It has been a number of years since an Oakland A's minor league prospect put up the kind of numbers that Chris Carter did in 2009. Overall, Carter batted .329 with 28 homers and 115 RBIs. He was particularly impressive in his 125 games with the Double-A Midland Rockhounds, when he hit .337 with 24 homers and 101 RBIs. That effort earned Carter the Texas League's Most Valuable Player award, the Oakland A's Minor League Player of the Year award and MiLB.com's Best Minor League Hitter Award.
"It was an honor. It felt good because I knew all of the hard work that I put in paid off in the end," Carter said.
Carter would spend the final two weeks of the 2009 season with the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats. He hit only .259 with four homers in 13 games with Sacramento during the regular season, but he was a force for the River Cats during the Pacific Coast League playoffs, when he hit .296 with a league-leading four homeruns in only seven games.
Although Carter was glad to have been given a taste of Triple-A baseball in 2009, it was hard for him to watch his Rockhounds' teammates take the Texas League title without him. Many of his teammates in Midland were also his teammates with High-A Stockton in 2008, when the Ports won the California League championship and Carter hit 44 homeruns.
"It was exciting to be up here [with Sacramento], but it would have been nice to be there [in Midland] as well. We won it all the year before that in Stockton and it was pretty much the same team. It's a good group of guys. I knew all of them and played with all of them for awhile. I feel like we have a pretty good bond," Carter said.
Originally drafted in 2006 by the Chicago White Sox, Carter was traded twice before the 2008 season, first to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Carlos Quentin and then as part of a six-player package from Arizona to the A's for pitchers Dan Haren and Connor Robertson. Since coming to the A's organization, Carter has done nothing but win and hit homeruns. During his first two seasons, including the post-season, Carter hit 74 homeruns and earned two league championship rings.
The start of the 2010 season has been a bit more up-and-down, both for Carter and his River Cats' teammates. Through Friday, the River Cats are 15-21 and Carter is batting only .250, although he does have nine homeruns and an 828 OPS. Carter has been especially struggling of late, batting under .200 over his last 10 games however, he has still managed to homer three times and drive-in 14 runs during that time.
"This year I started off not so hot, then I got hot for a bit and now I'm struggling a bit, but overall I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm having good at-bats still," Carter said.
Being in the Pacific Coast League allowed Carter to play in front of friends and family in his hometown of Las Vegas for the first time in his professional career. Carter hit two homers and had five hits during the four-game series in Vegas in late April.
"It was great. I had about 200 people there with me for the first couple of games [on Saturday and Sunday]. Everyone came out, and I had a lot of family come out for the Monday and Tuesday games. It was great to finally have them see me play and I played well," Carter said.
Offensively, there isn't much left for Carter to improve upon. He has been working on his timing at the plate, making sure that he gets his foot down on time so that he is ready to hit every pitch. However, defensively, he has had a lot more to work on. A third baseman in high school, Carter has been searching for a permanent defensive position since turning pro. He was mostly a first baseman in the White Sox's chain, but the A's have tried him out at third and in the outfield, in addition to first base. It appears that Carter has found a permanent home at first, however.
"It's pretty much strictly first base and a little bit of outfield when I can," Carter said.
"I feel fine over at first now. That wasn't my natural position, but since I moved over there, going to big league camp and working with the coaches really helped me a lot."
Carter was added to the A's 40-man roster this past off-season and he was a non-roster invitee to big league camp in 2009. He has found his time in big league camp the past two years to be invaluable.
"It was good just being there with the atmosphere and getting to talk to some of the guys," Carter said.
"Having Eric Chavez work at first base with me was really helpful. I just spent a lot of time talking to him and asking him about what he did over at third and what he is doing at first and things like that. Also having [Daric] Barton over there. He's been there for a little bit, so it was good to get to know some things that I didn't know before."
If Carter becomes a star with the A's, he will have some help handling that role. His agent is former A's ace Dave Stewart, who was another player who didn't need to do a whole lot of talking to be intimidating.
"He has given me a lot of advice. He was a pitcher, of course, so it is a little different when we talk about me hitting but as far as being mentally tough and things outside of baseball along with what is going on on the field, he's helped me out with a lot of that," Carter said.