MLB Pipeline has been ranking prospects since the 2004 season. In those 18 1/2 years, there have been 34 D-backs who have appeared in a Top 50/100 at least once.
The 22-year-old outfielder beats out Archie Bradley (No. 5, 2014), Trevor Bauer (No. 6, 2012) and Justin Upton (No. 7, 2006 and 2007) at the top of the archival rankings. And now he’s headed to the Majors, making him arguably the most highly anticipated debutant since Arizona’s franchise began in 1998.
Tools on tools
You often hear the phrase “five-tool player” bandied about, but it isn’t always used properly. Sometimes folks use it to describe a flashy player with multiple useful skills on the diamond. While it’s great to be a plus slugger and a plus runner at the same time, a player who strikes out in 35 percent of his plate appearances isn’t a five-tool player.
In this case, Carroll might be the closest to being a true five-tool player in prospectdom. All five of his skills receive at least a 50 on the 20-80 scouting scale, and three of them earn 60s, aka plus grades.
Batting from the left side, the Washington native knows how to control the strike zone and make consistently hard contact. He shows plus-plus speed (arguably his best tool) and puts those wheels to good use by gobbling up stolen bases and covering acres of ground in center field. He has an above-average arm that will be useful from right field, should the presence of Alek Thomas keep him in the corner.
The one question mark comes with his power. At just 5-foot-10, Carroll might not produce the eye-popping individual exit velocities that make certain sluggers elite prospects, though he did set a personal Triple-A high with a 112.2-mph homer on Thursday. He has added strength to his frame since signing, helping his ability to barrel balls all over the park. Even if his pop is just average, the rest of the tool package would make him into a valuable Major Leaguer.
Then again, have you seen his power numbers in 2022?
Tools are great, but at a certain point, they have to be met with performance for a player to climb to the tippy top of prospect rankings. That has not been a concern with Arizona’s top prospect in 2022.
Carroll heads to the Majors having hit .307/.425/.610 in 93 games, mostly at Double-A Amarillo and Triple-A Reno. He is one of only four Minor League full-season qualifiers with a slash line above .300/.400/.600 in all three categories, and his 1.026 OPS is sixth-best on a list of 719. He’s also contributed 24 homers and 31 stolen bases as one of eight members of the 2022 Minor League 20-20 club at the time of his callup.
There is an argument to be made that Carroll’s numbers have been inflated by hitter-friendly home environs in both Amarillo and Reno, and there is a kernel of truth to that. The slugger hit an astonishing .368/.479/.769 over 142 plate appearances in Amarillo home games, compared to .255/.378/.509 in 135 PA in Texas League away games. That road production on its own still would have made Carroll a prominent prospect, so the baked-in home-cooking demerits only go so far.
What’s more, Carroll’s 15 percent walk rate would play anywhere regardless of conditions, and his 24.2 percent K rate isn’t as worrisome in the modern game, especially for someone reaching the upper Minors for the first time.
Age and experience
The first-rounder just turned 22 on Aug. 21. Had he not signed with Arizona in 2019, he would have just been finishing up his junior year at UCLA, where he had committed ahead of the Draft, and likely fought for another prominent place among this year’s picks. Instead, he spent his summer knocking down the door of the Minors’ two highest levels.
Carroll’s quick ascent becomes even more impressive when you consider he suffered a major right shoulder injury that limited him to only seven High-A games last season. Between that and the pandemic-canceled 2020 campaign, he missed two consecutive regular seasons, and that should have put him behind his similarly aged peers from a development standpoint. Instead, he performed like he’d been playing in games the whole time.
Why he’s different than Upton
We said at the start that Carroll might make the most highly anticipated debut in D-backs franchise history, and that may be true from purely a prospect-ranking standpoint. But Upton has a solid claim because of his status as the club’s first No. 1 overall pick in 2005 who rose to Arizona only two years later.
Comparisons between the two might be natural. Both Upton and Carroll are outfielders. They were first-rounders. Their arrivals were meant to signal the organization’s turning of a corner in terms of Major League contention.
But as easy as those comps may be, they should be short-lived.
For starters, Upton had more pure bat speed than Carroll as a prospect, and as he filled out, power became his primary tool. He eclipsed 30 homers for the first time in 2009, earning his first All-Star honors along the way, and did that three more times over his 16-year Major League career. On the flip side, he became less and less of a stolen-base threat, topping out at 21 thefts in 2011 and trickling down from there. He also moved to left field, thus losing his status as a premium-position fielder.
Carroll’s stature and build make it less likely that he’ll lose his speed in the same way Upton did, but also less likely he’ll develop the same plus power. For the younger D-backs outfielder to be at his most valuable as a Major Leaguer, he’ll need to thrive on picking up base hits with an advanced approach and making the carousel move with his feet, all while recording 15-20 homers per season.
Instead of Upton, think more pre-injury Jacoby Ellsbury. Then again, Ellsbury did hit 32 homers in 2011.