TDG’S Triple Play: Arizona Diamondbacks!
The Triple Play is back for a fifth season! This regular feature is broken down by senior writer Phil Barrington and he is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure!
As the fantasy season came to an end, so does our Triple Play series for the 2022 season. We had contributions from 14 different fantasy writers, the most in the five year history of the Triple Play. They all did a great job and I hope we get to read more from them next season. Special thanks go out to the writers with the most contributions, Ben Sanders (@HPBenSanders), and Aaron Cumming (@SABRtoothTigers)! It is fitting they join me for the final Triple Play of the season, as they helped me last season by always coming through, and the same for this one as well. Have a good off-season and see you all in 2023!
Jake McCarthy, Age: 25, Position: OF
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
“I love inside jokes. I’d love to be a part of one someday.”
Jacob Joseph McCarthy was drafted back in 2018 as a supplemental first round pick (39th overall) from the University of Virginia, after attending high school in Scranton, PA. A wrist injury limited him to only 20 games his final collegiate season. He finished his collegiate career with five homers, 36 steals and a slash line of .337/.423/.476; and went into the draft as a great defender, lots of speed, with a good hit tool and possible power to be developed. He progressed through the minors, fighting through some injuries, though was not invited to the alternate site in 2020. He made his MLB debut in 2021, appearing in 24 games.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. – Wayne Gretzky” – Michael Scott
2022 went very well for the young outfielder; McCarthy made the team out of spring training, making his season debut as a pinch runner on April 7th and slashing .283/.342/.427 with eight home runs and 23 valuable steals over 354 at-bats. He had a great second half, stealing 21 bases, hitting five homers all while hitting .300. That’s some positive momentum.
The left-handed hitting McCarthy was a fixture in the lower third of the Diamondbacks’ lineup until September. On September 7th, he was the third hole hitter in the Diamondbacks lineup, a spot he would not relinquish the rest of the season. That is very telling on how the Diamondbacks view the outfielder as part of their future plans, a mark in the positive column, especially after he was not deemed worthy enough by the team to be invited to the alternate site in 2020.
“I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.”
As he was a free agent add in the vast majority of leagues (even a lot of Dynasty ones) and he wasn’t on any top prospect lists coming into 2022, we may have to take a pause on the hype surrounding McCarthy. Looking at his statcast page is not a pretty sight, unless your favorite color is blue. He only has one category in the red, his 98-percentile sprint speed. So, there is worry that the advance stats tell a story about a hitter playing out of his depth; and that is a legitimate concern.
McCarthy can, and did, play all three outfield positions for the Diamondbacks in 2022, that only bodes well for future playing time at any of the three spots. Though there is tough competition; Top prospect Corbin Carroll, can also play all three, and along with Daulton Varsho, top prospect Alek Thomas and Stone Garrett. The margin for failure is thin as well.
Homer power has not really come to his game; only eight home runs in 2022, and only 25 out of 1,000 minor league plate appearances, to be fair, he did show a bit more power in Triple-A, hitting 16 in 377 plate appearances. The last thing to worry about is the push to increase steals next season, with the use of bigger bags and limit on pick off attempts. So, are McCarthy’s steals diluted in 2023? Very possibly.
“Fool me once, strike one. Fool me twice, strike three.”
His good batting average will help, and if he can get 150 Runs + RBI along with 30+ steals and a .280+ average that helps in three roto categories; good for a number four, maybe a number three outfielder in deeper leagues. Best case scenario, he can get to 20/50 while maintaining a high batting average and vault; worst case we have a repeat of Myles Straw from last season, and he’s droppable early in the season. Either way, he was a free agent add, so if you want to make a move, before the season would be the time to capitalize.
Merrill Kelly, Age: 34, Position: SP
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
As I sat watching an already exciting start to playoff baseball, I had to decide which of Arizona’s pitchers could capture this exhilarating feeling for the final edition of our Triple Play feature. Should it be a Cy Young candidate who is in the middle of his prime? A veteran with an unparalleled playoff resume? A rookie with an electric fastball? Those would all be far too easy. For me, I get fired up by a nearly 34-year-old who had to spend some time overseas before coming back to MLB and *still* not being able to muster even eight strikeouts per nine innings. Merrill Kelly is everything good about baseball: perseverance, ingenuity, and an aura of mystery that reminds us how bad we are at predicting performances.
Hear A Strom A Comin’
Kelly was drafted by Tampa Bay, and spent five thoroughly uninspiring seasons in their minor league system. After being granted free agency, he signed with the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) ahead of the 2015 season. While pitching overseas, he was able to DOMINATE. And by dominate, I of course mean that he was around league average and stood out in precisely zero notable ways.
