Dominic Fletcher forcing D-backs hand for playing time with hot start

May 21, 2023, 8:30 PM

Dominic Fletcher #8 of the Arizona Diamondbacks bumps fists with third base coach Tony Perezchica #...

Dominic Fletcher #8 of the Arizona Diamondbacks bumps fists with third base coach Tony Perezchica #21 after hitting a three-run RBI triple during the sixth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Chase Field on May 13, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

Dominic Fletcher has presented a problem and solution for the Arizona Diamondbacks with an electric start to his MLB career.

Fletcher entered Sunday having reached base in 15 of his first 18 games while sitting in 11th on FanGraph’s WAR leaderboard for rookies at 0.7. Nobody ahead of him played fewer than 27 games.

He has played all three outfield positions, primarily center field this past week with Alek Thomas getting optioned to Triple-A Reno on Wednesday. His ability to play there has been handy with Corbin Carroll working back to 100% (knee).

Fletcher’s play has also given the D-backs flexibility to let Thomas and Jake McCarthy – who was optioned on April 25 – take time to find their offensive rhythm. Both players are seen as part of the corps going forward but are hitting below the Mendoza line this season.

“What I told Alek was, another point in time, depending on how everybody around him is doing, we could have had a totally different conversation with a totally different player,” manager Torey Lovullo told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Friday.

“But this is a game of preparedness and a game of results. And when you are forcing your way into the lineup and forcing my hand, such as the way that Dominic Fletcher is, we take notice and that’s really what it means, is that the best players are going to play, the best players are going to stay, and Alek Thomas has the ability to do that.”

Fletcher was a top-20 prospect for the D-backs entering the season at 25 years old, and Lovullo said his success has not been a surprise.

The manager called Fletcher, Thomas and Carroll the Three Amigos from their days in the minors. Lovullo noted that Fletcher did not “accelerate” as quickly as the other two, who came up at younger ages, but that’s not to say the organization didn’t see potential.

“We knew what Fletch was all about,” Lovullo said. “He’s a hungry baseball player. He’s got a brother who has played in the big leagues for a long time (David Fletcher). He’s very mature about how he plays the game and he’s very sturdy about who he is. And that’s showing up every day.”

General manager Mike Hazen has the difficult job of deciding in the outfield and the back of the rotation which young players amid a flurry of options give the D-backs chances to best compete.

He told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Tuesday that he’s sent down players whom he sees making an impact for the D-backs down the road and that the organization has better players this season not only on the MLB team, but on the cusp.

Arizona is 27-20 and in second place in the NL West more than a quarter into the year.

Hazen believes their situation breeds competition and growth. The four left-handed outfielders plus Dominic Canzone (.982 OPS in Triple-A) are all between 22-25 years old, plus the D-backs have been relying on contributions from veterans Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Pavin Smith this year.

“I think, when the competition is there, and the competition is good, I think it forces guys to raise their level in their game,” Hazen said. “We’ve seen that, we have a lot of hard working players. … I think having a lot of players who are good creates a higher awareness around that urgency.

“Now, our challenge around that is to not create panic around that, right? Because every night out there in a baseball game, there’s a lot of failure out there on the field. We still need everybody to have urgency around what they’re doing, but at the same time, be comfortable enough that they can go out there and perform when it matters.”

The D-backs expect growing pains from the younger players, but the organization has the opportunity and burden – albeit a good one – of continuing to evaluate in order to find the best combination within the system to keep winning.

There will likely be several more tried out before the season ends.

Fletcher went 1-for-4 on Sunday in a 8-3 win over the Pirates. He’s slashing .343/.380/.537 with five doubles and two home runs, and the D-backs are 11-8 in games he’s played in.

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