FORT MYERS, Fla. — Brett Carroll was sitting inside the cramped visitors clubhouse at jetBlue Park before the Washington Nationals 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox when manager Davey Johnson sidled up to him and casually gave him the only news he wanted to hear.
“Oh by the way,” Johnson said to Carroll, as if his next words were going to be something as simple as “I might need you center today.”
“You’re on the 25-man,” he continued. “You’re breaking with us.”
Carroll burst out laughing retelling the story a few hours later to a group of reporters. “Short and sweet,” he said.
But as nonchalantly as the message was delivered, it was received with much more weight.
Carroll spent the 2011 season bouncing around Triple-A for three different teams. The 29-year-old went to camp with the Kansas City Royals, opened the season in the Milwaukee Brewers organization and ended the year hoping for a September call-up from the Red Sox. He went from a lifelong Marlin to a journeyman in a matter of months. One morning this spring he was asked the question he’d been asking himself for about a year: How’d that happen? He just shrugged his shoulders.
This winter, as Carroll looked at his options for the upcoming year, he thought about himself as a player and he pondered the untapped potential he may still have. Carroll made his major league debut at the age of 24, called up for about a month by the Marlins, and since that time it’s been an up-and-down battle for consistency and playing time.
As hectic as the 2011 season was for him, it presented him an opportunity to play everyday in Triple-A for much of the year and that’s when he realized there may still be more of his game to develop.
“I’m really excited of what’s to come,” Carroll said Monday. “I really feel like this is going to be a big break, for my career, but also just being a part of a special team like this… I can’t put that into words, really, it’s just kind of a feeling.”
The opportunity the Nationals presented him with this winter was one in which he could take as far as his talents would carry him. With their center field position unsettled at the time and an unsure situation surrounding the major league debut of Bryce Harper, there were a lot of moving parts in their outfield. Carroll would have a chance to make an impact — and if it wasn’t at the major league level, then he could play every day in Triple-A and maybe be a valuable part of a trade.
Since Day 1 of spring training Johnson has lauded Carroll for his work. As Michael Morse, and then Rick Ankiel went down with injuries, Carroll’s playing time increased, as did his stock. He learned last year that things can change quickly and without warning but he got the news he wanted on Monday. If he continues working the way he feels he can, it might be a while before he hears the news every player’s trying to avoid.
“I really do (feel like I haven’t reached my full potential as a player),” Carroll said. “There’s some guys (on this team) that have even said that to me as well and that’s always encouraging. Even some veterans have said, ‘There’s more of a ceiling there that you can tap into.’ Potential is a tricky thing but I do believe that I’m more the player that I want to be and I’ve got to continue to grow and mature and be better.”