Not since the Oakland A's called up a young slugger named Jose Canseco in 1985 has the team had a prospect join them from the minor leagues with the power potential of Chris Carter.
Since he was acquired as part of the Dan Haren deal before the 2008 season, Carter has been launching homeruns at a prolific pace. Originally drafted out of a Las Vegas high school by the Chicago White Sox in 15th round of the 2005 amateur draft, Carter instantly made an impression by hitting 10 homeruns in 65 games for Rookie League Bristol.
Carter was sent to Low-A Kannapolis the next season, but struggled and wound-up spending the majority of the season in the Rookie Pioneer League, where he hit .299 with 15 homers in 69 games. He would get another crack at Kannapolis in 2007 and this time he dominated the South Atlantic League, posting a 905 OPS and hitting 25 homeruns in 126 games.
His performance in Kannapolis made him a hot commodity and Carter was involved in two high-profile trades during the 2007 off-season. First he was traded by the White Sox to the Arizona Diamondbacks straight-up for slugger Carlos Quentin. Then Carter was one of six prospects acquired by the A's for All-Star right-hander Dan Haren and reliever Connor Robertson.
At the time of the trade, Carter was one of the lower profile prospects involved, with Brett Anderson and Carlos Gonzalez being the prospects who garnered the most headlines. The A's were confident they were getting something special in Carter, however.
"We just liked Carter so much and we are an organization that has really lacked a lot of right-handed power over the past couple of years," A's Director of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi told OaklandClubhouse.com right after the trade.
"We had Frank Thomas for a year, and that worked out well. We brought in Mike Piazza and he had health issues, but the possibility of having a homegrown, right-handed power hitter was just way too tempting to pass up. Eventually, we just couldn’t come up with any incarnation of this deal that would have left Carter out."
Despite a slow start to his 2008 campaign with High-A Stockton, Carter lived up to expectations during his first season in the A's organization. Playing at first base, third base and in right, Carter hit a Stockton-record 39 homeruns during the regular season and then hit five more homeruns during the playoffs and helped lead the Ports to the California League title.
After being named the A's Minor League Hitter of the Year, Carter spent that off-season participating in the Hawaiian Baseball League. He was also invited to the A's big league spring training camp as a non-roster invitee for the first time.
When camp broke, Carter was sent to Double-A Midland. While he didn't struggle early in the season as much with the Rockhounds as he had the year before with the Ports, he didn't really catch fire until mid-season. But when he did get hot, Carter left the rest of the Texas League in his wake.
Although Carter didn't hit as many homeruns with Midland as he had with Stockton, he was a much more complete hitter. He raised his batting average from .259 with the Ports to .337 with Midland and his OPS jumped from 930 to 1011. Carter won the Texas League's MVP award despite the fact that he spent the final three weeks of the season with Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .259 with four homers and 14 RBIs in 13 games. Carter led all Pacific Coast League hitters with four homeruns during the post-season. Incidentally, the Rockhounds went on to win the Texas League title, giving Carter two rings in two seasons in the A's system. He was named the A's Minor League Hitter of the Year for a second straight season.
A's Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman was particularly impressed with Carter's ability to become a more well-rounded hitter in 2009.
"To have cut down on his strike-outs and improved his at-bats like he did is not an easy task in such a short period of time from last year until now," Lieppman told OaklandClubhouse.com after the 2009 season.
"He is a much, much better hitter. His quality of at-bats have improved and he doesn’t give a lot of at-bats away. He has really improved mentally. His focus is a whole lot better on every pitch as opposed to letting some at-bats get away from him. He’s locked in the majority of the time and that is a really big part of his success."
During the off-season, Carter, who was named MiLB.com's Minor League Hitter of the Year for 2009, would have been eligible for the Rule 5 draft, although it wasn't a difficult decision for the A's to add him to their 40-man roster and protect him from that draft. He was a part of the A's big league camp for much of this year's spring training, although he hit only .160 with a homer in 17 big league spring games.
At end of camp, Carter was assigned to Sacramento, where he joined a prospect-studded line-up. Like many of his River Cats' teammates, however, he had an uneven start to his season. He posted a solid 872 OPS in April, but his OPS slid to 770 in May and climbed only slightly to 808 in June. However, as has happened in each of the past two seasons, as the calender turned to July, Carter's bat ignited. He hit .318 with 1075 OPS in July and that had carried over into the first week of August, when he hit .333 with a 1111 OPS.
Carter leaves the River Cats with a .262 average and 27 homers, 89 RBIs and an 898 OPS in 113 games. He struck-out 124 times, but he walked a team-high 68 times. Carter had been playing mostly at first base for the first four months of the season, but over the past week, he has been seeing time in the outfield. He will likely see time at both positions and at DH with the A's.
In three minor league seasons in the A's system, Carter hit 94 regular season homeruns and nine post-season longballs, by far the most of any player in the A's system over that period. He will be joining an A's line-up that has been desperate for power all season. The A's are currently second-to-last in all of baseball in homeruns.
For links to all of Scout.com's coverage of Chris Carter over the years, please click here.