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40 in 40: Dominic Canzone is on the precipice

There’s a lot to like in the young outfielder’s profile, but after an up-and-down 2023, what can he do to step up his game?

Seattle Mariners v New York Mets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

I’ll get this out of the way right off the bat - being wary of Dominic Canzone is understandable. Fairly or not, he’ll be linked to the polarizing Paul Sewald trade that saw Seattle’s beloved closer shipped to Arizona at the trade deadline last year - after which Sewald became a key part of the Diamondbacks’ run to the World Series (let’s, uh, not bring up the Fall Classic itself) - for a trio of question marks, and he arguably remains the biggest one. Josh Rojas enjoyed a nice second-half bounceback with the M’s - as Jacob wrote last week, that bounceback could stay rolling into 2024 - while Ryan Bliss saw his prospect stock climb down the stretch thanks to a sizzling finish in Tacoma and a showing in the Arizona Fall League that turned some heads, particularly with his glovework. Canzone, however, had an uneven first year in the big leagues at age 26, and although he brings a consistent track record of success at the plate throughout the minor leagues, is far from a sure thing.

Nevertheless, he comes into 2024 on the precipice of being a starter - a concept that invokes either excitement or anxiety depending on who you ask.

Drafted in the ninth round in 2019 out of Ohio State University, Canzone was initially assigned to rookie ball despite a big junior year, and quickly outgrew the Pioneer League. Mashing his way to a 140 wRC+ and an ISO north of .300 over 103 trips to the plate, he earned a promotion to the Hillsboro Hops - back then still a short-season team - and finished the season there, putting up an unspectacular 110 wRC+ before COVID washed away the 2020 minor league season.

The Diamondbacks showed confidence in him, though, starting him back in newly-minted High-A Hillsboro, and while Canzone’s wRC+ mark only went up by a few points, he was aggressively promoted to Double-A Amarillo near the end of July. Yes, the Texas League is pretty hitter-friendly, and Amarillo is arguably the biggest hitter’s paradise of them all. Still, he destroyed Double-A pitching, finishing 2021 with a 171 wRC+ and topping 200 in 15 games to there to start 2022, which earned him a promotion to Triple-A Reno.

Canzone didn’t crack the bigs that year, but after laying waste to the Pacific Coast League across 71 games in 2023 - sporting a 151 wRC+ and teeny 12.3% K-rate in the process - he got the call in July, playing in 15 games with the Diamondbacks before the trade. Although he didn’t wow at the plate, slashing .237/.293/.368, he did have a couple highlights, such as bashing his first big league homer off of Spencer Strider and delivering a game-winning hit against his future team just a couple days before joining them.

Canzone enjoyed regular playing time after coming aboard S.S. Mariner, getting into 44 of 56 games to finish out the year, and we saw plenty of flashes that made it clear why he was a target in those 141 plate appearances. For one, he can absolutely pulverize the ball - and bring an 80-grade bat drop - as we saw in his first home run as a Mariner.

He was also fairly adept at both pulling the ball and getting it in the air: a skillset that can certainly pay big dividends in Seattle’s home park as a lefty swinger.

Canzone’s batted ball spray chart, 2023
Baseball Savant

Amidst a squad chock full of strikeout-happy hitters, Canzone’s contract-oriented approach was a breath of fresh air. His 17% strikeout rate trailed only Sam Haggerty (!) for lowest among all Mariners hitters who reached at least 100 plate appearances, and he notched more extra-base hits than singles - eleven doubles and five dingers compared to a baker’s dozen singles. He also displayed a strong arm in the outfield (88th percentile arm strength!), and showed he could pull off a flashy play or two in the grass.

Delightful highlight reel aside, however, Canzone is not without red flags. As great as the sub-20% K-rate and accompanying power were to see, both were undercut by an abundance of quick outs - in fact, his 3.27 pitches per plate appearance and 4.3% walk rate were both the lowest marks on the team. Watching him regularly down the stretch, he didn’t swing and miss a ton, but chased pitches every which way out of the zone, paying the price of an early-count groundout or pop up all too often. While he definitely got a bit unlucky, carrying just a .227 BABIP in Seattle, it was clear that his lack of plate discipline was holding him back, and he turned in a .215/.248/.407 slash to pair with a 79 wRC+ as a Mariner; just one point below his mark as a D’Back.

Just because you can put those balls in play, Dom, doesn’t mean you should.
Baseball Savant

Powerful arm and pair of preposterous catches aside, Canzone hasn’t graded out as a great defender, either. Even in that first all-out grab, it’s easy to tell that he didn’t get the best read off the bat, and his range in both outfield corners looked to be below-average, especially in the cavernous left field of T-Mobile Park. Outs Above Average wasn’t kind to him, either - with the evergreen caveat that defensive metrics in small sample are murky at best, he graded out at a composite -2 in the corners. He’s no Jesse Winker in the field, but it’s tough to see his defensive ceiling as anything more than an average corner outfielder at this point.

Despite it all, though, I - and the Mariners - remain high on Dominic Canzone. Things could very well change between now and pitchers and catchers reporting in just over a month, but as of this writing, he should pencil in as the strong side of a platoon in right field, with old friend and fellow former Diamondback himself Mitch Haniger returning to cover the short side. Improving one’s plate discipline is no small task, to be sure, but new hitting coach Brant Brown was brought in explicitly to help out the team’s approach, and if Canzone can make some strides in that department, that blend of power and bat-to-ball skills could be a treat to watch all summer. And besides, after the departure of Matt Festa, somebody has to take up the finger pinch mantle.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Seattle Mariners Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports