Before the season started, MLB.com polled league executives on their Rookie of the Year picks for 2023. In the National League, 22-year-old Diamondbacks phenom Corbin Carroll got 66 percent of the vote. So far, that choice looks like a good one.
After notching three more hits in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies, Carroll is slashing .287/.379/.510 with seven homers, 17 RBI, 30 runs scored and 13 stolen bases.
Extrapolating over a full season, Carroll is on pace for 23 homers and 43 stolen bases this year. He has a legitimate chance to become the ninth player in D-backs history — and the first since Jean Segura in 2016 — to have 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in a season. The only D-backs player ever to hit 20 homers and steal 40 or more bases was Eric Byrnes in 2007.
Of course, Carroll is not the only National League rookie who has made significant contributions to his team. In fact, it was not Carroll, but Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder James Outman, who took NL Rookie of the Month honors for April. As recently as May 20, Outman had the higher OPS of the two. Despite a recent skid, his numbers for the season are impressive, with a rookie class-leading nine homers and a slash line of .245/.333/.497.
Here is a side-by-side comparison of Carroll and Outman’s numbers through May 23:
At the moment, Carroll is better than Outman in all of these categories except home runs. Carroll also has 13 stolen bases compared to Outman’s five, and 1.6 fWAR to Outman’s 1.4.
The biggest separator between the two is strikeout rate. Carroll’s comes in slightly under the 22.7 percent league average at 20.2 percent. In contrast, Outman’s 33.9 percent strikeout rate is fourth highest among qualified major league hitters. Outman will need to get that under control to maintain his offensive production.
For the moment, it would be easy to view the rookie of the year race as a duel between Carroll and Outman. But history tells us that would be naive.
Last year around this time, most baseball analysts had set their minds on Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki as the clear front-runner for NL Rookie of the Year. Suzuki was the betting odds favorite to win the award entering the season, and, according to Sports Betting Dime, he remained in that position until late June. When all was said and done, Suzuki did not receive a single vote.
Instead, the award went to Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Harris II, a somewhat unheralded prospect who did not make his major league debut until May 28 of last year. You read that correctly: The eventual 2022 NL Rookie of the Year had not even played a game as of this time last season.
At that same time in the American League, eventual Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez was still clawing his way back from an abysmal April slash line of .205/.284/.260. From May 1 through the end of the season, the Seattle Mariners’ outfielder hit .273/.336/.502. In the process, he collected 29 of 30 first-place votes for AL Rookie of the Year.
All that is to say: While Carroll and Outman have separated themselves from the competition early on, they are far from the only ones involved.
Here is a look at the top 10 rookie position players in the National League, ranked by FanGraphs WAR (fWAR).
While anything is possible at this stage of the race, not all 10 of these players look like legitimate rookie of the year contenders. Like Outman, both the San Francisco Giants’ Blake Sabol and the Colorado Rockies’ Brenton Doyle are striking out well over 30 percent of the time. Significant regression could be around the corner for both of them.
New York Mets catcher Francisco Alvarez has a more reasonable 25 percent strikeout rate, but his batted ball data suggests that his offensive output is not sustainable. The same goes for D-backs outfielder Dominic Fletcher, who has gone 6 for his last 36 after a historically good start.
Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Miguel Vargas isn’t hitting many homers or getting on base a ton, but he simultaneously has the lowest strikeout rate and the highest walk rate of anyone on the list. Vargas was a highly-touted prospect in the Dodgers’ system, and he has more than held his own against major league pitching. As a key cog of one of baseball’s most prolific lineups, Vargas should not ignored.
Another player that warrants attention is New York Mets third baseman Brett Baty, who made his major league debut on April 17. Baty’s .247/.330/.412 slash line does not jump off the page, but some of the under-the-hood stats suggest that he is much closer to Carroll and Outman than the rest of the pack.
Through 109 plate appearances, Baty’s 54.1 percent hard-hit rate ranks in the top five percent of all major league hitters, and his average exit velocity of 92.1 mph ranks in the top 11 percent. Throw in better-than-average walk and strikeout rates into the mix, and Baty starts to look like one of the best hitters, not just in his rookie class, but in the sport at large.
According to Statcast, Baty has an expected batting average of .285 and an expected slugging percentage of .497. Those numbers would put him squarely in the race alongside Carroll and Outman. Don’t be surprised if Baty winds up being a major player in this when all is said and done.
One player who is not in the top-10 list but should still be mentioned is St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jordan Walker. As a 20-year-old, Walker made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster and notched a hit in each of his first 12 big league games. If we had asked the baseball world to pick the eventual NL Rookie of the Year winner two weeks into the season, a sizable contingent of fans — not just Cardinals fans — would have selected Walker.
Once again, this is why we ought not get too carried away with end-of-season awards two weeks into the season — or two months into the season, for that matter. (Did I mentioned that it’s early to be having this discussion?)
Walker was genuinely great for those first couple of weeks, but his outfield defense was a big step below what other Cardinals players could offer. The Cardinals eventually opted to send him down so he could get everyday at-bats in Triple A and continue to improve.
Even so, Walker’s .274/.321/.397 batting line before being sent down was respectable, and the Cardinals seem poised to bring him back to the majors before too long. With Walker being widely regarded as one of the five best prospects in the sport, it would not be wise to count him out entirely.
Although the National League has not had many notable rookie pitcher performances to date, several deserve shoutouts as possible Rookie of the Year candidates, even if it seems unlikely that they could surpass the likes of Carroll, Outman and Baty.
We will start with the D-backs’ Brandon Pfaadt, whose prospect pedigree alone is loud enough to warrant a mention, even if his 7.65 ERA in his first four major league starts leaves a lot to be desired. It is going to be an uphill battle for Pfaadt, as he is seemingly first in line to be demoted when the D-backs activate Zach Davies from the injured list, possibly as soon as this weekend.
The Dodgers, per usual, have introduced a pair of highly-touted young starters to the majors this year in Gavin Stone and Bobby Miller. Stone has struggled in both of his starts, but Miller allowed only one run over five innings in his major league debut on Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves.
Other pitchers that could be in the mix include New York Mets starting pitcher Kodai Senga of the New York Mets, Colorado Rockies reliever Jake Bird and Miami Marlins starter Eury Pérez. I could go on.
Frankly, we are still at a point in the season when end-of-year award races are only beginning to take shape, and we probably know less about them than we think we do.
What we know for certain is that, as many expected, Corbin Carroll is in the driver’s seat. And it will shock no one if he drives that bus all the way to the first Rookie of the Year Award in Diamondbacks history.
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Top photo: Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports