2023 MLB All-Star Game: Diamondbacks phenom Corbin Carroll lapping expectations again with hometown All-Star debut

Just four years removed from high school, Carroll will start in the outfield for the NL on Tuesday in Seattle

SEATTLE — The Lakeside School, where Corbin Carroll played high school baseball, is 11 miles from T-Mobile Park, where he will take the field as a starting outfielder in the MLB All-Star Game on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET on FOX). He has traversed the vast gap between the two fields in just four years — a rapid rise that has by turns shocked his biggest believers and trained them to stop doubting his ability to amaze.

A month shy of his 23rd birthday, Carroll is the best player on a surprisingly good Arizona Diamondbacks team. He’s the clear NL Rookie of the Year favorite, and he must be considered a midseason contender for NL MVP. After a brief and promising debut in 2022, his first full season is eating up positive adjectives as quickly as Carroll eats up space on the base paths. With 18 homers and 26 stolen bases, he’s one of only two members of the 15/15 club at the All-Star break, alongside Ronald Acuña Jr.

A Seattle native who grew up idolizing Ichiro on the Mariners — though perhaps not his iconic rookie year in 2001, seeing as how Carroll was born in August 2000 — Carroll didn’t truly allow himself to think about the possibility of playing in his hometown All-Star Game until mid-June, after a particularly terrific series in Detroit.

“It was just something cool to look forward to if it happened,” he said Monday. “And if it didn't, I was planning on coming back to Seattle anyway. I'd probably be here as a fan.”

He couldn’t have aimed for this, couldn’t have planned his own coming-out party to be this well-placed, but Carroll’s warp-speed dash from promising Pacific Northwest prospect to major-league force has produced a uniquely personal reward.

“The big thing is, like, this is the one All-Star game in his career that is going to be in Seattle, right? And so this was his one chance to make it,” said Kellen Sundin, Carroll’s high school coach at Lakeside.

From Sundin to the top prospect who trained alongside Carroll to the assistant general manager who jumped at the chance to draft him, Carroll's name-making 2023 has elicited awe and also shrugs.

“He's that guy,” said Jordan Lawlar, the shortstop who succeeded Carroll as the No. 1 Arizona prospect. “I know he's that guy. He knows he's that guy.”

Of course, they couldn’t have expected Carroll to be this good this fast. Yet they have learned to expect excellence from the 5-foot-10 outfielder who lives his baseball life in overdrive.

“The truth is, I gave up a while ago,” Sundin said. “I told him, 'I'm not gonna allow you to surprise me anymore with any of your accomplishments' because he's done it so many times.

“You don't expect a rookie to make the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, but it's like, yeah, of course he's gonna do that.”

‘I don't see how this guy gets to our pick’

The revelations of Corbin Carroll seem to repeat themselves at each level of baseball. Never an imposing physical specimen, he opened Sundin’s eyes when he was 14.

“I knew he was gonna be a really good player the first time I saw him swing as a freshman at tryouts,” Sundin said. “You know, he was a small, little guy — and he could obviously always run — but he had a big, powerful swing and a surprising amount of juice in his bat for a kid that size at that age.”

After a few seasons of huge performances for Lakeside and travel teams, Carroll vaulted to wider acclaim by winning a spot on a loaded Team USA under-18 roster for the 2018 Pan-Am Games.

“If you look at the roster on that team, it's pretty wild right now to look at it — some of the better young players in baseball,” Sundin said of a group that includes Anthony Volpe, C.J. Abrams, Bobby Witt Jr. and Riley Greene. “And for him to make that was a really good accomplishment. He had to unseat some guys from previous teams that he was not on.”

Playing his way onto that team also helped Carroll climb up Arizona’s draft board. Far from a secret on the draft scene, Carroll was nonetheless less heralded than Witt and others on that squad.

Amiel Sawdaye, the Diamondbacks assistant GM who oversees their drafts, said the team’s scouts came back from Carroll’s national team showings with a new level of interest, “effusive in their praise.”

“One of the things that came out of that was guys were really impressed with just the kind of sneaky power he had,” Sawdaye said, seemingly reliving Sundin’s experience from years earlier. “You see a smaller guy, and a lot of times, you just don't know what you're gonna get with the ability to drive the ball.”

Between Team USA and ensuing performances at other high school showcases, Carroll started trending so dramatically in the right direction that Sawdaye became concerned he wouldn’t make it to Arizona’s pick in a strong 2019 MLB Draft headlined by Adley Rutschman.

“So we walked into the year thinking, ‘Man, we're picking 16th,’” he said. “‘Based on what we've seen this summer, I don't see how this guy gets to our pick.’”

