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After slow start to 2024, Corbin Carroll’s swing changes are starting to pay off: 'Every day is a little bit better'

A disappointing April led Carroll and his Diamondbacks coaches to reexamine his swing mechanics and get back to his strengths

CINCINNATI — Even at a time when OPS league-wide has sunk below .700 and numerous stars have scuffled offensively out of the gate, Corbin Carroll’s struggles to open the 2024 season stood out as especially confounding.

Heading into this season, the 23-year-old outfielder — last season’s unanimous NL Rookie of the Year and fifth-place NL MVP finisher who helped fuel Arizona’s surprise run to the World Series — appeared primed to further cement himself as one of baseball’s best all-around players. Instead, while his AL Rookie of the Year counterpart, Gunnar Henderson, got off to an MVP-level start to his sophomore campaign, Carroll was mired in the opposite. Through 25 games in April, he hit .188/.261/.248 with just one home run.

As the collective baseball world — from teammates to rivals to fans to fantasy owners — scratched their heads and shrugged their shoulders wondering when things would turn for the better, Carroll was hard at work behind the scenes in search of a solution.

Early on this season, the inclination from Carroll and Arizona’s coaches was to let him “ride it out” because of what he showed last year. “He moved so fast through the system, he never really had the opportunity to try some different stuff and see what it means to work through something, especially in-season,” D-backs hitting coach Joe Mather told Yahoo Sports. But eventually, it became apparent that some intervention was required.

“We can always talk about swing decisions, regardless of time of year. So that was our first talking point,” Mather said. “But then we got into the posture a little bit, and I think that's where he's found the most feedback and the most reinforcement of ‘OK, I'm going the right direction.’ It was probably about two weeks ago where he started really attacking it. And he's been able to make adjustments every day. Every day is a little bit better.”

On Tuesday in Cincinnati, the fruits of that labor started to surface in a meaningful way. D-backs manager Torey Lovullo, who noticed the quality of Carroll’s at-bats gradually improving since he dropped the star outfielder to the bottom third of the lineup on April 24, inserted Carroll back into the leadoff spot for the series opener against the Reds.

“Nobody works harder than Corbin, right?” Lovullo said before the game. “And he's been grinding and doing his absolute best to improve and do his job and help his team win games. That's all he thinks about. So I've liked what I've been seeing. And I felt like it was the right time to push him up.”

Carroll responded accordingly: two hits, 5 RBI and one spectacular swing that reminded everyone what he’s capable of when everything is in sync.

In the top of the seventh inning, lefty reliever Justin Wilson unleashed a 2-2 fastball just above the top of the zone — a combination of pitch type and location that Carroll has struggled to cover not just this year but dating to last season. But this time, Carroll didn’t just cover it; he sent a screaming line drive to left-center field that snuck over the fence for a three-run homer and a 5-0 Snakes lead en route to a 6-2 victory. It was just the fifth homer Carroll has hit against a left-hander in his career, and at 3.36 feet above the ground, it was the highest pitch he has ever hit for a home run.

“There's a lot that goes right in the course of your swing to be able to do something like that,” Lovullo said postgame. “It was an impressive swing and seemed to be in a really balanced position.”

After the game, Carroll reflected on what went wrong earlier in the season and how he has started to course-correct in recent weeks.

“I was popping a lot of balls up, and like, counterintuitively, it was because my swing was too flat,” he said. “My window for success was small. I was either on top of balls and hitting ground balls, or I'm under the ball and it's popping straight up.”

Lovullo noted recently that despite the poor results over the first month, Carroll’s bat speed metrics had actually improved compared to last year. This was not an accident: in the constant quest to improve as a hitter — even as one coming off a sensational season — Carroll identified bat speed as a possible avenue to enhance his overall offensive potential. But he has since realized that the subtle ways he was achieving those gains had a negative effect on his swing path.

