M. Carpenter building future with versatility
Blocked at third base, Cards prospect working around field
JUPITER, Fla. -- Matt Carpenter's offseason survey of the organization's depth chart may not have shaken the confidence he has in his ability, but it did force him to reassess his fit.
Recognizing the hold that David Freese has on the Cardinals' starting third base job, Carpenter actively sought out a way to ensure that he wouldn't be forgotten. And so this winter, with assistance from former college coach Todd Whitting and his father, Rick, Carpenter began his journey around the field.
He took ground balls on both sides of the infield and shagged fly balls as an outfielder. For a player who had strayed away from third base only once since being drafted in 2009, the baptism-by-fire approach seemed best.
Carpenter believed the end -- being able to showcase versatility in Spring Training -- would justify the means of spending what would otherwise have been time off on the field working on his defense. The more positions he could adequately handle, the greater an asset Carpenter knew he could be.
"I need to show that I can be a valuable part of this team," said the 26-year-old Carpenter, ranked No. 11 by MLB.com on the Cardinals' Top 20 Prospects list. "It was a decision I made on my own. If I continued to primarily work at third, I would be limiting my options."
Manager Mike Matheny is among those who have taken notice, both in the work Carpenter put in during the offseason and the extra time he's still spending shoring up his defense now. Carpenter has regularly been among the last to come off from the field after mandatory workouts, often waiting around for the final drills to end so that he can ask for extra instruction.
"He needs to thank his dad a lot for how he's gone about teaching him how to go about his business, because he's certainly been very impressive to all of us," Matheny said. "He's got a good makeup and is a talented guy. He's going about it the right way and making sure he's getting his repetitions to be prepared for whatever role is out there."
Carpenter seems serious when he says that he'd be comfortable thrown anywhere, besides on the mound or behind the plate. Give him some time and he'd probably even try his hand at one of those two positions. That's how dogged he is about creating an opportunity.
Most likely, the Cardinals will look primarily at his ability to be a backup corner infielder and outfielder. How capable he is at first could be key, especially if Allen Craig begins the year on the disabled list. The Cardinals do not have an obvious backup candidate waiting behind Lance Berkman.
Being proficient in the outfield will be important, too, as Carpenter could be competing against everyday outfielders Shane Robinson, Erik Komatsu and Adron Chambers for that final bench spot.
"I'm trying to seize every moment," Carpenter said. "It helps knowing what the routine is this year. This is my second spring with these guys, and I just feel very fortunate to be a part of it."
If Carpenter has near the offensive success this month that he did last spring, he'll make the case to send him back to Triple-A even tougher. Carpenter nearly forced his way into an Opening Day roster spot in 2011 by hitting .340 with a .421 on-base percentage and six extra-base hits in Grapefruit League play.
The production followed a season in which Carpenter earned recognition as the Cardinals' Minor League Player of the Year. He hit .309 with 13 homers, 69 RBIs, 153 hits and a .418 on-base percentage while playing most of that 2010 season in Double-A.
In his first taste of Triple-A competition last year, Carpenter saw little drop off in his offensive output. He hit .300, tallied 44 extra-base hits and posted a.417 on-base percentage in 130 games. Carpenter's year also included a 10-day callup to the Majors. He went 1-for-15 in seven games.
"I just got a good grasp of how exciting it is to be a Major Leaguer," Carpenter said. "They're so calm. They're prepared. That's something that I want to become better at. That comes with experience."
The Cardinals have been open in saying that Carpenter will get serious consideration for a Major League job. The club will be able to better assess how Carpenter can handle himself defensively at positions beside third base once Grapefruit League games begin next week.
"To be in an opportunity where I could show that I deserve to make this team is all that I can ask for," Carpenter said. "I'm as ready as I can be, and I'm just going to keep getting plenty of reps."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.