A's Carter pays immediate dividends
Slugger earns MiLBY for Overall Minor League Hitter
Oakland Athletics first base prospect Chris Carter certainly set the bar high for himself in 2008.
In his first year in the system after coming over as part of the six-prospect package the A's received from Arizona for ace Dan Haren in December 2007, Carter headed to Class A Advanced Stockton.
There he earned the organization's 2008 Minor League Player of the Year honor after hitting .259 with 39 homers (second in the Minors), 104 RBIs, 101 runs scored and a .569 slugging percentage.
In 2009, he not only managed to reach that bar but he exceeded it. And in doing so, he picked up the MiLBY for Overall Minor League Hitter of the Year.
Spending most of the season at Double-A Midland, Carter raised his average nearly 80 points, hitting .337 with 24 homers and 101 RBIs in 125 games. His .576 slugging percentage, 67 extra-base hits, 41 doubles and 108 runs scored led the Texas League.
Carter also earned the A's Player of the Year honor for the second year in a row and nabbed Texas League MVP laurels as well.
Adding in his numbers from a brief Triple-A debut at Sacramento at season's end, Carter's final stat line reads .329, 28 homers and 115 RBIs in 138 games. He led the Minors with 179 hits, tied for the Minor League lead in total bases (310), ranked second in RBIs and extra-base hits and finished third in runs scored.
He achieved all of this at age 22, leading the Oakland system as well in doubles (43), walks (85) and slugging (.570).
He also added 13 steals, though speed is not the forte of the 6-foot-4 225-pounder, and drew 82 walks in 125 games at Midland. After starting "slow" with a .296 average in April and a .288 mark in May, he torched the ball when the temperature rose, hitting .324 in June, .365 in July and .424 in August.
Originally a 15th-round pick in 2005 out of high school in Las Vegas by the Chicago White Sox, Carter was dealt first to Arizona during the 2007-08 offseason for outfielder Carlos Quentin and then, two weeks later, to Arizona.
Though he hit just .259 in 13 games at Sacramento as he got his Triple-A bearings, he had four multi-hit games. That included arguably his best game of the year Aug. 31, when he hit three homers and drove in seven runs against Reno (D-backs).
Power has always been a hallmark of Carter's game, dating back to his 10 homers at short-season Bristol in his 2005 pro debut, but the now-23-year-old has started to develop the plate discipline and focus to complement his remarkable bat speed.
His average this year reflected that.
The accomplishments he's reached over two years in the organization, coupled with the strides he made in some key intangible areas in '09, have placed him firmly in the Athletics' big league picture at first base in the not-too-distant future.
In fact, with all of his amazing numbers, what impressed Oakland player development director Keith Lieppman most this season was the development Carter made in his focus and intensity.
"The biggest change I've seen in him this year is how his intensity level has really gone up," Lieppman said. "He doesn't give at-bats away, he focuses on every pitch. It's something he had to learn to do because deep down he knows he can hit, but because of that sometimes he'd take an at-bat for granted. This year he never exhibited that."
Lieppman thinks that, more than anything, contributed to the huge rise in average.
"He grinds out every at-bat now," he said. "He's already good, but now he's starting to visualize what he could become."
Carter acknowledges that as well.
"For me, it was strike-zone discipline and learning to make pitchers pitch to me instead of just swinging at anything close they threw in there," he said.
When asked about which of his many accomplishments in 2009 he was most proud, his answer was not a particular stat.
"Just being consistent every day and not letting up," he said. And the fact that he got hotter when most players would have hit the wall? He gives a nod to his Vegas roots. "It gets pretty hot here in the summer, so this wasn't too much of a stretch."
Last season, he hit .333 with two doubles in eight games in big league Spring Training when he was occasionally brought over for an afternoon. But this year will mark not only his first time on a 40-man roster, but his first official big league Spring Training stint.
He's been getting ready for it by getting into shape at home -- working out, lifting weights and running -- as well as practicing some outfield skills.
In all likelihood, his April destination would be a return to Sacramento for now, but the possibility of breaking camp with the A's as their first baseman is not far-fetched.
The team is focused on an upcoming youth movement. Last year three pitchers broke with the team to make their big league debuts, including eventual American League Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey and vote-getting southpaw Brett Anderson (who came over with Carter in the Haren deal). This year could be the year of the rookie hitters.
"He got a taste of Triple-A and did well in the playoffs, so that was his first hurdle, and once he gets familiar with a level he makes adjustments quickly," Lieppman said. "My sense is that he's further down the road than we might have thought and is capable of rising to the occasion. It will be a battle, but he's certainly right there in it."
In a perfect world, the club wouldn't mind seeing Carter get more Triple-A reps, and they have young Daric Barton who can man first base. But A's fans will be excited about seeing Carter, and they'll get to do so this spring.
"The organization will do what they feel is in his best interest, that is the one thing we look for," Lieppman said. "But he's certainly on the forefront of being there."
Knowing that he heads into his first big league Spring Training so close to achieving his goal has helped Carter's motivation, not that he needed much help in that department.
"Knowing I'm so close keeps me working harder every day trying to get there," he said.
Lisa Winston is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.