Young Diamondbacks Are Producing, and the Veterans Love It
(Editor’s Note: Stats are through the end of play September 5.)
The Arizona Diamondbacks, who finished 52–110 in 2021, are moving in the right direction despite having a losing record in 2022. They are 25–17 since the All-Star Break but could easily be 30–12. A big reason for their recent run is how well the young Diamondbacks are playing. Jake McCarthy, Emmanuel Rivera, Stone Garrett (small sample size), and Daulton Varsho have had productive seasons at the plate. They make up four of the top seven Diamondbacks in run production. The others, by the way, are Christian Walker (17.0 wRAA), Josh Rojas (7.2 wRAA), and Ketel Marte (5.0 wRAA), who are first, third, and sixth, respectively.
Alek Thomas started well at the plate but has cooled off since July 1, although his performance in the last two weeks has moved him back in a positive direction. Geraldo Perdomo, while producing runs at a clip of 18.0 below average, has still found ways to help the team offensively. He is second in the NL in sacrifice bunts (10) and is tied for ninth in bunt hits (4). Defensively, Thomas has performed at an elite level that should make him a Gold Glove finalist. Perdomo, after a season of growing pains defensively, has made tremendous strides and is progressing towards the top half of the league.
Pitching-wise, Tommy Henry has been a good addition to the rotation, and Kyle Nelson has been one of the most dependable relievers on the club. No one mentioned in these three paragraphs is older than 26, something that the league has noted, and something that the veterans on the club have enjoyed.
Offensive Stats of the Young Diamondbacks
McCarthy is the highest run producer of this bunch and second highest on the team. In 75 games, he has slashed .289/.351/.462 (65-for-225) with 14 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 18 walks, four hit-by-pitches, 35 RBI, and 41 runs scored. In addition, he has stolen 14 bases in 15 attempts. This has made for a .354 wOBA and 8.7 wRAA.
Right behind him are Garrett, Varsho, and Rivera. Garrett has played 10 games since being called up, so the sample size is limited. However, his early returns have been impressive, as he has slashed .424/.424/.818 (14-for-33) with four doubles, three home runs, five RBI, and eight runs scored. His wOBA is .529, giving him 6.3 wRAA. Varsho, in 123 games, has slashed .239/.309/.437 (104-for-435) with 20 doubles, three triples, 20 home runs, 41 walks, five plunks, five sacrifice flies, 61 RBI, and 63 runs scored. This gives him a wOBA of .324 and wRAA of 5.2. Rivera, as a Diamondback, has played in 24 games. He has slashed .250/.347/.500 (22-for-88) with seven doubles, five homers, 10 walks, three plunks, 13 RBI, and 18 runs scored. This has given him a wOBA of .367 and 4.6 wRAA. Corbin Carroll (-1.7 in a small sample size), Thomas (-4.8), Alcantara (-7.1), and Perdomo (-18.0) are all below league average in wRAA.
The eight players, as a whole, have a wRAA of -6.8. However, Perdomo is a huge outlier, at -18.0. The other seven have combined for 11.2 wRAA.
Pitching Stats of the Young Diamondbacks
Tommy Henry had a tough start against the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday, August 31, allowing seven runs — all earned — in four innings. In his other five starts, he pitched to a 3.25 ERA (78 ERA-minus), 19 strikeouts, 12 walks, and a 1.265 WHIP in 27 2/3 innings. Left-handed middle reliever Kyle Nelson has been one of the most effective middle relievers in the league. In 40 appearances, Nelson has a 1.51 ERA (37 ERA-minus) with seven runs allowed (six earned), 28 strikeouts, 11 walks, three hit batsmen, and an 0.953 WHIP. He also has a scoreless outing percentage (ScOtg%) of 84.2%, top ten in the NL for relievers with at least 30 appearances.
The veterans have taken notice. Reliever Mark Melancon said, “The position players have added a burst of excitement — added some speed and some defense. They’ve been a big sparkplug.” Right-hander Merrill Kelly noted, ““There has been a different energy, a different mood, on and off the field” as well as in the clubhouse. Kelly added that it especially kicked into gear after the All-Star Break. “They’re all playing really good baseball. We’re stealing bags, bunting people over, good plays are being made on defense, with a lot of effort going into it. The team in general, but especially the young guys, had more of a comfortability in their own role. They’ve had a little bit of time before the All-Star Break. When they came back, I noticed a different energy.”
Left-handed reliever Joe Mantiply likes the talent of the young Diamondbacks call-ups. He also likes how they handle obstacles. “It seems like guys are making that adjustment pretty well,” he pointed out. “Not too many bumps in the road. There’s always going to be bumps in the road, even for veteran guys, but they seem to be handling it pretty well.”
Right-hander Zac Gallen also pointed out how comfortable the young Diamondbacks call-ups are. He pointed out how nerve-racking a player’s first time in the majors can be. He gave the first call-ups of Varsho and McCarthy as examples. Both went back to the minors, retuned their games, and are back probably for good. But this year’s crop is different. “You’re seeing more so now that those guys that came up are feeling more comfortable,” he said. “(They’re) understanding they don’t have to do too much to be successful at this level. And it’s coming through with their play on the field.”
