Over the past two months, no organization has improved its farm system as much as the Arizona Diamondbacks. In June, they drafted eight of the first 93 amateurs, and last week they hauled in a tantalizing package for Zack Greinke: Houston’s 28th overall pick last year, OF Seth Beer; two high-upside starters in J.B. Bukauskas (#15 in 2017) and Corbin Martin (‘17 2nd rounder); and the underrated Josh Rojas (1.000 OPS in ‘19 between Double-A and Triple-A). The Dbacks have high-end prospects performing everywhere from Reno, NV to Geneva, IL to Jackson, TN to Missoula, MT, but one of their brightest young stars is currently playing just 20 miles from Chase Field. Eighteen-year-old Corbin Carroll is just starting his pro career in the Arizona League, showing skills in Rookie ball that will make him an everyday major league center fielder down the road.
A recent graduate of Lakeside School in Seattle, Carroll was committed to UCLA before the Dbacks drafted him 16th overall and signed him at slot value for $3.75 million. Listed at 5’10”, he’s not particularly broad-shouldered but has good, wiry strength for someone who doesn’t turn nineteen til later this month. His lefty swing is smooth and balanced—as the pitcher starts his delivery, Carroll coils his front leg à la Christian Yelich, then he gets that right foot down and fires through his hips nicely. Compared with how he was swinging in pre-draft workouts, he seems to have quieted down how much he takes that front leg back towards his left hip. The current version seems like a nice balance of generating bat speed while staying on-time. He is short to the ball with a long, fluid follow-through; thanks to twitchy wrists, this allows him to make lots of contact while also producing some pop.
Carroll’s is a classic line drive bat angle as opposed to a “launch angle” uppercut. Right now, he’s more of a ground-ball to line-drive hitter than a line-drive to fly-ball hitter. Given his speed, ground balls often turn into hits, but having seen him lift one of his two AZL home runs with an authoritative fly ball stroke, I’m excited to see him develop that ability to pick his spots and unload on balls. While poor K-BB guys can sink themselves swinging for the fences, Carroll is someone I could see employing a line-drive approach when behind in the count but looking to hammer one over the right field wall when a count is in his favor. Through his first 29 professional games, he already has a 27/23 K/BB despite being a year and a half younger than the average AZL player. Even when a good breaker gets him to lunge, he often fouls it off and then tags the pitcher on a mistake later in the AB. That ability has showed up on Carroll’s stat sheet, as he’s currently batting .293 with a .412 OBP and .856 OPS.
So Corbin Carroll the hitter is already exciting. But when you factor in his special athleticism, you appreciate why this kid is already on many top five Dbacks prospects lists.
It’s not just that Carroll’s top speed is elite; his 0-to-60 acceleration is as good as it gets. Some center fielders stride well once they get going but can’t rev up quickly enough to produce big steal numbers: Jason Heyward, Juan Lagares, etc. Carroll, on the other hand, seems to hit fifth gear by his third step when swiping a bag, and the result thus far is 14 steals in 16 attempts. This of course puts tremendous pressure on opposing infielders, as Carroll gets from home to first in under 3.9 seconds. A common occurrence this summer has been otherwise sure-handed shortstops and catchers fumbling with the ball or spiking a throw as they rush to throw out #2.
Defensively, Carroll will definitely stay at center field, where he gets solid jumps and of course benefits from the elite acceleration and speed. He makes the most of average arm strength by setting up before the catch to get his momentum forward, and he accurately hits the cutoff man.
Whereas a lot of first round prep picks are tall, broad kids who still have significant holes in their swing or defensive flaws, Carroll is unusually polished, and he still has elite athleticism that makes for high upside. He’s the rare “safe bet” teenager, someone I see as an everyday center fielder in the Majors in four or five years. The most important question is how much power he develops: I don’t know if he’ll be more of a 10-12 homer bat or 20 homer bat in the big leagues, but he’s not a Dee Gordon-type slap hitter who will only hit a few bombs a year. A future comp that comes to mind is Ender Inciarte; Carroll won’t necessarily reach gold glove caliber defensively, but he should post gaudier steal numbers and potentially more power.
Lastly, Carroll carries himself well, takes every play seriously, and is amicable with teammates—all especially important traits for a teenage prospect given the years of devotion and professionalism required to rise up through the minors.
So keep your eyes on Arizona League box scores these next few weeks and watch for a call-up to a higher-level Dbacks affiliate, because Corbin Carroll is a young athlete with a bright future ahead of him.
Follow Jacob on Twitter @TheReelJZ