The top of the Diamondbacks depth chart looks pretty solid at this point, with Corbin Carroll looking to build on his Rookie of the Year campaign, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. signed for the next three seasons. However, thereafter you’ve got a slew of players who are going to need to bounce-back, to greater or lesser degrees, in order to deserve regular playing time this season. Here’s what ZIPS has the D-backs outfielder on the 40-man roster, projected to do for OPS+ in 2024, with their 2023 MLB output in brackets:
- Corbin Carroll: 123 (134)
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr: 112 (108)
- Alek Thomas: 97 (75)
- Jake McCarthy: 101 (75)
- Pavin Smith: 98 (77)
- Dominic Fletcher: 92 (115)
- Jorge Barrosa: 88 (N/A)
If McCarthy, Thomas and Smith can put up the expected numbers, then the D-backs should be fine, especially considering the positives that the first two, at least, bring to the table in the field and on the base-paths. With Thomas, who is still only 23 years old, you can certainly see some upside, though there wasn’t made evidence of it in his number this year. His OPS+ remained the same 75 it was in his rookie campaign. and with over four hundred PA in each season, the “small sample size” argument is tenuous. His walk-rate, already well below MLB average (8.4%), dropped from 5.0% to 4.7%, while his strikeouts went in the opposite direction, increasing from 18.0% to 21.4%.
jeffern51 went into some detail about the reasons for optimism in regard to Thomas. He concluded that if he can control his tendency to hammer pitches into the dirt, that could pay large dividends. We saw some indication of that in the post-season, including his fabulous home-run off Craig Kimbrel. But we’re only talking 59 PA, and I’m going to need to see greater evidence of this before I am buying into any breakout on grounds more solid than “hope it happens.” For now, the batting portion of Thomas’s Baseball Savant page has more blue on it than a Dodgers’ fan convention, and Jack Sommers did a great job of putting the counter-argument forward:
The combination of the plate discipline, ground ball tendency, and career 22 wRC+ against LHP is a triple whammy that’s going to be really hard to overcome. Throughout his entire minor league career he’s had a very high GB rate (54%), and that’s persisted and gotten even worse in MLB (57%)... Mid to high 50’s GB rate coupled with low 20’s K rate is just not going to work. It seems like the swing path and footwork corrections he’s supposed to be making each off season and trip to Reno just don’t stick. Whether they will in the future or not remains to be seen.... The complete and total ineffectiveness against LHP is perhaps going to be the toughest thing to overcome.
Next up is Jake McCarthy. As mentioned last week, his season was so disappointing, only Zach Davies suffered a bigger drop in player rating from 2022 to 2023. Again, ZIPS sees a big rebound in Jake’s future, and here, the 101 OPS+ projected is not far off his career figure (98). But I have concerns too, such as his career BABIP, which is 35 points above MLB average at .328. Some of that can be explained by Jake’s blazing velo. His sprint speed was in the 98th percentile last year, and a startling 27% of his hits were of the infield variety, though his BABIP in 2023 was much closer to league average, just 12 points up. At least his walk-rate is reasonable, and his career OPS vs LHP/RHP is identical, both being .711.
His Baseball Savant page is similarly blue-skewed, with categories involving quality of contact e.g. exit velocity being particularly below average for 2023. While Thomas can at least rely on defense to keep his value intact, the same can’t be said for McCarthy, with the fielding section little if any more encouraging. There’s also the question of health, Jake’s season coming to an unceremonious end after he strained an oblique muscle during batting practice in Milwaukee. It kept him off the roster for the entire post-season, and we’ll be keeping our fingers crossed there are no lingering affects when spring training starts next month. That kind of injury can stick around.
I fully expect both men to start the season on the D-backs roster. But if their production is not better than the level we saw from both men in 2023, I’d expect Torey Lovullo and Mike Hazen to look for alternatives. That might include fandom’s favorite red-headed stepchild, Pavin Smith. While not ideal, Lovullo wasn’t afraid to play Smith in the outfield, where Pavin started twenty games in RF. Though a small-sample size, with 228 PA at the major-league level, his underlying metrics last year were better than both McCarthy and Thomas. There’s also his excellent plate discipline: Smith had a walk-rate of 15.4%, the best on the team. And it wasn’t close, with the next best (min 200 PA) being Geraldo Perdomo’s 12.8%.
Dominic Fletcher is the first of two outfielder Doms to debut for Arizona this year (the other, Canzone, went to Seattle in the Paul Sewald trade which should help avoid confusion going forward!). Fletcher made a big impression as a rookie this year, hitting better than .300 over 28 games. But that was based on Dominic v1.0 batting .462 through his first dozen, due to a startling .516 BABIP - utterly unsustainable, not least given his below-average sprint speed. Thereafter, the BABIP regressed to a more reasonable .263, and Fletcher’s numbers cratered with it, hitting .185/.254/.222. It’s fairly safe to say that the real, long-term version sits somewhere between those two extremes. Towards which side though?
Finally on the 40-man, there’s Jorge Barrosa, the only one without any major-league experience. He is still only 22, and hit .274/.394/.456 for an .850 OPS with the Reno Aces, which is actually 27 points below the team average. It put him between Diego Castillo and Phillip Evans in terms of AAA production, and neither of those men are on the D-backs any longer. However, Barrosa’s age is certainly a factor in his favor: Jordan Lawlar was the only other position player under 23 with even a handful of games for Reno. I think he would be better served by spending 2024 getting regular playing-time in Reno, but it’s not impossible we could see him in September.
Worth mentioning a couple of names not currently on the 40-man roster, in top 10 prospects (according to MLB) A.J. Vukovich and Kristian Robinson. Vukovich is actually the younger, by about seven months, but is the more advanced, spending all of 2023 at Double-A Amarillo, where he had an .818 OPS. The Robinson situation doesn’t need any further rehashing, but after missing three seasons of organized ball, Kristian had a .915 OPS across four levels, from Rookie up to Double-A. He went unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, but escaped selection. I imagine he’ll probably start out in Double-A, and it will be interesting to see what he does in 2024.
All told, this is an area where I have some concerns for the 2024 D-backs. We want one of McCarthy, Thomas or Smith to rebound back to their projected level, and in all three cases, that’s an increase of 20 or more points of OPS+, no small feat. I guess the odds of ONE of them having the requisite bounce-back season are reasonable, but I’ll be happier when that has actually happened!