Still just 118 games into his major-league career, Corbin Carroll is an All-Star starter in his hometown of Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Still just 118 games into his major-league career, Corbin Carroll is an All-Star starter in his hometown of Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)

A powerhouse hidden in the Pacific Northwest

What likely aided the D-backs had nothing to do with Carroll and everything to do with the region where he happened to grow up.

A lot of good major-leaguers hail from Seattle or the wider Pacific Northwest, but most simply do not get the chance to display their full potential for pro scouts in high school. Sundin said the area’s reputation is out of whack compared to its talent levels.

“You know, people just think of Seattle,” he said, “and it's like, ‘It rains all the time, so how could they possibly be playing baseball outside?’”

The truth lies in a more complicated logistical problem. Sawdaye said the Pacific Northwest “gets a bad rap.”

“It's not that they don't produce players,” he said. “It's hard to scout.”

Players who grow up in cooler or farther-flung climes are often more difficult to assess confidently. A similar information gap likely contributed to Mike Trout’s slide to pick No. 25 a decade earlier.

Carroll’s senior high school season was a trademark example of why so many of the talented players from Washington and Oregon — from Jacoby Ellsbury to Michael Conforto to Rutschman — wind up going to college to fully prove their bona fides. Weather and school schedules conspired to limit Carroll to two pregame batting practice sessions, crucial opportunities for scouts to judge raw ability.

“If this kid played in Texas or Atlanta or some areas, he probably plays more games, gets his BP seen more,” Sawdaye said. “I think people would have seen a little bit more of what we felt like he had, some of the emerging power that he had.”

Still, the D-backs were a bit more comfortable with their observations about Carroll’s potential because of the batted-ball data they got on him from Team USA and other showcases — a tool that has become more common and more advanced over the past decade. Sawdaye said the club was impressed by his natural ability to hit line drives that carried, to impart backspin on the ball and to make strong contact to all fields, not just the pull side.

Everybody, Sawdaye said, had Carroll down as an impact player who could defend, run and take a strong approach at the plate. The D-backs’ assessment was better because of its optimistic view of his power potential.

“I can't sit here and say that I anticipated him hitting I don't how many home runs,” Sawdaye said with a chuckle as Carroll continued to rack up homers in late June. “But I do think, as a group, we had a lot of conviction in his ability to hit the ball hard and barrel up the baseball.”

'Meticulous with everything he does'

Only seven games into what would’ve been his first full minor-league season in 2021, Carroll tore the labrum and damaged the posterior capsule in his right shoulder. The serious injury required surgery and sidelined him for the rest of the season.

This is perhaps the most remarkable thing about Carroll’s nearly seamless transition to the majors. He played a grand total of 142 games in the minors. For reference, that other cold-weather high school star who burst onto the scene as a rookie, Trout, played 286 before he stuck in the majors for good.

Arizona would certainly prefer if Carroll had never injured his shoulder — and didn’t suffer any more scares like the ones from the past few weeks — but Sawdaye said Carroll demonstrated his special blend of determination and acumen in those months when he couldn’t take the field. He spent the summer of his 21st birthday at the D-backs’ Chase Field, picking the brains of scouts.

“The year he missed, he sat behind home plate, and he came every night — like literally,” Sawdaye said. “I think you can count on one hand the amount of games he missed.”

Later that season, Carroll was joined by an injured Lawlar, the top shortstop prospect who played in this weekend’s Futures Game. Together, the duo absorbed the lesson that even big leaguers aren’t perfect, that there are mistakes in every game, that a consistent approach will lead to good things over the long haul.

And Carroll is consistent. His focus goes beyond at-bats and games into diet and fitness. Lawlar noted how much he has learned from Carroll’s “dialed in” nutrition, saying he is “meticulous with everything he does.”

That stretches back a long time. Sundin said it was already in place when he met Carroll as a ninth-grader.

“I'd say it was pretty obvious early on that he had a really high level of attention to detail and preparedness,” the high school coach said. “He always was pretty calculated in terms of what his routine was going to be and what he wanted to get accomplished each day.”

It’s his own brand of leadership — nothing rah-rah, Sundin clarified, just a quietly powerful example. In high school, teammates worked harder because they saw what Carroll was putting in.

On the D-backs this season, fellow All-Star Lourdes Gurriel Jr. said through an interpreter that Carroll is playing at the highest level he has ever seen for a rookie, that he functions like someone who has been in the league for many years. Lawlar, who has been gleefully following his friend’s exploits after each of his Double-A games, has learned that Carroll “has a reason behind everything he does.”

“I think his preparation is one thing that you hear about, but until you're around it every day in spring training,” Lawlar said, “it's different.”

The day before the All-Star Game in his hometown, the one few others would’ve reached even with similarly elite talent, Carroll credited his parents for setting a strong foundation. But he also acknowledged that he has really run with it, as he is prone to do.

“I've always been a little bit obsessive,” he said Monday. “If I'm gonna do something, I want to do it all the way.”