The former supplemental first round pick is starting to put things together at the right time.
Watching Jake McCarthy hit in 2021, I was not impressed and thought of him as a replacement-level outfielder at best. Less than a year later, McCarthy has proven that he is capable of hitting big league pitching enough to warrant an everyday audition in the final two months of 2022.
Despite the lack of opportunities early in the year, there were signs of growth. One game that caught my attention was against Washington, where he waited back on a slider and hit a long home run to left field against a left-handed starter.
The home run wasn’t what impressed me, but the approach. We’ve seen him utilize that approach more this year and it has paid dividends for the 24-year-old outfielder. For the 2022 season, McCarthy has put up a .252/.303/.423 slash and a 105 OPS+ in 120 plate appearances.
Instead of selling out to try to get pull-side fly balls, we’re seeing McCarthy spray line drives all over the field. His line drive rate entering play on June 26th is 25.6% according to Statcast. That approach will see him hit for a solid average with the power to crush mistakes to all fields. The line drive approach has improved his quality of contact across the board. In double the sample size, McCarthy has seen his average exit velocity improve to 87.8 MPH and launch angle of 9.6°. His barrel rate has also tripled from 1.4% in 2021 to 4.5% in 2022. No matter how you slice it, McCarthy has made significant improvements in batted ball contact this season with a 78 point improvement in his xwOBA on contact from .295 to .373.
There’s still room for improvement in his strikeout and walk rates. In 2022, he has a strikeout rate of 28.3% and a walk rate of 5.8%. He will need to reduce his strikeout rate in order to maximize his offensive skill set. If he get to around 20% for the second half of the season, I believe there’s enough bat for him to be an everyday outfielder long term even with Corbin Carroll’s promotion looming. Despite a logjam of left-handed hitting outfielders, trading McCarthy before evaluating him as an everyday player would be a mistake.
The improvement in the bat plus the potential value that McCarthy has defensively and the base paths, I feel more confident in projecting him as a 2-3 WAR player. Center field won’t be his long term position, but McCarthy is capable of playing all three outfield positions well. If the team needs to give their outfielders a day off from being in the field, McCarthy can replace them in the field. Right now, it’s time to give McCarthy an audition as an everyday player and see how he performs. The team has nothing to lose by playing him, as his upside is enough that he could be a core player for the next three to four seasons.