Corbin Carroll ’19 on Early MLB Success

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“A good percentage for a hitter is to succeed 30% of the time,” explains Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Corbin Carroll ’19. “I fail every day. That’s part of baseball.” Carroll was within days of graduating from Lakeside when the Diamondbacks drafted him 16th overall in the 2019 MLB draft. Now the third-ranked prospect in all of baseball, Carroll credits discipline, self-awareness, and internal drive for his rapid growth as a player. “You’ve got to be an honest self-evaluator and be able to gain something from those failures,” he says. “I want to be my biggest self-critic.” 

After years of anticipation in the Minors, Carroll made his MLB debut this past August, scoring a hit and batting in two runs to assist in the D-Backs’ historic 13-7 comeback win against the Philadelphia Phillies. He has since made splash after splash, as his already above-league-average .830 “on-base plus slugging” percentage (OPS), a telling stat for a hitter, indicates. Aside from confusing baseball statistics, Carroll smashed four home runs and recorded the MLB’s fastest sprint speed around bases this past season at a whopping 30.7 feet per second, or 20.9 miles per hour. But before he would stand out in the big leagues, or even the minors, Carroll would have to first prove his potential at the select and high school level. 

In his earlier days, Carroll played baseball, soccer, tennis, and even dabbled in football freshman year. However, soccer and baseball both played in the spring, so Carroll had to decide between the two—except that he didn’t. “It wasn’t even a decision. It was just, ‘Okay, soccer has to stop now,’” he says. “It wasn’t about just being good;” for Carroll, passion was key as he began devoting more and more time to baseball. Before long, professional scouts started to take notice, and Carroll’s stock soared. He committed to UCLA after sophomore year, but his draft stock had risen so high ahead of the 2019 MLB Draft that he chose to go pro straight out of high school instead. Less than three weeks after graduation, Carroll played his first professional baseball game. 

Carroll would finally debut for the D-Backs just 1183 days after being drafted.”

In a little over two months of playing Rookie and Low-A level, Carroll blasted four homers for Diamondbacks’ affiliates, on track to climb into High-A level the next season — until the pandemic struck, and the 2020 Minor League season was canceled altogether. Upon the MiLB’s return, Carroll hit a home run in his first six games for the High-A Hillsboro Hops. In just his seventh game back, Carroll threw out his shoulder as he crushed another ball out of the park. He would need season-ending surgery. 

But for Carroll, though his  season had ended, he continued to make the most of his time off of the field: “For me, that was sitting down at the beginning of my injury, brainstorming every way I could possibly think of to use the time to get better, and explore some avenues that maybe I wouldn’t have been able to if I was playing.” He reexamined every minute detail of his game on and off the field, including vision training, sleep habits, nutrition, his blood work, and data from wearable technology. Always a student of the game, he also spent time alongside the D-Backs’ scouts and front office to learn beyond the baseball field. On top of that, Carroll enrolled in finance courses at Arizona State University to further his education.  

Carroll was cleared to return before the 2022 MiLB season kicked off in April and hit the ground running in Double-A, a tier above High-A. Just three months later in July, Carroll moved up to Triple-A. He would finally debut for the D-Backs just 1183 days after being drafted; according to The Athletic, the median time for high school players drafted in the top twenty picks like Carroll is 1458 days, measured from 2000 to 2018. Amazingly, Carroll beat this margin by 275 days, including time off during the pandemic and his shoulder injury. It’s no surprise that the MLB’s website ranks Carroll as a top three prospect in all of baseball.

“Overall, it just felt like a lot of experiences and valuable insights gained this last year: three stops, and three completely different sets of people,” says Carroll. “In the moment, sometimes it can feel really fast,” he says, but Carroll emphasizes the need to stay present as his career progresses and to “take more from experiences than I would’ve if I was just going through the motions.” 

Carroll elaborated on his learning process: as a goal-setter, he continually measures himself against the best in the world. He wasn’t ready to reveal his specific goals, though. “I don’t really get into those with people,” he says; for him, keeping goals internal holds a lot of power. Sticking with his values and internal process is what evens out the highs and lows, he explains, rather than being results-focused. “External validation can feel really good, but it’s not consistent—any chance people get, they’re going to tear you down,” Carroll says, referring to social media. “You see people who rely on [validation]. It can destroy them.” While Carroll admits he still enjoys scrolling through Twitter, he regards it as a means to be aware, rather than validated, and constantly evaluates the effects of his engagement.

Carroll threw out his shoulder as he crushed another ball out of the park. He would need season-ending surgery.”

But awareness, Carroll explains, is nuanced. Within baseball, “there’s two sections of people,” Carroll says: those that rely on natural talent alone and those who are naturally talented but also extremely disciplined. But there’s no correct approach to success, says Carroll, even with the undisciplined players: “There’s a little bit of obliviousness there—and that helps. I think some of the people who have trouble are people who are more on the undisciplined side, and they know it. Because that eats at you and your self confidence.” For Carroll, confidence is key; “My big mantra is ‘filter is everything.’” In the MLB, “you get thrown so much information: so many people’s opinions, so much different data,” he explains, “and you’ve got to have a developed self-confidence to be able to filter that out and decide what will work for you and what won’t… You’ve got to be self-aware enough to realize when that process needs tweaking, and be okay making mistakes. That ability to not second guess is huge.” 

Clichéd as it might sound, Carroll credits his “filter” mantra back to something he learned at Lakeside—critical thinking. As one might guess, Carroll values education more than your typical pro athlete. “Out of high school I was going to college to do a kinesiology track,” he explains, inspired by his favorite class at Lakeside: physiology, taught by Dr. Abrey. But when he enrolled as an ASU-Tempe student, Carroll realized that finance, and financial literacy, would serve him both during and after his baseball career.  

Even having made it to the MLB, Carroll has never taken his baseball career for granted. Despite his $3.745 million signing bonus after the 2019 draft, in a previous interview, when asked if he had splurged or bought anything at all, Carroll laughed. “Nothing. I’ve been living off the Minor League salary,” he replied. Since then, Carroll has changed his habits, if only a little. “A Major League career can only be so long. Money spent upfront to make sure that the career continues as long as it naturally can — I think that’s money well spent,” explains Carroll. Still, “I buy nice groceries, I’ll invest in some different workout stuff,” is all Carroll mentioned—evidently, his self-discipline extends not just to baseball, but to lifestyle as well. 

“In my mind there’s absolutely no sense of arrival or finality to get to the big leagues for the first time this year,” says Carroll. Rather than complacency, Carroll’s word for this offseason is “growth.” “I wrote down a big hit list of all the points that I wanted to work on,” he explains: everything from water intake, mindfulness, and sleep routines to balance and forearm strengthening. Whatever the item, routine, rather than one-off exercise, is king, Carroll explains. Seeking optimization, his schedule is in a constant state of trial and turnover, deciding which parts of his routine have long term value and which don’t. “A big thing for me is that whatever weakness I have, I want to make it my strength, because that’s where the biggest area for growth is.” That’s the kind of attitude that could enable Carroll to one day become a star in the big leagues.