The All-Star break has come and gone, and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ second half gets underway on Friday against the Washington Nationals. Manager Torey Lovullo knows his team has a lot of work to do.
“Our record is what it is,” Lovullo said. “We know that we’ve won 40 baseball games, and for me, that’s not very satisfying.”
The Diamondbacks stumbled to the halfway point, dropping four of their five series in July and losing 26 of their last 41 games since June 1.
“I feel like we can improve on a lot of areas,” Lovullo said. “There [have] been some chips that we’ve left on the table, whether it’s been picking up the baseball defensively, making pitches, landing pitches at the right time in the right space or situationally hitting to extend leads.”
The Diamondbacks have a chance to rectify those issues as the second half gets underway on Friday. Here are five storylines to follow the rest of the way.
1. Will the Diamondbacks call up Corbin Carroll, and if so, when?
Nothing would galvanize the Diamondbacks fanbase more than promoting outfielder Corbin Carroll, who is viewed by some as the best prospect in all of baseball.
Carroll has only played four games with Triple-A Reno since his promotion on July 9, but he has already made his mark, slashing .267/.421/.667 with two homers, five runs batted in and three stolen bases.
If Carroll continues to light up box scores in Reno, he figures to be a prime candidate to be called up when rosters expand from 26 to 28 in September. In an interview with Bickley & Marotta, Diamondbacks president and CEO Derrick Hall suggested it could happen sooner based on what the team does at the trade deadline.
Whenever it does, Lovullo is excited to have him at the big-league level.
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him,” Lovullo said. “He’s just got a great mindset. It’s definitely a tool for him. His confidence, his ability to grow and learn every single day is a tool that he uses…very wisely.”
Theoretically, the Diamondbacks could gain an extra year of team control over Carroll by waiting until late April or Early May of next year to bring him up. However, that course of action seems unlikely for two reasons.
First, Carroll is almost certainly going to be ready before then. Second, under the new collective bargaining agreement, the top-two vote-getters for Rookie of the Year get a full year of service regardless of when they were promoted. Given that Carroll would arguably be the favorite for that award, trying to manipulate his service clock may prove futile anyway.
Whenever he gets the call, Carroll will be the Diamondbacks’ most well-regarded position player prospect to debut since Justin Upton in 2007.
2. Will Daulton Varsho’s bat bounce back?
It was not that long ago that Daulton Varsho looked like a 2022 All-Star. At the start of play on June 1, Varsho was slashing .262/.340/.470. Since then, he is hitting just .197/.247/.336 in 147 plate appearances. Varsho’s tale of two seasons has ultimately landed him with a .233/.299/.409 batting line, which is down across the board from last year.
The good news is that Varsho has had such a good season defensively, and he already figures to play a big role on the team in the coming years. Not many guys can play average or better defense both behind the plate and in center field.
That said, Varsho consistently put up impressive offensive numbers in the minors, and he has shown glimpses of translating that success to the big leagues. Last year, he hit .290/.349/.530 in the second half. Putting up similar numbers the rest of the way would go a long way toward solidifying his role as a core member of the team moving forward.
3. The outfield logjam
The Diamondbacks have more major-league ready outfielders than they can possibly find playing time for down the stretch. In addition to Varsho and possibly Carroll, they already have David Peralta (who, granted, is a likely trade candidate), Jake McCarthy, Alek Thomas and Jordan Luplow on the major-league roster.
In Triple-A, Dominic Fletcher and Stone Garrett already look major-league ready. It also would not be surprising to see Cooper Hummel and the recently injured Pavin Smith find their way back to the big-league roster at some point.
Frankly, they have too many options in the outfield, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the team dealt one of their young outfielders at the trade deadline to alleviate the issue and add depth elsewhere in the farm system.
4. Party like it’s 2019
Remember when the D-backs had seven of the first 75 picks in the 2019 draft? Six of them now rank in the top 17 on the team’s MLB Pipeline prospect list, including Carroll, Fletcher, left-handed pitcher Blake Walston, right-handed pitcher Drey Jameson, right-handed pitcher Ryne Nelson, and left-handed pitcher Tommy Henry. The seventh guy is right-handed pitcher Brennan Malone, who was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Starling Marte trade. Malone ranks 27th on the Pirates’ top 30 list.
There is a case to be made that all six of the D-backs’ early 2019 draft selections should play in the big leagues before the end of the season. The most likely exception is Walston, who was drafted out of high school and has struggled since being promoted to Double-A Amarillo earlier this season.
Jameson earned a promotion to the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League in late April. In 13 appearances (12 starts), he has a 7.69 ERA and 1.64 WHIP. His peripherals suggest he’s pitched a lot better than that, however, with 70 strikeouts compared to 27 walks in 59 ⅔ innings. Jameson will turn 25 in August, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in the big-league bullpen before the year ends.
As for Nelson, he has pitched for Reno all year and has a 5.72 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 18 starts. Once again, his peripherals tell a different story, with a respectable 97 strikeouts and 37 walks in 89 ⅔ innings. At 24 years old, Nelson is another prime candidate to crack the majors before the end of the season.
The final name on the list is Henry, who has had one of the best seasons of any minor-league pitcher in the D-backs’ farm system. Despite spending the entire year in Reno, Henry has an impressive 3.55 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and .245 opponent batting average over 96 ⅓ innings. Since May 31, he has struck out 56 and walked just 11 in 55 innings.
Barring injury, Henry will almost certainly crack the majors — and likely the starting rotation — before the end of the season. He turns 25 at the end of July.
5. Will the D-backs escape the basement of the NL West?
After going 2-5 against the Colorado Rockies earlier this month and losing back-to-back series against the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres heading into the All-Star break, the D-backs find themselves back at the bottom of the NL West, trailing the Rockies by 2 ½ games.
While overtaking the Giants, Padres or Los Angeles Dodgers is unrealistic at this point, catching the Rockies and escaping the basement of the division is. The fact that the D-backs have a better run differential than Colorado suggests they could be up to the task. Moreover, while the D-backs face the third-toughest schedule in baseball the rest of the way, the Rockies are one of the two teams whose remaining schedule is harder.
The Diamondbacks are not yet who they want to be, but they are on their way. A fourth-place finish may not mean much, but it would be a step in the right direction. And that is all this 2022 season has ever been about.
Top photo: Michael Chow/Arizona Republic