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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #19: OF Jake McCarthy

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McCarthy made his MLB debut with the Diamondbacks in 2021

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MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rating: 4.67
  • Age: 24
  • 2021 Stats: 24 G, 70 PA, .220/.333/.373, 3 2B, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 11 R, 3/5 SB, 94 wRC+, 0.4 bWAR
  • 2021 Earnings: $118.5k (pro-rated version of league minimum for 38 days of service time)
  • 2022 Status: 40-Man Roster, Still Rookie Eligible

Jake McCarthy was a Competitive Balance Round A selection by Arizona in the 2018 out the University of Virginia, ultimately being the highest selected player that would sign from that class. His blend of power, speed, and defense made him an attractive prospect in 2018, but would be bothered by a wrist injury late in the college season that caused him to slide out not out of just the Top 10, but out of the first round in entirety. McCarthy would sign for $1.65MM, just below the slot value pick of the 39th selection in that draft class.

His first summer in the pro ranks was pretty solid as McCarthy put up a respectable 132 wRC+ while coming back from that wrist injury. 2019 however proved to be a major setback as injuries combined with a surprisingly high strikeout rate, likely a result of attempting to get more lift in his swing vs. the flat swing path they apparently teach at UVA. McCarthy put up a 108 wRC+ but there were concerns as it was a significant drop with red flags in his overall numbers (K% way up, exit velocities/quality of contact way down).

After 2019, we had the pandemic although McCarthy was one of the prospects who was not brought in to the alternate training site. For that season, he was on his own to figure out how to improve enough to move up the organizational ladder instead of taking his hacks at High A or AA. At that point, McCarthy was trending somewhere between a disappointment or an outright bust as a first night draft selection. While his glove and speed would play at a high level in the major leagues, his 2018-19 results with the bat simply weren’t good enough to even get a shot.

Zach Buchanan of the Athletic published an article in September about McCarthy’s journey to improve himself during the pandemic. In 2020 Spring Training, he was losing a homerun contest to fellow outfield prospects Alek Thomas, Corbin Carroll, and Dominic Fletcher, all of whom are at least 4 inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter than the 6’2” 215 McCarthy. When the pandemic hit and shut down the Minor League season, McCarthy received a very harsh and blunt critique from Rick Short about his exit velocities simply not cutting the mustard. He would spend the 2020 season working on generating more power to his swing and showed to camp in 2021 with some sizable improvements in that area.

For 2021, his initial assignment was AA Amarillo. McCarthy had a slow start to the season but continued adjustments to his swing allowed him to drop the strikeout rate and make more forceable contact. His overall numbers in AA yielded a 117 wRC+ at the level in 136 plate appearances before getting promoted to AAA Reno. With Reno, McCarthy saw his surface numbers improve, but accounting for the environment of some of those teams his wRC+ came down to a respectable 102. We’ve seen the story of Reno players who’ve put up better numbers not be able to do anything at the MLB level, but given his Rule 5 eligibility in the upcoming offseason and the team’s lack of depth in center field, McCarthy finally got his shot.

In 24 games, McCarthy put up a .220/.333/.373 slash with 5 XBH and 3 stolen bases. There is some concern about the level of bat, as he wholly outperformed his expected stats with a very high strikeout rate of 32.9% and an exit velocity average of 80 with a max of 109.1 MPH. At the same time, this occurred over a 70 plate appearance and 37 balls in play sample size so there really isn’t enough to make a definitive measure of his overall batting skill. We’ll get a better picture in 2022, when he gets somewhere in the ballpark of 400+ PA where there is enough data to make future projections on how his career may go.

For 2022, I expect him to start the year as the Opening Day center fielder. He’s very much a placeholder with one of the team’s best outfielder prospects, Alek Thomas, expected to make his MLB debut at some point in 2022. In the 45 or so games before such a move happens, McCarthy should be given a chance to earn a starting outfielder role whether that’s in left or right field once Thomas is here. Against RHP, he should be in the lineup on a consistent basis while getting some exposure to lefty starters as well to try to see if he is more than a platoon player.