From watching video early in the season, Carroll identified that he had been “counter-rotating” too much while loading his swing. In other words, he was turning more inward toward the catcher before firing the bat into the zone rather than starting from a more balanced, upright base and attacking the ball at a more vertical angle.

“What I would describe is like, if you're watching on TV, my goal right now is to barely show you my whole last name, whereas before I felt like maybe you can see a little bit more of [my left shoulder],” he said. “That's kind of my checkpoint when I'm working on our iPads. I'm gonna make sure I'm not counter-rotating because to get out of that kind of rotation, you’ve got to rotate, and a rotational flat swing isn't necessarily what I'm looking for.”

In other words, Carroll believes his swing became too flat due to the angle at which his bat was entering the hitting zone. Also, the degree to which he was counter-rotating had a negative impact on the timing of his swing as a whole.

“The more we turn back to the catcher, the more we gotta open up,” Mather explained. “We gotta make earlier decisions. All kinds of things can happen with that — velocity becomes more of a challenge. That was something that he was feeling.”

Carroll affirmed this notion after the game Tuesday: “I feel like my attack angle and vertical bat angle are becoming more where I want them to be and giving me a bigger window for success.”

Corbin Carroll headshot
Corbin Carroll
CF - ARI - #7
2024 - false season
161
AB
.193
AVG
2
HR
8
SB
.539
OPS

Prior to Tuesday, some speculated that Carroll’s issues were rooted in a right shoulder injury he appeared to suffer in a July 6 game vs. the Mets. It’s the same shoulder he had surgery on in 2021, costing him nearly the entire season. Although Carroll didn’t go on the IL last year, his slugging numbers did take a notable dip: He hit .290/.365/.559 with 18 HR in 83 games before departing that July 6 game and .280/.357/.448 with just 7 HR in 72 games after. The apparent injury clearly didn’t compromise his ability to produce at a high level, even through October, but the decline in SLG% was tough to ignore.

Carroll insists now that his shoulder is “in a great spot” and hasn’t been a primary focus in diagnosing his offensive shortcomings this season. Instead, he believes his mechanics got out of whack because of some of the things he was focusing on this offseason.

“Bat speed can be an answer,” he said. “[But] counter-rotating more, it just wasn't the answer for me. Trying to have a little bit less counter-rotation has helped me feel like my window for success is bigger.”

Back in spring training, Carroll talked about wanting to handle up-and-in pitches better and cover velocity more consistently. In theory, improved bat speed could assist in such endeavors.

“But it's a problem if it starts taking away from your strengths,” he said Tuesday. “So I just want to work on keeping my strengths my strengths and working a little bit more in the margins.”

One of those strengths is that Carroll is able to generate so much power from such a relatively small frame. Mather credits his exceptional grip strength and ability to use the ground to produce power through his swing, and this was on display frequently in his rookie year. It was in Cincinnati last July that Carroll launched the farthest HR of his career, a titanic 446-foot blast to center that cleared the batter’s eye in a way few hitters have in Great American Ball Park history. And in his first career postseason game, Carroll sent a Corbin Burnes changeup to the upper deck in Milwaukee, a cool 444 feet from home plate. The power is there; it’s just a matter of accessing it. With the right tweaks and better habits, Carroll and those around him believe he can get back to leveraging his power more consistently.

Still, the reality is that swings such as the one Carroll executed Tuesday are rare. Elevated 96 mph fastballs are difficult for any hitter to handle in any context, and they’re never going to be a primary source of power. But the work Carroll has put in to diagnose and adjust his swing appears to be paying off. Taking such a challenging pitch and smashing it for an opposite-field homer — even once — can instill heightened confidence that he can do more damage against all pitches.

Amid whispers of a sophomore slump, this turning point could be a massive development for Carroll — and potentially even bigger for Arizona. As the D-backs look to climb their way back into the NL postseason picture, a return to All-Star form from Carroll can’t come soon enough.

In Lovullo’s eyes, it's only a matter of time. “Things were going to start to develop for him,” he said Tuesday. “And I know he's going to continue to work hard to have more days like this.”