In a close vote among our staffers, 24-year-old right-handed-hitting third baseman Matt Carpenter of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals has earned The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com’s Minor League Position Player of the Year award.
Carpenter is relatively new to the Cardinals system, having been selected in the 13th round of the 2009 draft from Texas Christian University. He spent his first partial season across three levels, short-season A, Class A and A-Advanced. Carpenter returned to Palm Beach for the first month of the 2010 season but was promoted to Springfield on May 10, becoming the first member of St. Louis’ 2009 draft class to reach Double-A.
Carpenter posted a line of .316/.412/.487 in 396 at-bats and 105 games at Springfield. He accumulated 26 doubles, three triples, 12 home runs, 64 walks and 11 stolen bases in 13 attempts. Carpenter walked an average of once every 7.4 plate appearances, second-best on the club.
“What he did, the numbers he put up, were pretty impressive for a first-year full-season guy,” Springfield manager Ron “Pop” Warner noted. “I know he is a little bit older of a player, but he missed time with Tommy John surgery in college. I was really impressed with what he did. He makes adjustments. He is a hard-nosed player that likes to play the game and knows how to play the game. He did a really good job overall.”
Cardinals senior field instructor Mark DeJohn was Carpenter’s first professional manager with Batavia in 2009. He noticed a positive change this season.
“He is kind of a surprise,” DeJohn said. “I had him in Batavia, only for two or three weeks. He always used the opposite field. He always played hard. He was a contact guy – a singles, doubles kind of guy. He has come along. He has gotten better defensively. At Springfield, he obviously had a good year.”
A good year it was. Across the Texas League, Carpenter sprinted out in front of the competition in the batting race before slipping to a very respectable fourth. It was a balanced performance as he was third in on-base percentage, sixth in slugging percentage and third in OPS.
Warner saw a lot to like in Carpenter’s approach.
“He’s got a pretty good idea of what he is trying to do,” the manager noted. “He doesn’t try to pull the ball or pull off the ball. He stays on the ball really well and uses the opposite side of the field well. Guys who do that usually hit. They usually walk. They are taking what they are given and not trying to do too much with pitches that are hittable. That is what he does. He stays on the ball. He stays with pitches. He hits the pitches he wants to hit and if the pitchers make pitches on him, he is going to tip his cap and move on.”
Like any hitter, Carpenter experienced dry spells, but bounced back each time. One was around mid-season when he batted just .247 in June with the other occurring as the regular season concluded.
While rough periods are inevitable, Warner was pleased to witness the necessary adjustments being made - more than once.
“That’s the tough thing for him being a first-year, full-season guy and especially in the Texas League,” Warner explained. “You are going to have lulls. It is going to happen because guys are going to figure you out and you have to adjust to what guys are trying to do to you. He did and they adjusted and he adjusted back. It took them awhile to adjust back to him and toward the end, they adjusted to him again.”
Though his bat was cold in early September, with a .176 average that month as the regular season ended, during the playoffs Carpenter stepped up with a .400/.450/.708 line. Warner wasn’t surprised.
“In the playoffs, he had a pretty good idea of how (first-round opponent) Northwest (Arkansas) would approach him and he had a really strong series,” the manager recalled. “So it was a matter of him understanding how to make adjustments and understanding it is not about his swing and the adjustments to his swing but about how they are approaching how to get him out.”
With third base a prototypical power position, I asked Warner if we should expect to see growth in that aspect of Carpenter’s game ahead. While the manager agrees to a point, it may not be an explosion.
“I think we will see more power from him with some adjustments in his swing,” Warner said. “He is just a line-drive, gap kind of guy who will show you occasional power. He’s got the power. I have seen some long home runs hit by him, but with the way he swings right now, he is a line drive, solid contact guy. Over time, he possibly could (develop more power). Is he going to be a bonafide power guy at the major league level, I don’t know, but he is going to hit. That is for sure.”
One area that doesn’t jump off the pages of the stat sheet is defense. This was the part of Carpenter’s game which Warner showed the greatest excitement.
“He made huge strides defensively this season,” the manager said. “That, more than anything, really worked out. He just had some bad habits. He got himself into a little trouble scooping with his glove. We tried to get him a little more rhythmatic in fielding the ball. Actually, his feet worked a lot better once he understood what he was supposed to do. He really made a lot of adjustments.
“Mark DeJohn and I told him, ‘You are going to be the guy that makes the routine plays, the plays that you need to make - the ones you have to be able to make.’ He said, ‘That is what I want to be able to do.’ He worked hard at it, diligently from the start until the end, made the adjustments and got a lot better,” Warner observed.
While the improvement in defense is clearly important, DeJohn sees Carpenter’s bat as his make-or-break attribute going forward.
“I really think that the key to this kid is going to be his bat,” DeJohn said. “If he continues to hit then obviously you’d have to give him a shot there (at third base). He’s got a little below average arm but he’s very accurate. He has improved defensively. I don’t think he is going to going to be a really good defensive third baseman. I don’t think he has those kinds of skills but he gets the job done."
I asked DeJohn how Carpenter compares to a former Springfield third baseman and our 2009 system-wide player of the year, Allen Craig, who has since been converted to the outfield.
"I think he is a little more athletic than Allen Craig," DeJohn replied.
“That is a position where you are going to have to drive in runs and hit for a little bit of power. Carpenter is a real battler, the type of guy that you let him keep playing and let him tell you what he is going to do. Can we say he is our next third baseman in St. Louis? I can’t make that statement. You let him keep playing and see how far he goes. It is a matter of whether his bat gets better and he keeps improving defensively,” DeJohn said.
Carpenter was among of a group of Cardinals named to the 2010 Texas League All-Star Game and was a member of the more elite 20-man post-season All-Star squad as well. He was the circuit’s Player of the Week twice. Warner feels his third baseman has earned the opportunity to move up in 2011.
“I would say that he should compete for a job with Memphis next year,” Warner predicted. “He got enough at-bats at Double-A to warrant him getting a shot at Triple-A. It wasn’t like he was there for just half a season. He was there for pretty much the whole year. He qualified for the batting title, ending up fourth, so he warrants getting a shot at battling for a job there (Memphis) for sure.”
“He hit .300 in Double-A and I would expect him to be the third baseman in Memphis next year,” DeJohn predicted.
Warner summarized Carpenter’s fine season.
“He was one of the best players in the league and especially for a first-year, full-season player, there is a lot to be said about that,” Warner concluded.
While Carpenter is The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com 2010 Minor League Player of the Year, another Matt, Quad Cities’ first baseman Matt Adams, also had a tremendous season. Though his season ended prematurely due to injury, Adams’ .310 average and .541 slugging percentage both led the system, his 88 RBI was the second-highest total and his 22 home runs tied for second among all Cardinals minor leaguers.
Note: Link to article with all previous award winners across the system club by club as well as 2010 team recaps, exclusively for subscribers.
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Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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