Jake McCarthy returns to Diamondbacks’ crowded OF rotation

May 26, 2023, 5:34 PM

Corbin Carroll #7, Lourdes Gurriel Jr #12 and Jake McCarthy #31 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebra...

Corbin Carroll #7, Lourdes Gurriel Jr #12 and Jake McCarthy #31 of the Arizona Diamondbacks celebrate a 5-4 win against the Kansas City Royals at Chase Field on April 24, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Right now is a tough time to be an outfielder for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Despite trading Daulton Varsho to partially clear up a logjam full of young talent, that sentiment hasn’t changed much.

Jake McCarthy, 25, had one hell of a 2022 when considering what expectations were set for his first full season in the big leagues. He carved out an everyday role in right field, a tall task with the likes of Varsho and fellow sophomore Alek Thomas already in the mix, plus the August call-up of star-in-the-making Corbin Carroll. At times, McCarthy was definitively Arizona’s best position player.

As manager Torey Lovullo pointed out pregame on Friday, this is the guy who hit third for them in the order a lot last year.

But after batting .143 with a .467 OPS in 70 plate appearances across 22 games, McCarthy was sent down to Triple-A Reno in late April. At the time, the D-backs emphasized this was nothing that would be permanent and that the outfielder would still have a prominent role for the 2023 campaign.

The move was more about giving some time for McCarthy to breathe and re-center back to what had been working previously. He used 30 games with the Aces well. In the last eight contests, he racked up 17 hits. That was more of what Arizona was looking for, so they recalled him on Friday and sent down Dominic Fletcher.

McCarthy does not want to think too much at the plate and that proved effective in getting him back on track.

“I feel like I’m on time, I feel like I’m seeing it well and I’m taking good swings at good pitches,” McCarthy said Friday. “As complicated as hitting can be, I just try to keep it simple.”

To quickly not glide past Fletcher, it was less about what the 25-year-old was doing wrong. He slashed .308/.349/.474 in his own 22 games, playing at such a level where Lovullo had to keep him in the lineup. And this was Fletcher’s first time in the show!

“It was a tough call,” Lovullo said Friday.

“I think it’s mostly about Jake being ready and us feeling comfortable about bringing him back,” he added.

As Fletcher’s demotion and Thomas’ nine days prior shows, Carroll is really the only guy that has a guaranteed spot. And that was before Lourdes Gurriel Jr., part of the return for Varsho, put up the best hitting numbers of anyone over this first two months of the season, with a .928 OPS entering play on Friday that is ninth in MLB. While he splits time at DH, 31 of Gurriel’s 42 starts have come in left field.

Lovullo noted how Gurriel’s emergence in a role he had high hopes for already may have “pushed guys back a notch or two in [their] development.”

It’s more or less one consistently open spot again, meaning that sole outfielder better be producing.

McCarthy was demoted twice in 2022, and after one of ’em, he flat out told Lovullo he thought it was the wrong decision. But because of that earlier point, he agreed with it this time around and called it the right move.

He understandably took the 2023 iteration harder, saying bluntly that “it sucked.”

“You almost tell yourself like, ‘Hey, I’m never going down again,'” McCarthy said.

This jumbled-up group, of course, is not foreign to McCarthy. It goes all the way back to when he was drafted in the same class as Thomas, 24 picks prior to him. McCarthy’s been battling and growing with that group ever since his professional career started.

McCarthy understands that’s ultimately a very good thing for them.

“We’re not new to this, right?” he said. “Last year we had a bunch of outfielders in rotation it seems and as much as you want the spot that’s yours and is always going to be yours, I think competition is really good.”

The situation for Fletcher, McCarthy and Thomas, all left-handed hitters, begs the question if that spot could be more of a hot-hand situation. Lovullo didn’t rule it out.

“You get hot, you come up here and let’s catch the lighting in the bottle and let it ride for as long as possible,” he said of the mindset behind potentially doing that.

Here’s the thing: We didn’t even get to all of the names involved.

Right-handed bat Kyle Lewis, an Opening Day starter, continues his rehab work at Triple-A. With the Aces, Jorge Barrosa is ranked similarly to Fletcher in the prospect list and Dominic Canzone has a four-digit OPS (1.024). Pavin Smith is getting nods in right occasionally, too. And in the long-term picture for a young position group, we all know Druw Jones’ arrival is only a matter of time.

Some problems are good to have. For the D-backs, this is one of them.

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