on the position player side of things.”

Arizona’s collection of young talent is on full display during instructional league matchups, and McCarthy is opening eyes with his offensive skill set. The 23-year-old has improved his contact and pull-side power while showcasing his speed and athleticism.

“Jake has made humongous strides up to this point,” Barfield said “He’s been a standout offensively just making solid contact and hitting for more power. There were adjustments he’s made coming here, and it’s starting to come together.”

McCarthy was selected No. 39 overall in Competitive Balance Round A out of the University of Virginia in 2018. He posted a .277/.341/.405 slash line in 53 games with High-A Visalia in 2019. During his tenure in the minors, he’s yet to drive the ball effectively with just five homers over 111 games.

Heading into the instructional league, Barfield said McCarthy has put more emphasis on his power and consistency at the plate. Without a Minor League Baseball season to develop, he’s made the most of his opportunity.

“I couldn’t be more excited for him,” Barfield said. “Jake has continued to work and improve on his game and it’s really shown playing against different competition.”

While McCarthy put his offensive improvements on display, Vukovich’s raw power has generated buzz throughout instructs. Vukovich, 19, was selected in the fourth round—119th overall— in the shortened five round 2020 MLB Draft out of East Troy High School.

Standing at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Vukovich fits the bill as a power-hitting third baseman. His low leg kick generates solid contact in his right-handed swing. He went head-to-head against Boston Red Sox draftee Blaze Jordan in the 2019 MLB High School Home Run Derby.

Vukovich was recognized as one of the top prep bats during the latter rounds of the draft, and the D-backs tagged him to a $1.25 million signing bonus to steer him away from his commitment to Louisville.

During his first pro season in an unprecedented season for prospect development, Vukovich is already making strides. He has garnered high praise from Barfield after his impressive showing.

“He’s looking like a steal right now, the kid can flat out hit,” Barfield said. “He’s got as much power as anyone in our organization. He’s consistently squaring up the baseball and showing his athleticism on both sides of the ball. He’s a special talent that fell to us.”

Vukovich’s bat has impressed since the instructional league began, and his bright future continues to grow and develop with each plate appearance.

“Being a young guy in his first year of professional baseball he’s come in and hit as well as anybody we have,” Barfield said. “It’s been great to see him develop so quickly.”

On the pitching side of things, Barfield noted the strides from Conor Grammes, Drey Jameson and Justin Martinez. Each right-hander has displayed improved command during instructs, and they stood out amongst a deep farm system full of young arms.

Martinez, 19, has continued to increase his velocity. His explosive fastball already touched 99 mph during his short stint with Arizona’s minor league affiliates.

“They’ve really impressed and performed well,” Barfield said. “Seeing the stuff they have and the command they have on the mound is spectacular. All three of them have a chance to be special.”

Just like the remaining 29 MLB teams, the Diamondbacks had to make the most of a lost season for their minor league prospects. With the help of the Scottsdale alternate training site and fall instructional leagues, the farm system has flourished under the unique circumstances.

“It’s been nice to get a decent amount of guys out here,” he said. “Playing every day against other teams has worked out well. Our guys did a good job during the downtime to improve and get better. For missing the whole year, they’ve been sharp. It’s been fun to see.”