Name: William Christopher Carter
History: At FutureBacks, we're Chris Carter fans, so if you're a FutureBacks reader, you've heard this before. Chris Carter was a high school stud, and kind of a geek. Not nerdy glasses and a pocket protector, but really smart. Aggravatingly smart. We digress. Coming out of high school Carter had a lot of options, and chose Stanford for their academics more than their fantastic baseball program.
When Carter didn't fit the mold Stanford was looking for, his powerful bat spent most of its time on the bench, and that allowed his name to fall all the way to the 17th round of the 2004 draft. Unlike teammates Mark Romanczuk or Carlos Quentin, Chris Carter would not enter the Diamondbacks system with expectations, except perhaps an expectation of failure.
Not if Carter could help it. Bill Plummer, now the coach of the Double-A Smokies, had Carter in the youngster's first season at Short Season Yakima and raved about his work ethic, his bat speed, his adjustments, his ability to take instruction...he basically just raved about Carter.
At Hi-A Lancaster Plummer had him again and again the raves were consistent and true. It never bothered Carter that Miguel Montero and then Stephen Drew got all the attention, because Carter was getting all the numbers. He hit nearly .300, with 21 homers and 85 RBI in just over 400 at bats. But what Carter did next was the most impressive.
He moved up and got better.
Carter went to Double-A, a place where both Montero and Drew struggled, and put up even more impressive numbers than he had in the California League. At Tennessee, he hit better for average, and has more homers and RBI per at bat than he had in Lancaster. The big league curveballs, the advanced off speed pitches, the bigger stages, none of it bothered him.
Batting and Power: "His pure power might be the best in that system," one scout said, "when he turns on a ball it just flies, but he doesn't even have to turn on a ball to hit it out. In the Southern League every pitcher with a decent fastball thought they could bust him inside, and I saw him alligator arm balls out of the park. He doesn't even have to get good wood on it to hit it out."
Guess that takes care of 'Power.'
The knock on Carter coming out of college was that he couldn't hit left handed pitching. Carter says he just never had the chance, and either that's the case, or he suddenly learned in the month between being drafted and landing in Yakima, because he's been hitting them at almost exactly the same clip as he's been hitting righties since he joined the Diamondbacks system. he's willing to go the other way, he's willing to hit behind runners, and he almost never seems to get fooled. Carter is a professional hitter, any situation, any time, he's ready with a bat in his hand.
And he improves. With Lancaster perhaps the only chink in the armor was his average with runners in scoring position and two outs, where he hit just .232. Determined to be a 'clutch' hitter no matter what, he adjusted his attitude in Tennessee and turned things around, hitting .313 in the same situations.
"He was one of the biggest surprises for us, a real bright spot between Lancaster and Tennessee," Diamondbacks Vice President and Director of Minor League Scouting Operations, Mike Rizzo said of Carter, "he made great progress hitting and defensively in left field."
Speed and Baserunning: Chris Carter will be the first to tell you that he's not very fast, and he will also inform you that he is trying to change that. After spending virtually his entire baseball life playing first base, a spot where speed is useless, Carter is now playing more and more left field, and knows that in the wide expanse of Chase Field, speed will come in mighty handy. So much of his offseason workout regimen has been spent getting faster.
He's working on jumps in the outfield, he's working on taking direct lines, and he's working on becoming the best outfielder he can be. Is he a base stealer? If his 0-3 in attempts means anything, and it does, probably not. Can he improve his wheels, certainly, and one has to expect he will.
Defense: This could be Carter's downfall, but Rizzo and the other Diamondbacks officials were pleased with his progress.
"We're loaded with position players," Rizzo said of Carter, "so being able to play the outfield, as well as first base, is a big key for Chris. At a certain point, you just have to let these guys play and see who plays through."
It also means that Carter will have to continue his improvement in the outfield. With Conor Jackson manning first for the foreseeable future, and both Carlos Quentin and Carlos Gonzales appearing to be the front runners for the corner outfield slots, Carter might have a tough time finding at bats. If he can prove he's solid at both the infield and outfield positions, he could become a valuable asset coming off the bench, at least initially, and then play his way into everyday big league action.
Projection: Projecting Chris Carter is like asking what Terrell Owens will do next year. It just depends on if he gets a chance to play or not. Expect a wide variety of AL clubs to come knocking on the Diamondbacks door in the next six months looking to pluck what could end up being a dominant DH from the NL club's stocked system. Carter has the tools to be a true cleanup hitter, scaring opposing offenses into pitching around him and taking advantage of mistakes when they are made, and his work ethic suggests that the defense will be less of an issue eight months from now than it is today. The question is not if he will get the chance, but where.
ETA: This season will be one where Carter either elevates to the top of this list, or starts slipping toward the middle. At the moment he's at least #2 on the depth chart at every position he plays, but that could change almost immediately depending on how Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzales and Cesar Nicolas start off. As a power lefty, he leaves nothing to be desired. Last season's numbers were stellar, and two years in a row of that kind of production would set him up nicely. Still, he's going to be behind Jackson at first, for the moment Scott Hairston is ahead of him in left, and barring a sudden drop off Gonzales will be nipping at his heels. Of course, Carter has never gotten anything the easy way, and one assumes he's not expecting to here either. He will get his shot in the middle of the '07 season, sooner if he ends up with another organization.