A 17th round pick by the Diamondbacks in the 2004 draft, Carter, a first baseman/outfielder out of Stanford, put up stellar numbers during the 2004 season in the Short Season Northwest League with the Yakima Bears. He hit .336 with 15 homers and 63 RBI in 256 at bats in Yakima, and showed patience, walking 46 times while striking out only 34 times. His season was nice, solid, but frankly, it was in Short Season A ball, and though he made a cameo appearance with the Lo-A South Bend Silverhawks during the 2004 playoffs it came as a surprise this season when the Diamondbacks had him skip Lo-A and move directly to the Hi-A California League and their Lancaster squad.
Apparently Mike Rizzo and Bob Miller have their jobs for a reason, though even Rizzo admits that Carter's season opened some eyes.
"It was one of the brightest surprises we had this year," Rizzo says, "his season in Lancaster, and then at Double-A, was really fantastic."
Though he was consistently overshadowed by Miguel Montero during the first half of the season, Carter's numbers at Lancaster were great. He hit .296 with 21 homers and 85 RBI during the first four months of the year at Lancaster, and most notably Carter hung in against lefties, hitting .294 against southpaws.
That stat is telling, because the ability to hit lefties was a prime reason Carter dropped so far in the draft. At Stanford Carter played sparingly, and almost never against left handed pitching. The scouting report was definitive, he couldn't hit lefties, and his work ethic was questioned consistently.
"He is at the park early every day," Bill Plummer, who managed Carter at Yakima last season and at Lancaster this year, "and he works as hard as anybody I've seen. He really plays the game the right way."
That phrase, 'playing the game the right way,' is usually impossible to measure in numbers, but Carter's numbers this season certainly showed he could at the very least 'play the game.' What was amazing about Carter, and eventually set him apart from Montero and everybody else, were his numbers after a promotion to Double-A Tennessee.
Generally considered the biggest jump in the minors, the bump from Hi-A to Double-A has been the downfall of many a prospect. This season alone two of the Diamondbacks most highly thought of players, Montero and Drew, made the bump. Montero hit .349 with 24 homers in 355 Hi-A at bats. At the time of his promotion he was among the Minor League leaders in average, hits, homers, RBI, runs scored and extra base hits. In Double-A things didn't go as well. After the promotion he hit just .250, with two homers in 108 at bats.
Drew's drop off was similar. After hitting .389 with 10 dingers in 149 at bats in Lancaster he was quickly moved up and suffered. Though he was battling injuries, Drew hit just .218 with four homers in 101 Double-A at bats. Two top prospects, having monster seasons in the California League, who struggled in their time in the Southern League.
Carter on the other hand found no such difficulties. In just 128 Southern League at bats Carter was on fire. He hit .297, a point better than in his time in Lancaster, and turned on 10 home runs in just 128 at bats. That's one home run in 13 at bats in Double-A, compared to a dinger once every 19.6 at bats at Lancaster. And the long ball wasn't the only place Carter improved. He had a higher average against lefties, with runners in scoring position, and with runners on and two outs during his time in the Southern League.
"You look at the numbers for Chris Carter," says Diamondbacks Director of Scouting Mike Rizzo, "and you watch him at the plate, the ball just jumps off this guy's bat."
One of the things coaches and scouts continue to praise Carter about is his ability to address deficiencies in his own game. At Lancaster the one thing you heard again and again was that Carter could make more contact. It wasn't that his 66 Ks were outrageous, for a power hitter that number is very respectable in 412 at bats, but he walked only 46 times, and coaches looked for him to be a little more selective.
Talk about a quick adjustment. In the Southern League, where the pitching is among the best in the minors, Carter got a handle on the zone that he wouldn't release. He walked 19 times in his 128 Southern League at bats, and more to the point, struck out just 11 times. Though he actually struck out more often in Double-A, once every 11.6 at bats versus once every 6.2 at bats Lancaster, by taking pitchers deeper in counts, and trusting his ability to make contact with two strikes, he showed scouts and coaches that if they had a request, in this case that he show a better command of the strike zone, he would listen and make the change.
It was that ability to move up and excel that put Carter over the top for FutureBacks. As far as prospects are concerned, the final numbers are often not as important as the progress made. Carter still has a major roadblock to overcome before he can start thinking about suiting up for the big league club, and that is his defense. He is a just average fielder at first base, and his weak arm and lack of speed makes him a below average left fielder, but once again, Carter has placed himself in a position where he knows what he needs to do, and past experience suggests he will get it done. Carter is currently in Tucson, working in the Instructional League, and the focus is on defense.
"We feel he made great improvement defensively at both first base and in left field," Rizzo says. "If he comes down here to Instructs and starts making plays at first, or in left, that he hasn't made before, it could be a big step forward for him."
Did James get it right? Is Carter really the Prospect of the Year? Email Managing Editor James Renwick at FutureBacks@cox.net with your opinions. The best emails will get printed in our final roundup of the Diamondbacks Minor League Player of the Year categories.