Is Chris Carter the Answer at First Base for the Oakland A's?

Jimmy HascupCorrespondent IJanuary 28, 2010

ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 12: U.S. Futures All-Star Chris Carter of the Oakland Athletics steps to the plate during the 2009 XM All-Star Futures Game at Busch Stadium on July 12, 2009 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

While the Oakland Athletics have been in the news quite a bit lately, with one of their top prospects, Grant Desme, entering priesthood and recently dishing out $10 million to an oft-injured Ben Sheets, there is one thing that has remained constant: the A’s lack of firepower in their lineup.

Even though I won’t ignore the commonly held mantra that pitching and defense wins championships, it’s not difficult to see that the A’s desperately need a big power threat in their lineup.

The last time they made it to the playoffs (2006) was a year that they had three players with 20 home runs or more. The past three seasons, they’ve had one in each: Nick Swisher once and Jack Cust the past two years.

Now Jake Fox has been brought in to compete for at-bats at DH. Neither Cust nor Fox is competent in the field, so they’ll likely vie for that role only.

Still, the A’s would be left with—again—just one real power source in their lineup. That’s why it may be time for one of their best prospects, Chris Carter, acquired in the Dan Haren trade, to grace the big show.

Let’s take a look at what he did in Double-A last season:

490 At-Bats

.337 Batting Average (165 Hits)

24 Home Runs

101 RBI

108 Runs

13 Stolen Bases

.435 On-Base Percentage

.576 Slugging Percentage

.406 Batting Average on Balls in Play

Add in 54 more at-bats during his promotion to Triple-A, along with another four home runs and 14 RBI, and Carter’s calling-card to the MLB becomes pretty obvious. However, he managed just a .259 average at Triple-A, with a .278 BABIP. Carter also played some winter ball: in 66 AB, he hit .212, with five HR and 10 RBI.

Let’s just get right to the red-flags when it comes to Carter’s game. For one, the man is an imposing figure at the plate: 6′4″ 220 lbs., and as a result he becomes a little swing-happy, and makes less contact then he should.

Let’s just say he struck out 160 times in all of his combined at-bats this season. He also had 156 strikeouts and 112 strikeouts over the past two years.

Even though his strikeout percentage has decreased slightly each season, he needs to work on making more contact. An article on cites a scout’s take on Carter’s swing: “Obviously he profiles as a 1B with the huge power potential but he may set new records for strikeouts that even Adam Dunn can’t live up to. He is a dead red bat. He can handle the fastball and even some mistakes with other offerings but they have to be up.”

The scout also followed up, in the same article, with the prediction that he could easily see Carter mashing 35 home runs a year, so the A’s and fantasy owners will have to live with the all or nothing approach.

The other aspect of Carter’s game which could hurt him a bit, particularly this year, is is his below average defensive ability. Better glove work from Carter would give him an edge, though with the collection of players Oakland could run out at first base, it may not matter.

Daric Barton may be a decent fielder at first, but he’s been a bust otherwise. ISO’s in the low to mid 100’s don’t really fill the criteria managers look for in a first basemen.

Especially in a lineup that doesn’t have a single bona fide power hitter, Carter may be able to fill that void.

Even if Carter seems like a home run hitter and nothing else, he still received the honor from the Minor Leagues as the best hitter of the year, so he’s certainly grabbing the attention of more than just Oakland fans.

Frank Piliere of FanHouse recently released his top 100 prospects for 2010 and had Carter slotted 26th overall. He had this to say: “Carter absolutely bashed his way into this spot. He followed up his massive 39-homer 2008 campaign by slugging 28 more between Double-A and Triple-A in 2009. His strikeouts are somewhat of a concern, but the superb plate discipline and power should allow him to be an offensive force at first base.”

Carter’s game is simple: he strikes out a lot and he hits home runs. He had 118 HR in 2,047 at-bats, although more encouragingly, 92 of them were over the past three years.

We’ve seen examples of what those types of players can do: look at Chris Davis as a present failure and Ryan Howard as a success.

The A’s may have some great young pitching, but what do they have to look forward to in the lineup? Who will provide those fireworks every once in a while?

If Carter starts off fast in spring training, I really believe it will be him.

Carter could prove to be a nice later round gamble in fantasy drafts. Speaking to the Rotoprofessor a few days ago about my current keepers in a fantasy league, I told him that if I had two fringe hitters and one of them played first base, I’d most likely not choose the first basemen.

First base is deep, and players like Carter—success or not—make it so.

I’ll be taking a chance this year; will you?

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