In many ways, the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Baltimore Orioles have experienced similar trajectories in recent years. Both teams have regularly missed the playoffs, although Baltimore’s drought extends slightly longer than Arizona’s, with the Orioles’ last playoff appearance coming in 2016 and the D-Backs’ last in 2017.
It is only fitting, therefore, that both teams now appear to be on the upswing, with both clubs at the early stages of a competitive window brought about by shrewd talent acquisition through the MLB amateur draft and international signings.
It is now that the D-Backs are reaping the reward for the years in baseball’s wilderness with a king’s ransom of top prospects. This is headlined by the second-best prospect in the game in Corbin Carroll per MLB.com. Along with the prestige that comes with being named a top prospect also comes the pressure. This is perhaps more exaggerated when those prospects play for franchises that have been starved of on-field success in the majors. The pressure to perform and live up to the hype is a burden players such as Carroll and fellow outfielder Alek Thomas have to deal with throughout the minor league levels, and the scrutiny only increases once they finally make it to the big leagues.
When Thomas earned his call-up in May 2022, he was able to get off to a hot start helping to allay some of the pressure on him to perform. It didn’t take long, however, for MLB clubs to identify the weaknesses in his game and begin to exploit them. This resulted in a slump for Thomas, who struggled to consistently hit for power before ultimately being sent down to Reno in September. That is not to say Thomas is a bust, far from it, but it highlights the ebbs and flows experienced in the life of a prospect finding their feet in one of the hardest professional sports.
An approach the Diamondbacks could adopt for the upcoming 2023 season is one implemented to great success by the 2022 Baltimore Orioles. For a ballclub not expected to compete for anything and occupy the basement in a stacked AL East, it was to pretty much everyone outside of the organisation’s surprise (and I bet some within as well) that they were in the hunt for a wildcard berth for the majority of the season. That in itself is impressive, considering this was done off the back of a 110-loss season, tied for worst in the entire league with, you guessed it, the Diamondbacks. The fact that they did it whilst running out no less than eight rookies, including top catching prospect Adley Rutschman is remarkable.
With the likes of Carroll and Thomas considered locks to be on the Opening Day roster, along with recently acquired catcher Gabriel Moreno, the youth movement is well underway in the desert. Whilst Moreno is technically not classed as a rookie, barely scraping past the service-time threshold with Toronto, he is, for all intents and purposes, a member of this inexperienced core of players the Diamondbacks will rely on for 2023.
A quick look at the pitching side offers even more inexperience in Drey Jameson, Ryne Nelson, Brandon Pfaadt, Tommy Henry and Carlos Vargas, all potential rotation or bullpen pieces ready to start the season.
As Baltimore discovered in 2022, debuting so many prospects in such a short space of time and having them play in the same team together has the added benefit of preventing spotlight from becoming too harshly focused on any one individual. This allows some of the weight of expectation to be spread across a number of different shoulders enabling players to be more relaxed in their performances. It also means that when the rough patches do come for a particular player, and they will come, the focus on them can be shared by the success of another.
To an extent, the D-Backs already saw that happen themselves last year. It was Thomas who received his big league call-up first and progressively encountered hurdles. With the call-up of fellow lefty-hitting outfielder Carroll on 29 August, it helped divert some of the somewhat negative attention on Thomas prior to his optioning back to Reno in late September. This is just a small example of what we could see happen in Arizona this season, but as 2022 was the year of the BabyBirds in Baltimore, 2023 promises to be the year of the Dinky D-Backs.
Featured image of Corbin Carroll by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Matthew O’Brien is one of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. You can follow him on Twitter @DiamondbacksUk.