Path of the Pros: Chris Carpenter
Righty has always overcome injury with hard work, persistence
It took less than four years for Chris Carpenter to rise from a high school mound to the Majors, a 22-year-old prospect thrown into a rotation alongside Cy Young Award winners Roger Clemens and Pat Hentgen in 1997.
Carpenter, only 9 years old when Clemens made his Major League debut, has a Cy Young Award and a World Series ring of his own amidst a career of brilliance intertwined with injuries. He enters the 2009 postseason as one of the National League's top arms.
"He's one of the most favorite players I've ever had," said Carpenter's former Minor League manager, Garth Iorg. "He's such a great guy, a wonderful person. He knows where he's from and he hasn't changed one bit."
The right-hander arrived on the scene with Toronto before injuries led to a move west to St. Louis, where he's thrived.
"You take what you do, and as long as you can look yourself in the mirror and say that every time you pitched, you gave it your best shot, you can live with that," Carpenter said following his last start of the regular season. "You can sleep at night."
Iorg, now a coach in the Milwaukee organization, said he's not surprised Carpenter has maintained his work ethic and skills since he broke into the Majors 12 years ago.
"He works his tail off," said Iorg, who managed Carpenter with Double-A Knoxville in 1995 and Triple-A Syracuse in 1997. "He's the kind of guy that when he's out there, it's max effort all the time. He's going for it."
The Exeter, N.H., native began his path to the Majors in 1994 after Toronto made him its first-round pick out of Trinity High School in the 1993 Draft. The Jays selected Carpenter 15th overall, right after the Padres took Derrek Lee, and gave him a $580,000 bonus.
Carpenter seemed to be on track for big success since his high school days. He was named Athlete of the Year as a senior and was selected to the all-state team three times in baseball and hockey. He was honored by the Boston Globe's All-Scholastic team in 1993, a year after leading his team to a state baseball championship.
He looked like a bargain in his professional debut when he struck out nine and allowed one hit over six innings for Rookie-level Medicine Hat in the Pioneer League. The 19-year-old finished his rookie season 6-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 starts for the Blue Jays, leading the team with 80 strikeouts.
He made 15 starts for Class A Advanced Dunedin in 1995 before finishing the year at Double-A. "He was a quality guy at that age and I knew, if he could stay healthy, he'd have an amazing career," said Iorg.
It was Carpenter's dominance in the Minors that convinced Knoxville skipper Iorg of the potential he knew existed. He went 7-9 with a 3.94 ERA in 28 Double-A starts.
"He's a guy that was always ready to play, a true professional," Iorg said. "Everyone on the team loved him, we never had to worry about him. He's a true professional in every sense of the word, a great guy, an incredibly nice person and that goes back to his parents and childhood."
Iorg moved up the next year to Triple-A Syracuse, where Carpenter teamed up with another Blue Jays prospect, Roy Halladay.
"They were young in Triple-A, but they were just power pitchers," he said. "Everything you'd want to see in a first-round Draft pick. They threw hard, but Carp had a better touch and feel than Roy did. He had a better breaking ball at the time. I had no doubt both would go on and have great careers."
Carpenter got the call after a month in Triple-A, appearing in 14 games with the club in 1997.
"It wasn't a shock at all when he got called up," Iorg said.
But an injury-filled 2002 campaign, which included three trips to the disabled list, soured the Blue Jays' feelings on their Opening Day starter. Despite the wishes of Iorg and others, Carpenter was destined for a new town.
"We were all kind of scratching our heads over there. We had a new [GM] and he just didn't know what kind of person he had," Iorg said. "We thought, don't release this guy. St. Louis knew they had a complete stud.
"I was surprised and a little upset they did that," Iorg added of Toronto's front office giving up on Carpenter. "He was hurt, but he would have been fine. Unfortunately for us, we cut him loose."
Carpenter joined the Cardinals in 2003, but spent the season rehabbing in the Minors. He won 15 games in 2004, earned the NL Cy Young Award with 21 wins and a 2.83 ERA in 2005 and claimed his first World Series ring after winning 15 games in 2006. Injuries kept the righty off the mound for much of the 2007-'08 seasons. St. Louis cruised to the National League Central crown this year, and Comeback Player of the Year Carpenter, among others, will receive plenty of credit for that.
"He never concerned himself about the future, he just focused on how can I get this job done," said Iorg. "Every time he got hurt, with his work ethic, he'd do everything he could do to come back. It doesn't surprise me at all that he's come back [this year]."
Carpenter, who went 17-4 with a NL-best 2.24 ERA this season, enjoyed his best success since winning 15 games in 2006. He trails only Zack Greinke's 2.16 ERA for the best in the Majors.
"He's in line for another [Cy Young]," said Iorg.
1994: Was assigned to Rookie-level Medicine Hat of the Pioneer League following the 1993 Draft and ranked fourth in the Blue Jays system among starters with 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings and third with a 2.76 ERA. He won six of his 15 starts.
1995: Carpenter split his second Minor League season between Class A Advanced Dunedin of the Florida State League and Double-A Knoxville in the Southern League. He won six games for the second straight year and owned a 2.17 ERA in 15 starts for Dunedin before his promotion.
1996: The right-hander spent his entire third season with Double-A Knoxville and ranked third in the Toronto system with 28 games started. He went 7-9 and struggled with his control, leading all Blue Jays pitchers with 91 walks in 171 1/3 innings with the Smokies.
1997: Carpenter entered the 1997 season as arguably the top prospect in the Blue Jays system. He started the year with Triple-A Syracuse but lasted only a month -- Toronto called him up and he debuted May 12. He went 3-7 with a 5.09 ERA in 14 outings with the SkyChiefs, but he finished the year with five complete games, including two shutouts.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.