CLINTON — Daniel Carroll is back in Clinton, back in the Midwest League, something he wouldn’t have imagined a year ago. A former high-round pick by the Seattle Mariners, Carroll envisioned a quicker rise through the team’s minor-league system. Here he is, though, starting his third season in the Class A Midwest League, back for his second stint with the Clinton LumberKings. It was tough enough to swallow last year, when Carroll was thinking about bigger and better things. Despite injuries, he had put together a decent season in 2008 for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (then the Mariners’ Midwest League affiliate) and followed it with strong spring in 2009. Injuries again slowed Carroll all of last season, limiting the outfielder to 75 games with Clinton. He returns to the LumberKings this season, healthy, confident and with a different attitude. “It never feels good to go to the same place twice. I’m sure everybody can attest to that,” Carroll said Monday before the team’s first workout at Alliant Energy Field. The LumberKings open the season at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at home against Peoria. “I’m here and just taking it as another opportunity to play baseball,” Carroll added. “Anybody would love to be playing professional baseball. Whether I’m playing here or at the next level, I’m getting to do what I love. I’m going to go out every day with that attitude and play hard.” A third-round pick — 105th overall — by the Mariners in 2007, Carroll found success almost immediately after signing. He batted .323 in rookie ball that year, started the 2008 season with Wisconsin and played the final 17 games that season with Seattle’s high-A affiliate at High Desert. Carroll, 21, and in his fourth professional season is one of most veteran players with the LumberKings. He’s hoping to use that to his advantage this season. “I don’t know how to explain it, but I have a confidence already knowing everything that’s to be expected,” said Carroll, from Moreno Valley, Calif. “There’s really no surprises. On this team I feel like I can be more of a leader since I’ve been here before.” Carroll’s injuries are numerous the past two seasons and the time missed extensive. He broke a bone in left hand after being hit by a pitch early in 2008 with Wisconsin, leaving him out of action after hitting around .350 the first month. He returned after the all-star break but never was at full strength, later finding the hand hadn’t healed properly and a tendon in his left wrist was pulling away from the bone. He hit .248 in 60 games with the Timber Rattlers. Carroll then pulled a groin in his first game last season with Clinton, causing him to miss about three weeks. He went through a slump, then broke his thumb and missed another two months. He played 75 games with the LumberKings last season, batting just .220. “It’s been a lot of hand injuries, and your hands are so crucial when you hit,” Carroll said. “It’s been difficult. My swing has been changing subconsciously, and it’s been hard to find that niche and groove that I was in at one time.” Clinton manager John Tamargo said Carroll had worked on new things this spring, especially at the plate, and hopes they work in his favor, acknowledging the roller-coaster ride it’s been for the young player. “He’s got good speed and he’s a good outfielder. He’s definitely got some tools,” Tamargo said. “Hopefully we can get him settled in and get him some playing time and see how he does.” Carroll said he felt good throughout spring training and believes his batting stroke is where it needs to be. He’s confident 2010 will be a good season. “It’s absolutely coming back” he said. “It’s there. I know it’s there. I’m a natural hitter. It’s a God-given gift. I know I can do this. I’m just going to go out and play hard every day and have fun and not press.” That, Carroll said, is what he did in the past. Expectations he placed on himself and simply from being a high draft pick have been tough to live up to. The entire experience has changed him, but Carroll hasn’t changed his expectations. “It’s a big, huge, humbling experience,” Carroll said. “I’ve gone through something nobody would ever choose for themselves. My first years were so fruitful statistic-wise. I was really blessed. I got hit hard with injuries and some really bad luck. “I’m a Christian, so I think everything in my life is in God’s hands. I wouldn’t trade any of it. It’s made me a stronger person and who I am today in every way. I’ve learned so many things, so many lessons that will be crucial when I do get to the big leagues.”
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