Catcher Carson Kelly noted the confidence of the call-ups. He liked their talent but also that they’ve been themselves since coming up. “The first time you get called to the big leagues, you’re a little intimidated, but they’re confident. They know what they need to do. Obviously, there’s a lot to learn, but I applaud them coming in and showing what they’ve got.” He added that it’s fun to play with the younger players, noting their good relationship with each other stemming from playing so many games together in the minors.
Right-hander Zach Davies, an eighth-year veteran of four major league clubs, has seen more than his share of young call-ups. He likes the confidence of this group. But he’s also observed, “Nobody thinks that they’re ‘here.’ They know they’ve got to work. They’ve got the drive, the want, and desire to get better. It’s not necessarily like many examples in the past that I’ve seen, but the guys here definitely don’t have a sense of complacency. It’s nice to see that they want to get better.”
First baseman Christian Walker has been impressed by “how dynamic these guys have been, from the defense to the offense. Everybody wants to drive in runs and have slug and all that. But for me, seeing these guys come up and not get lost in the hype of playing in the big leagues or trying to play outside of themselves…. I think about McCarthy and AT (Alek Thomas), even a guy like Alcantara, coming up and playing a role, doing what we need them to do really, really well. No more, no less.”
Desire to Improve
Recently released reliever Noe Ramirez liked the way the young Diamondbacks conduct themselves. He sees a desire to work hard and improve. “They’re conducting themselves pretty well. They seem to be hard workers. I don’t see them hanging out in their lockers often. That’s something that, when I was coming up — which isn’t that long ago, 2015 — was really frowned upon, chilling by your locker, on your phone constantly, or something like that. That’s not a good look. For me, personally, I don’t really care what anyone but my teammates and my family thinks of me, so I’m gonna do everything I can to show my teammates that I’m about the team and about winning. These guys have been shown that. They’re a good group of guys who want to learn and are trying to get better every day. It’s a pretty good core of young guys.”
He pointed over to their lockers and added, “Look. One guy there right now. That’s what I like to see. What we all like to see.”
These young players are showing that they value hard work and a constant desire to improve. Davies said it’s important for franchises to drive home traits, like this one, that they value. “Pretty much the entire year, it’s been a young team. So there are obviously things that, as an organization, you want to drive home. Values and things that you do on the field as an organization that confirm their identity. But a lot of our guys have come up here, continued to work, and continue to try and get better.” Davies later added that there is “a lot of good development. There are a lot of good guys that have come up and shown that they’re big-league talent.”
Left-handed rookie Tommy Henry has been a nice addition to the rotation, despite being knocked around in his last start. Veteran reliever Ian Kennedy likes the way Henry “attacks the strike zone.” Furthermore, according to Kennedy, “He’s pretty polished. You can tell he went to college. Usually the college guys are a little more polished by the time they come out. It’s not an overpowering fastball, but it’s deceiving. He can tell how guys take it, and he throws a ton of strikes. He’s got a pretty calm demeanor when he’s out there, so I like watching that.”
Merrill Kelly has also seen “a lot of good things” from Henry. He pointed out a key moment from Henry’s debut in Cleveland. “Obviously, in the debut, you’re gonna be a little amped up. First couple innings, I could tell the motors were spinning pretty hard. And I remember around the fourth inning, he might have stepped off the rubber, or maybe took a breath and then when he stepped back on the rubber, for some reason that just jumped out to me. I thought, ‘Alright, his feet are on the ground.’ Ever since that moment, he’s been pitching really, really well. He’s got a good idea of what he wants to do out there. I don’t think he’s out there just throwing. He’s got a plan. He has a tendency to have an idea of what he’s trying to do to guys. So far, I’ve been impressed.”
According to Gallen, Henry was “super comfortable” from the moment he arrived. “Obviously, the first start didn’t go how he wanted it to go, but he bounced back pretty well after that.” Galen noted that Henry has faced some “tough lineups” and has also pitched successfully in Coors Field. “Ultimately, he kept his wits about him, didn’t try to do too much, and just made pitches. It’s one of the more impressive things when you come up as a young guy is to be able to get comfortable as fast as possible. Sometimes it takes a couple of games, sometimes it takes a year. Whatever it is. But it looks like he’s handling himself out there pretty well. It’s been fun to watch.”
Carson Kelly likes the “poise and command of all his pitches.” He added, “It seems like every outing he gets a little bit more comfortable and doesn’t get the deer-in-the-headlights look. You don’t see that from him — maybe a little bit in his first start, but not even that much. With the experience he has and the things he brings to the table, he’s going to continue to grow and learn.”