Nevertheless, in December of 2018, the Diamondbacks gave Kelly a multi-year deal to return stateside. In his MLB debut during opening weekend that year, he pitched 6 innings and gave up 3 earned runs, the absolute worst you could do while still being a quality start. He was credited with a win that day, and all around, that feels quite emblematic of his career and production from there on out. In his first three seasons with Arizona, he averaged nearly six innings per start, and sported a 4.27 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, with a 20.2% strikeout rate. Every team would be happy to have him in their rotation, but no team would be happy to have him be their ace. (Except for Team USA in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, apparently.)
Enter new pitching coach Brent Strom. Strom left the Houston Astros less than an hour and a half after they were eliminated from the 2021 playoffs, and Arizona pounced to secure the pitching guru’s services. He quickly convinced Merrill Kelly to start burying his curveball more, as well as tweaking the shape of his changeup while throwing it harder and more frequently. In mid-May, Strom pointed out that Kelly was tipping pitches to the Dodgers while serving up eight earned runs. After correcting that, he went on a run of giving up 3 or fewer runs in 15 of 17 starts. He ended the year 18th among NL starters in WAR, and one of just eight pitchers to eclipse 200 innings in either league.
D-Back To Reality
Kelly finished the 2022 campaign with a 3.37 ERA and 1.14 WHIP, and a 22.0% strikeout rate. A very good season by any measure. But it might also represent his peak. As we celebrate his 34th birthday (October 14th), it’s hard to imagine seeing him continue to expand upon the improvements he made this year. Even if his skills improvements hold, there will certainly be some regression from his 76.3% left-on-base rate and 10.0% homer-per-fly ball. Despite completing full and successful seasons the past two years, he has had to deal with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, something that has seen many athletes unable to compete the same again. In 2023 drafts, it will be best to treat Kelly like we always have: an innings eater that won’t hurt you. In points leagues, he’ll be a solid contributor. And in roto, he’ll offer a great floor. With the upside he showed this year, he has earned a prominent roster spot in every league.
Jordan Lawlar, Age: 20, Position: SS, Level: Double-A
Analysis by: Ben Sanders
Catch a falling star
I wasn’t sure what to make of Jordan Lawlar this offseason. Scouting reports on the No. 6 overall pick in the 2021 draft were mixed. Some saw a potential superstar and compared him to Bobby Witt Jr. or even Derek Jeter. Others painted a picture of a high-floor prospect, relatively old for his draft class and lacking significant fantasy upside. Complicating matters was a shoulder injury that ended his first minor league season after just two games and six plate appearances, far too small a sample to analyze.
I didn’t expect Lawlar would end up on any of my rosters, but he somehow fell to the 10th pick in the TDG Roto draft (not strictly a first-year player draft; some available MLB free agents contributed to his slide). That felt too good to pass up, and in hindsight it sure was. Lawlar tore through the low minors this season, slashing .303/.401/.509 in 100 games across four different levels. He hit 16 home runs and was successful on 39 of his 45 stolen base attempts, and has added two homers and two steals in a fast start at the Arizona Fall League. He struggled a little at Double-A, but that’s a level he wasn’t supposed to reach this year, so I’m not worried.
Against the Lawlar
If there is a cause for concern with Lawlar, it’s strikeouts. He posted a 25.1% K-rate this season, with a 23.1% mark at Low-A the best he put up at any stop. It’s an issue that existed even in his high school days, when scouts thought he was whiffing a little too much given the level of competition.
I don’t consider this a red flag, but, maybe a yellow flag. Lawlar also had a 12.4% BB-rate, so he’s not just up there hacking away. Ideally he’ll be able to cut the K-rate as he develops, but as long as he continues to take walks, hit for power and steal bases, he’s going to be a guy you want on your dynasty roster.
On the fast track
Lawlar was ranked as our No. 44 prospect last offseason, and rose to No. 7 in our September update. Those Witt comparisons don’t seem too far-fetched – I could see Lawlar matching Witt’s 20-HR, 30-SB rookie season at some point. He may not have quite the ceiling Witt does, but very few players do. He also has a high floor, as his strong defense at shortstop should keep him playing every day and compiling stats even if he doesn’t become a star.
The Diamondbacks aren’t shy about promoting their top prospects, and if he continues to produce, Lawlar could reach MLB as soon as next season. I wouldn’t bank on that, some growing pains are likely. If you’re in win-now mode, he’ll help you most as a trade chip. Otherwise, be patient, and remember that Lawlar won’t be able to take his first legal drink until after the 2023 All-Star break. All those promotions this season put time on his side, and his future looks very bright.