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Almost Ripe: Christopher Carter
Ethan Wagner, FantasyJuice.com

A quick disclaimer: It bothers me when I read an article or blog post about a prospect that leaves me wondering who exactly is writing. Is the author a scout with professional experience? Is he a baseball fan offering his own amateur scouting report? Is the writer simply regurgitating what heís read elsewhere? I am not a scout, nor will I pretend to be one.

Reliable scouting reports play a useful role in evaluating prospects, but your best bet is to read Keith Law (ESPN), Kevin Goldstein (Baseball Prospectus), and Baseball America for that kind of information. What I will try to do here is use available data to draw some statistically-based conclusions. Informed statistical analysis paired with reliable scouting reports is the key to making sound fantasy judgments about prospects.

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To kick off our 2010 Almost Ripe prospect profiles, letís start by taking a look at the Oakland Athleticsí first base slugger Christopher Carter. Carter profiles as a prototypical power-hitting 1B, having posted HR totals of 24, 39, and 24 over the last three seasons. In 2009, Carterís gaudy .337/.435/.576 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line at double-A Midland earned him Organizational Player of the Year honors. He ended the season at Triple-A, poised to reach the majors some time during 2010, possibly right out of Spring Training.

Carterís premier skill is his power but he has complemented his HR totals with similarly strong doubles production. His isolated power (ISO) Ė calculated by subtracting AVG from SLG - has been solid throughout his minor league career, peaking at .310 in 2008. For some context, Albert Pujols led the major leagues last season with a .331 ISO, with Carlos Pena next at .310. There is a good chance that as he adds to his 6í4Ē frame, some of these doubles could find their way into the seats, adding more HRs to his stats.

The other important skill Carter possesses and seems to be improving upon is his patience. His BB% has increased each year since 2006, while his K% has generally trended downward Ė including a significant 6.5% decrease from 2008 to 2009. This suggests Carter has had success learning to improve his command of the strike zone, even as he has faced more advanced pitching.

While the trend is encouraging, his K% itself is still worrying. His 2009 K% of 24.3% was still the fourth-worst in the Southern League, and we should be careful about getting overly excited about the improvement he demonstrated last season Ė it would be good to see him take another step to prove 2009ís progress wasnít an outlier.

Another caution flag to note is that itís highly unlikely Carter will produce batting averages of .330+ with any regularity, as his average last season was buoyed by an unsustainable .406 BABIP. His 2008 average of .259 is a more reasonable expectation given his contact issues and the .296 BABIP he posted that season. It doesnít seem like he will hit for a poor batting average, but if your league uses average, you wonít want to draft Carter expecting Pujols-esque production in this category based on his 2009 output.

At this point, weíve touched on some of the important strengths and weaknesses Carter brings to the table, but before we bring everything together, we should consider the situation Carter will step into in Oakland. The Oakland Coliseum, thanks in part to its spacious foul territory, has typically played as a pitchersí park, and last season was no exception as it came in at 19th best for hitters overall and 23rd for home runs.

Unfortunately for Carter, his new home stadium doesnít complement his skills very well, but this isnít something we should overreact to either. Maybe he loses a HR and a double or two during the course of a season compared to a neutral hitting environment, but itís not like the Coliseum is Petco Park, and power hitters like Jason Giambi and Frank Thomas havenít had much trouble hitting in Oakland in recent years.

It would seem Carter will have his opportunity sooner rather than later, with Daric Barton and perhaps Jake Fox being the only players ahead of him at 1B. Plus, the Aís have shown with other young players like Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill, that they arenít as interested in playing games with prospectsí service time as other teams, as the Braves and Rays demonstrated the last two seasons, holding back Tommy Hanson and Evan Longoria to delay their arbitration clocks. With the Aís unlikely to compete in 2010, itís easy to envision a scenario in which they promote Carter early and give him, say, 400 at-bats to become acclimated to starting in the big leagues.

So what does this all mean? For this season, I would consider Carter just an okay option as a backup with upside. Look for him to get a good deal of at-bats with the Aís, but expect inconsistent results Ė some power, some walks, but a lot of strikeouts and a low batting average. In other words, donít draft him expecting him to anchor the position, but heís a more attractive backup than a safer 1B like Lyle Overbay. For keeper leagues, Carter is an above-average long-term 1B who should be able to balance out his susceptibility to strike outs with an abundance of power and patience, offering 30-40 HR upside.

Source of stats used in this post: Fangraphs, ESPN.com, and Baseball-Reference.


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