Diamondbacks OF Corbin Carroll wins USA TODAY Sports' Minor League Player of the Year award

PHOENIX — Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll had played only 49 games in the minor leagues before the start of the season. 

He didn’t play at all in 2020 with COVID wiping out the minor league season. 

He played just seven games in 2021 before shoulder surgery ended his season. 

Now, in the final days of spring training in what would be his first full professional season, the Diamondbacks called him into the office – as they do with all of their young players – and asked him to identify his goals for the season. 

“You typically get generic answers,’’ Diamondbacks farm director Josh Barfield says, “like, I want to get to this level, hit .300, or whatever.’

“Well, he pulls out a notebook. We’re all sitting there, and he goes through it, step by step, and walks us through the goals for the year. ... It was pretty unique."

MLB PLAYOFF PICTURE: What the postseason field looks like today

NEWSLETTER: Get the latest sports news straight to your inbox

Just five months and three stops later, with a slight derailment when he tested positive for COVID, Carroll found himself in the big leagues in the final days of August after tearing up Class AA Amarillo and Triple-A Reno. 

So, safe to say that Carroll, 5-foot-10, 165 pounds, reached all of his goals, achieving everything he could have possibly envisioned? 

“I can’t really say it exceeded my expectations,’’ says Carroll, the 16th player selected in the 2019 draft, “because these are the goals I set for myself. I want to be the one who holds myself to a higher standard than anyone else. I’m just happy to be where I am today.’’ 

That’s Carroll, 22, relentless in his pursuit of greatness. 

Certainly, no one was better in all of the minor leagues this season, with Carroll being named the 2022 USA TODAY Minor League Player of the Year. 

“My initial reaction to the honor is that it’s a testament to myself and my support system," Carroll says, “and just all of the people that helped me get to this point. It’s really more about them than it is me. 

“Obviously, there were a lot of great performances this year, a lot of great players, even in our organization. But without all of the great resources I have, no matter how hard I worked, I don’t think I would be in the same position.’’ 

Carroll hit .307 with 24 homers, 62 RBI and 31 stolen bases, including a .425 on-base percentage and .611 slugging percentage in 93 games in the minors.

“I’ve been all over the country scouting the minors this year,’’ one veteran National League scout says, “and he’s the best player I’ve seen. And it wasn’t really close. I love watching that kid.’’ 

Corbin Carroll stole 31 bases in 93 minor-league game this season.

The Diamondbacks have so much faith and belief in Carroll that although they brought him up to the big leagues, they’re still not playing him every day. The reason? They want to preserve his rookie status, and won’t let him eclipse 130 at-bats, making him eligible for the 2023 Rookie of the Year award. 

You see, by assuring that Carroll is still rookie-eligible in 2023, they can put him on their opening-day roster, and if he wins the Rookie of the Year award, they will receive an extra draft pick in 2024. 

“Honestly, I really appreciate that,’’ Carroll says. “It’s an honor for the front office and this organization to view me that way. They’re saying, 'Hey, this guy might have a chance to earn us a draft pick next year.' That would mean a lot to me to get to earn that pick.’’ 

There’s also a substantial financial benefit for Carroll. He’ll earn a $750,000 bonus for winning Rookie of the Year and $500,000 by finishing second. 

“I didn’t even know that,’’ he says. “I just love playing baseball. That’s what I work so hard and put in the discipline I do. I stay true to myself because I love the game so much.’’ 

This is a guy who underwent season-ending shoulder surgery after his shoulder rotated awkwardly after homering early in 2021. He could have gone home, rehabbed his shoulder and returned in 2022. Instead, he stuck around, and went to every single D-backs’ home game, sitting in the scouts section with quality control coach Jeff Gardner, picking his brain. 

“He's just very driven, motivated,’’ Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen says. “You saw him last year scouting games when he was hurt. He was here every day. That speaks to how he thinks about the game.’’ 

Carroll will tell you now that he was scared when he underwent the surgery. His development was not only going to be stymied, but he had no idea how the shoulder surgery would impact his future. 