Kyle Nelson, 25, has been another bright spot. He surpassed rookie limits in 2021 and barely has a year of service time. When looking at Nelson and how he conducts himself, however, this seems impossible. “The guy’s a flatline,” McCarthy chuckled. “His heartbeat is” (holds hand parallel to the ground). “He’s always very serious when he’s on the mound or when you talk to him. For a young guy, he’s got an unbelievable ability to keep that at an even keel. Even the other night (against the Brewers) when he wasn’t finding his spots, he wasn’t rattled at all. I think he was just missing the spot. So I like playing defense behind him.” When told that manager Torey Lovullo thought Nelson was “amped up” in his first game back from injury, McCarthy smiled bigger and stated, “I wouldn’t even be sure what amped up is for him.”
Mantiply has similar observations. “His ability to kind of control his emotions and always joke around — he says he’s got the slowest heart rate in the league. Even when stuff seems to be speeding up, he’s pretty calm and keeps it under control. For somebody his age —he’s pretty young — to have that ability is really special.”
Kennedy, himself a fun-loving, jovial guy, likes being around “Nelly.” He said, “He’s awesome to hang out with. Pretty even keeled and laid back. Baseball-wise, he’s pretty mature with how he takes things in. He takes the info in and applies it in the game. You know that he’s very consistent. His demeanor on the mound — nothing’s gonna really faze him.” He added that Nelson’s demeanor is “probably a little more mature than a lot of guys his age.”
Kennedy was not surprised to hear that Nelson has some of the best middle-relief numbers in the National League. “He’s got that carry on his fastball. It comes out pretty firm. He’s got a really good slider and throws a ton of strikes.” Mantiply wasn’t surprised, either, saying that Nelson has a “wipeout” slider and a “really good heater.”
Fun to Watch
Kennedy has enjoyed watching the young Diamondbacks. “Usually, if there’s a young player, there’s only one that brings a little spark or some energy because they’re younger and excited to be here. And they want to make a statement. But we have three. Any time, you have three guys that can be out there. Varsho’s the same way. Rojas is playing the same. It’s contagious, and you’ve got other guys doing the same thing. It’s been pretty fun to watch some of the guys, like Stone. Usually guys take a little while to start getting their first hits or producing, at least at the plate. It was fun watching that first game (for Stone) and watching Alek play the outfield. Watching McCarthy make things happen on the basepaths, and just watching him run is impressive.”
Ramirez also mentioned Rojas, noting his effect on the young Diamondbacks. “Josh is the leader amongst the younger guys. He shows a lot of baseball savvy and is really smart in the field. I think it’s trickling down to the other guys. Perdomo’s got some pretty good confidence in him. Sergio Alcantara is pretty nifty with the glove and really good out there.”
Carson Kelly is excited for the future. “(I like) the athleticism of our position players and the poise of some of the pitchers that have come up. We have a lot of guys that have a lot of good talent. You can see them making strides every time they go out there, so it’s fun to be a part of.” Kelly added that he looks forward to helping them and thinks he’ll also learn from them.
Gallen feels the same way. “Obviously, I’m not going to teach those guys how to hit. But there are times where those guys have a day off or sit on the bench. They may ask me about a sequencing thing. But it goes both ways. It’s something that we ask those guys, too. We ask how they feel in the box about certain things. The other thing is growing the culture. All the guys in there like hanging out, so continuing that culture of guys going out and getting something to eat on the road or building that brotherhood…. That culture is one of the more important things as a pitcher when trying to talk our position players.”
A Growing Culture for a Team That’s Fun to Watch
The culture is there and is growing. Kennedy told a story that illustrates this well. “It’s been a lot of fun, just to watch all of them. They’ve all played together, are all buddies, and I like to watch them hang out. I walked by them yesterday and made a joke. Teased them a little bit. And they said, ‘Hiiiiiiiiiiii Ian.’”
The way he quoted them sounded like it came straight from a 90s episode of Saved by the Bell, resembling a group of freshmen saying hi to a popular senior. Laughing with this author, Kennedy continued. “How old is Alek, 22? He’s 15 years younger than I am. And Stone’s, I think, 26 or 27, something like that. (Note: He’s 26.) But anyway, we have young guys, and they’re like 10 or 15 years younger than I am. I was in high school, and these kids weren’t even born yet.”
The surging Diamondbacks are suddenly in the Wild Card hunt. Although it’s a long shot to make it, the team will be entertaining no matter what. Kennedy said, “It’s fun watching them play. Watching Alek run it down and make great catches has been a lot of fun. And it’s contagious. Rojas is stealing bases, making things happen on the base paths. That’s what this team needs. This team is gonna have to foster and continue developing these guys if we want to turn this around and make things happen for later in the future. Those young guys are gonna be a big part of it. It’ll be exciting.”
Jake McCarthy, Emmanuel Rivera, Stone Garrett, Daulton Varsho, Corbin Carroll, Christian Walker, Josh Rojas, Ketel Marte, Alek Thomas, Geraldo Perdomo, Tommy Henry, Kyle Nelson, Mark Melancon, Merrill Kelly, Joe Mantiply, Zac Gallen, Carson Kelly, Zach Davies, Noe Ramirez, Ian Kennedy, Torey Lovullo, Sergio Alcantara