ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

Electric rookies Corbin Carroll, Elly De La Cruz face off in weekend series

Jul 21, 2023, 10:40 AM

Corbin Carroll...

Corbin Carroll #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks is awarded a victory vest by teammate Even Longoria #3 after hitting an RBI single during the tenth inning for a 3-2 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Chase Field on July 08, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Arizona Diamondbacks phenom Corbin Carroll has not faced much of a challenge for National League Rookie of the Year, but a call-up in June perked the ears of baseball fans around the country.

The Cincinnati Reds recalled Elly De La Cruz to join a lineup breaking through with young talents such as Spencer Steer and D-backs draftee Matt McLain.

De La Cruz is a 21-year-old, 6-foot-5 infielder who bats from both sides and was the No. 1 Reds prospect ahead of his debut.

In front of a sellout crowd at Great American Ballpark on June 23, the rookie completed the first Reds cycle since 1989 in his 15th MLB game during a blockbuster 11-10 win over the Atlanta Braves. He’s built up his highlight reel since Day 1.

Carroll continues to command the ROY race with 1.4 fWAR more than any other rookie in the NL (3.7) to go along with 19 home runs and 28 stolen bases, leading the D-backs in a tight division race approaching the 100-game mark.

The Reds, after losing 100 games last year, are in the thick of their divisional race, too, as they are 24-13 with De La Cruz on the field helped by a 12-game winning streak after his debut. This week they brought up yet another top 100 prospect in Christian Encarnacion-Strand.

The D-backs-Reds series at Great American Ballpark that stretches Friday-Sunday is the first battle between two of MLB’s top young talents.

Carroll, De La Cruz are rookies unlike any other

A combination of speed, power and approach has separated Carroll from the pack this year after the D-backs committed to him long-term in spring training.

Carroll has scored from first on a single, reached third base on a dropped third strike and has a pair of walk-off hits, one of which came after a shoulder injury scare he thought could have ended his season.

The 22-year-old is the youngest Diamondbacks player ever with 25+ stolen bases, 15+ homers and 50+ RBI in a season and there are 65 games left.

He has the ability to punch an opposite-field home run and awareness to bunt for a hit when given the chance.

These accolades led to his All-Star Game start in his hometown of Seattle last week.

Like Carroll, no defense is safe with De La Cruz on base, who has the fastest sprint speed in baseball at 30.5 ft/sec. He is the only player in MLB history with 40 hits and 15 stolen bases in his first 30 games, according to ESPN Stats and Info. He has 17 steals.

Carroll is 5-foot-10 with feet that look like they move a mile per minute, while De La Cruz’s long strides cover a lot of ground on the base paths.

EDLC also possesses light-tower power when he gets a hold of one. His first homer went 458 feet.

In a game against the Nationals, Washington manager Dave Martinez asked umpires to check the sensor knob on De La Cruz’s bat to see if it was legal.

Later in the game, De La Cruz blasted a 455-foot shot and pointed at the knob before tossing the bat and rounding the bases.

Box office.

De La Cruz’s season has not gone perfectly, though. He has slumped badly out of the All-Star break at 2-for-28 with 12 strikeouts. His K rate is a mammoth 30.9% as breaking balls get him to whiff 40% of the time. He held a .887 OPS entering the break and it now sits at .765.

Defensively, Carroll has had to play all three outfield spots and has done so well. His speed partnered with that of Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy has created the No Fly Zone, and Carroll has gotten comfortable with the sliding catch.

De La Cruz has bounced back and forth from third base and shortstop, possessing the strongest infield arm in MLB. On Thursday, he unleashed a 99.8 mph throw on a relay to toss a runner out at the plate, the fastest tracked assist by an infielder since Statcast started in 2015. He broke his own record.

The fans are showing up to watch the two electric youngsters.

Cincinnati ranks No. 5 in baseball in year-over-year attendance difference with 4,765 more fans per night. Arizona has seen an average increase in 2,498 people, according to Baseball Reference.

First look at Reds’ Matt McLain

Carroll was Arizona’s first-round pick in 2019. The previous year, the D-backs selected McLain as the No. 25 overall selection out of high school. The infielder did not sign, opting to attend UCLA instead. The D-backs picked up a compensation pick in 2020 and took LHP Blake Walston with the No. 26 overall pick.

The Reds drafted McLain in the first round of the 2021 draft with the No. 17 pick, and he rose through the system quickly to debut in May.

McLain is third in fWAR for NL rookies this year (2.1) behind Carroll and Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez (2.3).

The middle infielder has a .869 OPS in 56 games, best on the Reds among qualified hitters.

Other youngsters to watch

The D-backs will miss rookie LHP Andrew Abbott, who threw eight shutout innings against the San Francisco Giants on Thursday.

They still have to deal with Steer, who leads the team with 14 home runs, and fellow rookie Will Benson and his .915 OPS (51 games).

Encarnacion-Strand is 4-for-13 with a homer so far, and he ranks as the No. 87 prospect in baseball.

D-backs second-year starter Tommy Henry will have to deal with that lineup Friday evening. The D-backs are 10-5 in his starts this season, and he has a 3.31 ERA over his last 10 appearances.

Brandon Pfaadt is expected to start in one of the three games due to injuries, his third opportunity in the big leagues after the first two ended in frustration. The D-backs’ top pitching prospect has a 9.82 ERA in 25.2 innings, which is the second highest of the 441 MLB pitchers with at least 20 frames pitched.

D-backs-Reds pitching probables

Friday: LHP Tommy Henry (5-2, 3.89 ERA) vs. RHP Ben Lively (4-5, 3.72)

Saturday: TBA vs. LHP Brandon Williamson (1-2, 4.96)

Sunday: TBA vs. RHP Luke Weaver (2-2, 7.22)

First pitch on Friday is at 4:10 p.m. on ESPN 620 AM, the Arizona Sports app and ArizonaSports.com.

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