“Yeah, there were doubts,’’ he softly says. “I think there’s a level of fear with that kind of injury. You’ve got to treat that rehab like your life depends on it. It’s your livelihood. 

“If you don’t take that seriously, there is a chance you don’t come back at the level you want. My approach was not to come back the same player, but to come back better.’’ 

Corbin Carroll takes photos with Diamondbacks fans on Sept. 4.

The D-backs challenged him to improve his arm during his rehab, saying that perhaps was the only flaw in his game. When he returned this spring, he answered all questions, becoming even a better, all-around player with a strong outfield arm. 

“A week into the season you could tell that he was completely healthy, probably even better than before,’’ Barfield said. “He’s just that kind of kid. Obviously, he’s very talented, but few are wired the way he is. ... 

“He’s singularly focused on becoming a great baseball player.’’ 

Carroll says his moment of clarity arrived during a 48-hour period during Mother’s Day weekend. He was playing for the Amarillo Sod Poodles against the Midland Rockhounds, batting leadoff and playing center field. 

He went 2-for-4 with two homers, four RBI and three runs on May 7. 

He went 2-for-5 with two more homers a day later. 

Carroll took off from there and never looked back, promoted to Triple-A on July 10 and to the majors on Aug. 29. 

“That stretch of two days was one of those times everything came natural,’’ Carroll says. “I felt like I was totally in flow, going out there and not having to think, just going out and playing baseball. That’s the way I like to play. I was fully being encompassed in that.’’ 

Carroll, who is hitting .300 with three homers, 10 RBI and an .940 OPS in 60 at-bats with the D-backs, plans to go back home to Seattle after the season. He’ll reflect on his year and immediately start preparing for 2023.

He typically lost 10 to 15 pounds during the baseball season in previous years, but working with a nutritionist and maintaining a new diet, he lost just two pounds this year. He feels as strong now as he did in April, despite never having played this many games in his life. 

“I’m pretty routine-oriented,’’ he says, “so once I find something that works for me, I stick to it.’’ 

The routine includes living again with his parents and 17-year-old sister during the offseason. He may be making the pro-rated $700,000 minimum salary this year, but there are no plans to buy a home, or even rent an apartment. 

“We’ll see about the future,’’ Carroll says, “but not now. I’m really close to my family. So, they may to give me the boot.’’ 

Sometime this winter, Carroll plans to once again grab a notebook and jot down his goals for 2023. He has been doing this since high school and won’t stop now. He keeps the goals relatively private, sharing them only with coaches or front-office officials when asked. 

“Sharing them loses a little bit of power,’’ Carroll says, “I think there’s a power to having them to yourself and chasing it for something internal. 

“My goals for next year ... Nothing too crazy, just some specific stuff that I wanted to stay true to myself, stay true to my values, do right by other people, and make sure I’m chasing the right things.’’ 

You won’t find goals that include a .300 batting average, 25 homers, 30 stolen bases, or anything like that. Instead, they are designed to help him become a better player.

“He has lofty goals, not predicated on results,’’ Barfield says, “but to continue to grow and develop and believe. He’s already showing the player he can be. There’s nothing he can’t do on a baseball field. 

“He has a goal of wanting to be one of the best players in the game in the next three to four years.’’ 

Any doubts he’ll achieve it? 

“Knowing the kid, knowing his makeup,’’ Barfield says, “none. 

“None whatsoever.’’ 

The voting

The USA TODAY Minor League Player of the Year was selected through voting on a pool of finalists by writers and editors plus a fan poll conducted on Twitter. Each staffer’s vote counted for one point. The winner of our poll (Jordan Walker) received two.

  • Diamondbacks OF Corbin Carroll – 5
  • Cardinals 3B/OF Jordan Walker – 2
  • Orioles INF Gunnar Henderson – 1
  • Dodgers INF/OF Miguel Vargas – 0 

Follow Nightengale on Twitter:  @Bnightengale