Going Deep: Dylan Carlson’s Marvelous Breakout Season

Trevor Hooth examines Cardinals prospect Dylan Carlson's breakout.

There is something about high school hitters that can be so exciting on draft day. There is also something about high school hitters that can be momentarily disappointing when their development takes a little longer. Projecting a high school bat is not an easy thing to do, but talent is talent. Sometimes, patience pays off. Enter St. Louis Cardinals outfield prospect Dylan Carlson.

Carlson is a switch-hitter who has seen an uptick in his power numbers this year at Double-A. This is a welcome sight after several years of mediocre production. Still, his peripherals in seasons past suggested a potential breakout was going to happen. Keep in mind that this power increase doesn’t have the benefit of the new MLB ball that is used in Triple-A.

When I say Carlson was mediocre before this year, I mean relative to his production this season. Before 2019 he never hit over .250, but he also never had a wRC+ under 101. So in his worst season he was measured as average at the plate. For comparison, his 2019 wRC+ is 142.

Along with the rest of baseball, Carlson has seen a major spike in his home run totals. His 21 bombs on the year is already more than his previous career high for homers in a season of 11, and his ISO is up to .237. He’s also stealing bases, for good measure, with a career-high 18.

There is a lot of excitement brewing in the outfield for the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate because of Carlson’s potential. The only question is: How sustainable is it?

The first step in answering that question is reading the words of the people who watch him frequently. For the Cardinals, you will not find a better source for prospect coverage than Kyle Reis. Here is what Reis about Carlson, who happens to be the top prospect in the St. Louis farm system in his eyes:

He’s a switch hitting Stephen Piscotty, but with a higher ceiling.
He’s a great corner outfielder that’s turned himself into an IMPRESSIVE center fielder.
He’s a great base-runner.
He’s an unmatched worker.

He has elite baseball smarts or instincts or IQ or all of those things depending on how you define all of those things. He just [understands] the game.

The high praise is warranted; just look at the numbers. However, it’s more than that. Take a look at Carlson’s swing from both sides of the plate, as shown in Reis’ article above. It’s is gorgeous. If you are wondering why that lefty swing looks familiar, that’s because it’s very similar to Cody Bellinger‘s. I know this thanks to CardinalsGifs on Twitter who, by request, put the two side by side. Disclaimer: Carlson is not Bellinger.

I have one more swing GIF to show you. Once again, thank you to CardinalsGifs for putting this together. This is Carlson side by side with himself. Lefty and righty swings:

One thing to note in that last GIF: Those pitches are in a very similar locations. You can see him turning on the ball from the left side and going with the ball to the opposite field from the right side. That being said, the swings are largely similar. From leg kick to follow-through, it’s a pretty swing on both sides.

He is flashing more power from the right side of the plate this season with seven homers in 98 at-bats. Still, his lefty swing is not hurting for power with 14 homers in 319 at-bats. Assuming you trust my math, which is a bold choice, that is a bomb every 14 at-bats from right side and 22 at-bats from the left side.

It shouldn’t be surprising that he shows that kind of pop from both sides, especially after seeing his swings. What is good about those power numbers is that it displays power to all fields, if not only from the right side of the plate. You can see in his spray chart below that only two of his 21 home runs were hit to dead-pull left field.

There are plenty of extra-base hits on that spray chart that led to a .281/.364/.518 slash line. Carlson shows good command of the strike zone as well, and he is not afraid to take a walk. In his 417 at-bats, he has a 10.8 percent walk rate. That is coupled with a 20.3 percent strikeout rate, which is a touch higher than his mark in 2018 but not enough to raise any concern.

His outstanding performance has landed him in MLB Pipelines top 100 prospects at No. 51. He is still No. 2 in the organization behind Nolan Gorman.

Now, it is just a matter of not deterring him from his development path. Yes, he is crushing it, but that does not mean MLB is the next step. It also doesn’t mean he needs to be rushed there. He was recently promoted to Triple A, but a September call-up is. He is not on the 40-man roster, and they wouldn’t want to start his service-time clock, anyway.

There is also the matter of the log jam in that outfield. Marcell Ozuna is likely on his way out next season, but that still leaves Harrison Bader, Tyler O’Neill, Lane Thomas, Dexter Fowler, Jose Martinez, and Randy Arozarena, among others, vying for an outfield spot. Oh, and apparently Yairo Munoz and Tommy Edman also play outfield now too. With Carlson being such a highly regarded prospect, the Cards should clear the path when he is ready. As of now, though, things are busy in the Busch Stadium grass.

To answer the original question: Yes, Carlson’s performance is sustainable. This guy is really good at baseball. While offensive potential is what will make Carlson a lucrative option in fantasy baseball, it is his baseball IQ that will make him an even greater asset to the Cardinals in real life. There is a reason he has been able to adequately respond to every challenge thrown at him. We were all just waiting on the inevitable breakout season to happen. It’s happening.

(Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire)

  • Avatar Tom says:

    From a fantasy perspective, should we be valuing higher than a prospect like Kirilloff at this point?

    • Avatar Trevor Hooth says:

      He is certainly climbing, but I would still take Kirilloff over Carlson. However, it is close. Especially considering proximity.

  • Avatar Fenam says:

    Good timing, promoted to AAA today.

  • Avatar Ted says:

    Trevor, you stated in the article that Carlson had several years of mediocre production. The guy is 20 years old and was almost 4 years younger than the average age in AA. He is just coming into his own as a professional player. Also, add Adolis Garcia to the outfield logjam. The Cardinals will have to cull the herd this off-season. O’Neill and Bader may be used to acquire a bona fide #2 starting pitching.

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