Entering the 2023 season, Dominic Fletcher was no higher than sixth on the Diamondbacks’ outfield depth chart.
Corbin Carroll was the organization’s budding star. Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy were key building blocks for the future, and the latter was one of baseball’s most productive outfielders last year in the second half. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was sure to play an important role after coming over in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. There was also Pavin Smith, the D-backs’ 2018 first-rounder, for whom the team still had high hopes. (Granted, Smith has played more first base than outfield the last couple of years.)
As if those five players were not obstacles enough, there was also the fact that all of them — like Fletcher — hit left-handed. Throw in the fact that fellow Italian left-handed hitting outfielder Dominic Canzone was also nearing major-league ready status himself in Reno, and Fletcher’s path to the majors looked unpredictable at best, and flat-out impossible at worst.
Nonetheless, with both McCarthy being sent down and Carroll sustaining a knee injury within five days of each other late last month, the door opened for the D-backs to add an additional outfielder. Fletcher got the call, for what initially looked like a brief stay in the majors. With how he has performed so far, it is going to be awfully hard to send him down.
In 39 plate appearances, Fletcher has slashed .457/.486/.629. Most recently, he went 3-for-4 in the D-backs’ 7-5 win over the San Francisco Giants on Friday, notching his first career home run along the way.
Fletcher’s .457 batting average is the highest ever by a Diamondbacks position player through 11 career games. It narrowly beats out Mark Reynolds, Robby Hammock, Stone Garrett and Chad Tracy — all of whom put up similarly bonkers numbers in their first 11 games.
Fletcher won’t hit over .450 for long, but his success is not unexpected. Ranked the team’s No. 18 prospect by MLB Pipeline entering the season, Fletcher was selected with the 75th overall pick in the 2019 draft, a pick that the Diamondbacks acquired as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade back in 2018.
Dominic’s older brother David is in the Los Angeles Angels’ organization. He has logged over 2,000 plate appearances in the big leagues dating back to 2018, including 16 this year. David hit .292 from 2018-20, but a recent dip in production led the Angels to send him to Triple-A Salt Lake City in mid-April.
Both Fletcher brothers employ a contact-first approach at the plate, but Dominic has more power. In 22 games with Triple-A Reno this year, Dominic slashed .323/.417/.559. His career batting line in the minors is a similarly impressive .298/.362/.474.
Granted, the 25-year-old has played the majority of his minor league games in hitter-friendly environments, so those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, the full body of work is above average. In an albeit very small sample, he has been a whole lot more than “above average” so far in the majors.
When asked about what has helped him feel comfortable so far, Fletcher pointed to his relationships with his teammates, many of whom he is familiar with from his time at the alt site during the 2020 season, as well as his journey through the minors.
“It’s a tribute to the guys in the in the locker room here,” he said. “Since day one, they’ve made me feel really welcome.
“Playing with these guys all the way up definitely adds another level of comfort,” Fletcher added. “Just knowing them since we got drafted together and everything. And then seeing them again and getting to hang out with them, again, it’s been special for sure.”
Fletcher brushed aside the fact that many of those teammates have directly affected his ability to make the big leagues in the first place.
“I didn’t focus too much on that,” he said. “I want to go out there and play my game every day and compete every day. A lot of those guys are some of my best friends, so it’s fun to compete with them and go out there alongside them every day.”
In addition to having a brother in the majors, Fletcher also got a taste of major-league pitching this spring when he played for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. Italy ultimately lost to Japan in the quarterfinals, but Fletcher hit an impressive .368/.478/.632 along the way, including a homer off Yu Darvish.
While Fletcher’s experience in the WBC is one of many past experiences that have helped him get where he is now, he has always had a sense that he belonged to the big leagues.
“I’ve always been pretty confident,” he said. “I feel like I’ve always believed I’d be ready for this level when the time came.”
“He’s got a good heartbeat,” manager Torey Lovullo said of Fletcher. “Between he and his brother, there’s probably been a lot of baseball conversations over the years.
“I think he’s played out a lot of different scenarios that have been popping up every single day already in his head, and it’s translating into success.”
It’s no secret that 11 spectacular games don’t make a major league career. Fletcher has a lot to prove, particularly against left-handed pitching. In Reno, he hit just .136/.240/.182 against lefties compared to a blistering .380/.470/.676 against righties. It’s still early, but those sharp splits have followed him into the majors. He is 14-for-24 against righties so far compared to just 2-for-11 against lefties.
Even so, Fletcher’s career is off to a historically good start. He is just the latest product of the D-backs’ seemingly eternal assembly line of promising left-handed hitting outfielders.
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Top photo: Joe Camporeale/Arizona Republic