Carroll 'rising to the occasion' on postseason stage

October 13th, 2023

PHOENIX -- Plenty was made about the Dodgers superstars who struggled in the National League Division Series.

Not enough about the D-backs superstar who assuredly did not.

That would be . And if you take issue with the moniker of “superstar” being applied to Arizona’s 23-year-old catalyst, well, consider all that Carroll has accomplished since his arrival in the big leagues in August 2022.

He’s almost certainly headed for an NL Rookie of the Year Award. In his first full season, he slashed .285/.362/.506 with 25 homers and 54 steals -- the first rookie to post a 25-50 season in the sport’s history.

Along the way, Carroll started an All-Star Game in his hometown of Seattle, then led the D-backs to their first postseason appearance in six years. Now that he’s playing on the sport’s biggest stage, Carroll has owned it. Through five playoff games, he’s homered twice and he’s reached base 13 times, tied for the most by a rookie in his first five postseason games with Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and Texas’ Evan Carter, who also did it this year.

Prior to the D-backs’ workout on Tuesday at Chase Field, Carroll was asked why his acclimation to postseason baseball had gone so smoothly. He seemed perplexed at the notion that it ever wouldn’t have.

“I'm grateful for it,” Carroll said. “But I guess my answer is: This is where I want to be. This is what I've worked for. This is what this team has worked for. … Winning in the postseason, what's cooler than that?”

To date, that’s all Carroll’s D-backs have done. They swept the Brewers in the NL Wild Card Series, then swept the mighty Dodgers in the NLDS.

It’s been a complete team effort. The D-backs have ridden their front-line starting pitching, their resurgent bullpen and performances from role players throughout their lineup. But more than anyone else, Carroll has set the tone.

“We try not to say that there's one target on our roster,” said manager Torey Lovullo. “We believe in being nine strong. But Corbin has an unbelievable knack for rising to the occasion. … I look at him often, and I cannot believe he's 23 years old. I look at him often, and I'm thankful that he's going to be a Diamondback for the next 10 years.”

In March, the D-backs and Carroll agreed to an eight-year extension with a team option for a ninth that could take the deal to $134 million. It was a hefty sum for a then-22-year-old with 104 career at-bats, but that deal already looks like a bargain.

After a brilliant regular season worthy of down-ballot MVP votes, Carroll has elevated his game in October. He owns a 1.389 OPS through five games, with a pair of statement home runs on the road -- one in each series opener.

“He has an inward confidence that he was born with,” Lovullo said. “I think he feels that his preparation and the intensity of his preparation has prepared him for this moment.”

Accurate, Carroll says.

“For me, it starts before the game,” he said. “I have an all-encompassing approach where I like to make sure that I'm taking care of all the stuff I need to take care of away from the field, whether it's sleep, nutrition, all those things.

“If I can check those boxes and say I'm doing those to the best of my ability, then I just feel like I have the freedom to go out there and play freely without any kind of second-guessing or doubt.”

In Lovullo’s eyes, that blend of focus and talent is rare. But it’s not unprecedented.

“He does remind me a lot of some young players -- one of which plays for the L.A. Dodgers,” Lovullo said, invoking his time with the Red Sox working with Mookie Betts. “Because they confronted their limitations head on, so when they stepped into the most critical point of a game or the season, they knew that it was no longer a limitation.”

Is there a loftier comparison for a young outfielder than Betts? He’s a two-time World Series winner, an MVP and undeniably one of the best players in the sport. As Lovullo alluded to, Betts’ profile also came with perceived limitations, notably his size. He’s listed at 5-foot-9, Carroll at 5-foot-10. Both silenced any doubters with their play almost instantaneously.

“The moment clearly isn't getting too big for him,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. “And he knows how to conduct at-bats.”

When the NL Championship Series begins Monday night, it'll likely be Carroll, ever the tone-setter, who steps into the box first. The rest of the baseball world is finally beginning to take note of his remarkable skill set. The D-backs have seen it all season long.

“My jaw was on the ground with what he was doing every single day,” Lovullo said. “The intensity and focus that he had, the amount of home runs that he was hitting, the bases he was stealing and the plays he was making -- I just would shake my head in the dugout.

"I'm like, ‘I don't know how he's doing it. But I've got a front-row seat to it. And I'm going to enjoy this ride.’”