Prospect of the Day: Matt Carpenter, 1B-3B, St. Louis Cardinals
With veteran Lance Berkman injured, the St. Louis Cardinals have turned to rookie Matt Carpenter to fill the gap in the lineup. So far the results have been excellent: Carpenter is hitting .409/.417/.818 in his first eight games. Overshadowed by fellow prospects Matt Adams and Zack Cox, Carpenter didn't receive a lot of pre-season hype. Is his success sustainable?
Matt Carpenter first drew notice by hitting .289/.391/.366 in 50 games as a freshman for Texas Christian in 2005. He followed that up with a fine sophomore campaign in '06 (.349/.432/.411, nice OBP but no power), but had to take an injury redshirt in 2007. He returned to hit .283/.381/.522 with 11 homers in 2008, then .333/.472/.662 with 11 homers as a fifth-year senior in 2009.
Carpenter was already 23 on draft day and while the Cardinals expended a 13th round pick on him, he received a microscopic $1,000 penny-pinch bonus due to his lack of leverage. This has been a terrific investment for the Cardinals. He began his pro career with a .295/.405/.390 run for Quad Cities in the Midwest League, then hit .316/.412/.487 with 12 homers and 64 walks for Double-A Springfield in 2010. He spent 2011 with Triple-A Memphis, hitting .300/.417/.463 with 12 homers and 84 walks. Although he went just 1-for-15 in a seven-game major league trial last June, he was outstanding in spring training this year (.357/.438/.661) and earned his way onto the roster.
Carpenter is a 6-3, 200 pound left-handed hitter, born November 26, 1985. At age 26 he is older than the typical rookie, but he's done nothing but hit in pro ball, showing an excellent batting eye, a low strikeout rate, and doubles power. He isn't going to hit a huge number of home runs, but he's hardly punchless and should sustain a good batting average and on-base percentage.
Scouts have never been wild about his glove at third base, pointing out below average speed and rating his range and arm as fringy. Interestingly, despite these mediocre reports, his defensive statistics at third base have always been quite good, with a low error rate and solid range indicators. I've seen him look quite good on defense, making difficult plays as well as the routine ones, and scouts have gradually come around on the idea that his glove is at least adequate. The Cardinals are using him at first base right now, and he can also play a corner outfield spot in an emergency.
Overall, while Carpenter doesn't have flashy superstar tools, he has a great feel for the game and an admirable performance record. He's not going to hit .400 all year or crush 20 homers, but his ability to hit for average and get on base is quite real.