Wednesday, March 4, 2009

TPC Prospect Smackdown: Chris Carter vs Chris Davis

Baseball fans are always suckers for certain things.  When it comes to pitching, they love strikeouts, and more is always better.  Who cares if it means throwing more pitches or you have to sacrifice a little control.  Just throw some hot sauce on it and make it sizzle and fans from New York to L.A. will pay to see it.  Same goes for home runs.  Chicks dig the long ball, and so does just about every other red blooded American out there.  A home run is the quintessential act of defiance and superiority, something that goes beyond beyond, higher than higher, and is absolutely untouchable. That's why guys like Ryan Howard and Chris Davis make such a big splash when they hit the majors.  All it takes it a handful of long balls and everyone gets it.  This dude can rake.  You don't need numbers and stats to convince the masses.  The ball went over the wall, and that's all that matters.

As much as I love home runs, as a fan of minor league baseball, I always want to know who is coming up next.  Last spring I went through countless prospects looking for that one hitter with undeniable power that I felt would translate into major league success.  In the end, I came up with Chris Davis, and even though at the time he had only made 100 plate appearances at AA, the power numbers were eye popping, and I was conviced he was the real deal.  Fast forward 12 months and suddenly Davis is on everyone's radar.  He projects as a 40 plus home run hitter for the next decade, with the potential for 50 plus at times.  The dude can rake.

But like I said, I always want to know who is next.  There are several candidates out there, including Michael Stanton and Michael Burgess whom I'll get to in a later post, but today I'm going to go with Chris Carter (the Oakland variety).  

First, here are Carter's stats through A+ ball as they compare to those of Chris Davis. 

Although there is a lot of concern about Carter's strike out totals, he doesn't strike out as much as Chris Davis, and he walks almost twice as much.  The power is very comparable, as well as the OPS.  At first glance it looks like Carter's batting average is a step behind Davis, however, in 2008 Carter's BABIP was only .296, compared to a prior career average of about .340, so there's reason to believe that his batting average will be in the .280 to .300 range in 2009 and beyond.  I think the biggest difference between the 2 hitters is that Davis benefits from hitting from the left side of the plate, while Carter hits right handed, which over the course of a full season can mean the difference of 15 to 30 points in the on-base and batting average columns.

Overall, I think Carter compares very well to Chris Davis up to this point in his career.  Carter spent 2008 in a very hitter friendly park, but Davis also played A+ ball in the California League, so I can't think of any reason to discredit the overall numbers that Carter posted last year.  Also, from every source I've read, there is no doubt that Carter has elite level power.  

As evidence, here is an excerpt from an interview with Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus:

OC: Another guy who creates a lot of controversy among prospect-watchers when discussing his ceiling is Chris Carter. I got to see him play quite a bit in Stockton and he hit some balls further than any I’ve seen before. Is there a concern about his contact rate and the fact that he does strike-out as much as he does? Is that something you think that he can correct, or does that just come along with being a slugger like he is?

KG: I think it is a little bit of both. There is definitely a balancing thing that has to go into it. But when you have Chris Carter’s kind of power – and that is, you saw it, legitimate 80 power, it’s top of the scale power – you can live with the strike-outs. The more power that you have, the more willing that you are going to be to forgive the strike-outs. Beyond the power with Chris Carter, he is always going to strike-out some. He’s never going to be Tony Gwynn. He’s always going to strike-out probably 120 or 130 times a year. He’s never going to hit .320, but I think he has enough natural hitting ability to hit .280 with a ton of power. He just has so much power. H
e really seems like one of those guys who could hit 40 home runs in the big leagues.

I'm not a big fan of the 20-80 scale that scouts use (mostly because I think it's based off of too much personal opinion and not enough off of pure measurements), but when Kevin Goldstein says a 21 year old has "top of the scale power" (the word "power" appears 7 times in the above quote) it has a certain weight to it.  And while guys like Mike Stanton have very comparable power, they don't have the same strike out to walk ratio that Carter has, which indicates they will encounter a steeper learning curve at AA and AAA, as well as at the major league level.  

So, what are the chances that in 2009 we'll see Carter develop into an elite level prospect along the lines of Chris Davis?  Right now, I'd say the odds are very good in Carter's favor.  He's got the power with better plate discipline, and he's playing for a farm system that knows how to get the most out of their young hitters.     

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