Jake McCarthy Is Solidifying Himself in the D-backs Outfield

Jake McCarthy is proving his worth in the Diamondbacks outfield, and his performance has resulted in his name coming up in trade talks.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - MAY 12: Jake McCarthy #31 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a two-run home run in the sixth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 12, 2024 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Much attention — deservedly — goes to the injury chaos that has overwhelmed the Arizona Diamondbacks starting rotation. There’s good reason for that, too, given that only two of their projected starters are currently pitching, which is surely plays a significant part in the team’s 32-35 record.

But don’t forget that the extended absence of center fielder Alek Thomas due to a hamstring injury suffered April 1 has also forced the D-backs to make adjustments. In this case, it created an opening for Jake McCarthy to show what he could do.

He has not thrown away his shot, and it’s worth considering what he’s brought to a middle-of-the-road Diamondbacks team.

Remind Me: Who Is This Guy?

The Scranton High School graduate left Pennsylvania to play college baseball for the University of Virginia where he stayed for three seasons. During his time as a Cavalier, he slashed .337/.423/.476 while stealing 36 bases. On the defensive side, the center fielder finished his career with a 0.978 FDPC and only four errors in 85 games. (Read his player page here.)

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He was drafted 39th by the D-backs in the 2018 MLB Draft.

McCarthy made his MLB debut on August 27, 2021.

After being called up, McCarthy saw some playing time that season before playing in 99 games in 2022. He finished that year on a tear that found him slashing .283/.342/.427, third in the D-backs batting order, and fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting.

How Was McCarthy in 2023?

He struggled in 2023, finishing the season with a demotion to Triple-A Reno, a 79 wRC+, and a .243/.318/.326 slashline (two home runs) in 312 plate appearances.

His season ended early due to an oblique injury, and McCarthy was unable to play in the D-backs postseason.

In short it was not a notable year.

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Moreover, the fact that he shared an outfield with Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll and outstanding center fielder Alek Thomas in 2023 did not help his cause.

Even worse, all three are lefties, so there were questions as to whether the D-backs might trade McCarthy.

Thomas’s injury changed all that.

How’s His 2024 Been?

Not bad.

In the offseason, McCarthy told Jack Sommers, “”It’s not a matter of bat speed or strength, or anything like that. It’s just a matter of swinging at the right pitches, putting the barrel on it, taking a full pass. We’re not anywhere near a full swing overhaul. I try to stay away from things like that. I love my game, I love what I can do. . . . it’s just a matter of getting to my optimal form.”

Since then, he’s been successful in doing that.

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In 165 plate appearances, he’s slashing .282/.368/.401 with a wRC+ of 124. His BB% is up to 9.7% after a career average of 8.1%, and his K% has also improved going from a career average of 21.2% to 18.2%. Plus, he’s stolen nine bases.

Add to that the fact that he’s already hit three home runs, and he’s already surpassed his 2023 total.

He’s also hitting lefties better than he is righties. Case in point: his 110 wRC+ in 32 PA against lefties and a 101 wRC+ in 128 PA against righties.

McCarthy’s defense remains fine, and he has 0 DRS and -2 OAA. In other words, his offensive improvements have come, to a degree, at the expense of his defense. (He has played just over 350 innings, so McCarthy has shown himself to be a durable outfielder this season.)

So, What’s Next?

That’s an interesting question.

Bob Nightengale reported over the weekend that the Philadelphia Phillies might be interested in trading for McCarthy should the D-backs become sellers at the trade deadline.

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McCarthy will be 27 next month and still has one option. In addition, he does not become a free agent until 2029, all of which would make him an attractive trade acquisition for other teams.

Moreover, Alek Thomas is expected to start a rehab assignment this week, so the D-backs crowded outfield will become even more populated. Despite an outstanding defensive record and some key hits during the postseason, Thomas has struggled at the plate, so he does not have a clear advantage over McCarthy.

This is a story to watch as the trade deadline approaches