D-backs OF Jake McCarthy could force organization into tough decision
The Arizona Diamondbacks front office has a tough decision to make regarding the future of the outfield.
There are only three everyday positions, and usually a platooning fourth outfielder who hits lefties at a high level. Meanwhile, the D-backs have five outfielders competing for those four spots: Corbin Carroll, Alek Thomas, Daulton Varsho, Stone Garrett and Jake McCarthy.
McCarthy is one of four left-handed hitters in the outfield. On top of that, he’s not nearly as highly-touted as the other three. Varsho ranked as Arizona’s No. 4 prospect in 2019, Thomas was top-three in 2020 and 2021 and Carroll was No. 3 in all of baseball this year.
McCarthy’s highest rank in the system was 23rd. As a result, he needs to do more to stand out among the rest.
How he’s done it
In September especially, he’s done a lot to help his cause. In 38 plate appearances, McCarthy is hitting .412 with two home runs, 10 RBIs and five stolen bases.
Overall, he’s second among D-backs outfielders with 40-plus plate appearances in wRC+ — an offensive metric accounting for run environment and ballpark factors — and second in fWAR.
Among MLB hitters with at least 250 plate appearances, he’s tied for 31st in wRC+ ahead of All-Stars Trea Turner, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Giancarlo Stanton, to name a few.
Overall, he’s slashing .305/.365/.484 with 25 extra-base hits and 17 steals in 18 attempts. His 2.5 fWAR is third among NL rookies and seventh among all rookies.
Not only can McCarthy hit, but he’s also one of the fastest players in the majors. Only Carroll is faster on the D-backs in terms of average sprint speed.
The pressure McCarthy puts on opposing pitchers makes him incredibly valuable. He’s in the top 20 in baseball this season in stolen bases (17) despite being tied for 267th in games played (80).
Having 99th percentile speed makes McCarthy a prime candidate to perform above his expected statistics because he’s more likely to beat out a dribbler to an infielder than most players in baseball.
Prowess against left-handed pitching
Teams try to avoid carrying too many lefty hitters, particularly in the outfield, because of the difficult lefty-lefty matchup. In 2022, left-handed batters are hitting just .226 in 11,274 plate appearances against southpaws.
This data tends to result in at least one outfield position used as a platoon, with a right-hander to face lefty pitchers.
Aside from his great numbers in a limited sample, this is how Garrett separates himself from the pack moving forward.
However, McCarthy handles left-handers exceptionally well and better than against righties.
In 72 plate appearances, he’s hitting .323 with a .912 OPS against left-handers. The only two left-handed hitters with a higher OPS against southpaws are Nathaniel Lowe and Yordan Alvarez.
In 201 plate appearances against right-handers, McCarthy is hitting .298 with a .826 OPS. While still good, he’s elite against left-handers.
The D-backs have a good problem on their hands. While they can only provide everyday spots to three, they have five outfielders competing for playing time.
Even though his offensive production hasn’t been great to this point, Thomas is one of the best defensive outfielders in the league. Elite defense is great no matter where you can find it, but Thomas playing an elite center field is of great value to the Diamondbacks. As a result, he’ll be a roster lock barring injury.
Carroll hasn’t disappointed at all since his call-up, slashing .275/.341/.500. The No. 3 overall prospect in MiLB, according to MLB.com, will also be a lock next season.
That leaves Varsho, Garrett and McCarthy for the final everyday slot. To this point, Varsho has popped in the power department, with a career-high 24 home runs. He’s also turned into one of the better defensive outfielders in the league.
Garrett is hitting .405 with three homers in his first 42 plate appearances. Though still a small sample size, he’s a right-handed bat. That alone creates a uniqueness to the 26-year-old.
McCarthy has done a lot to separate himself, but will it be enough to ensure an everyday role moving forward? What happens if recent No. 2 overall pick Druw Jones flies through the system?
Only time will tell. Regardless, there may be some pressure on the D-backs to make a decision sooner rather than later.