Versatile Carpenter adds depth to Cardinals' infield
St. Louis Cardinals utility infielder Matt Carpenter comes from a baseball family. Baseball is in his genes and in his blood. In fact, his younger brother, Tyler, is a catcher in the New York Mets system.
The Carpenter brothers are the sons of a high school baseball coach and a mom that grew up playing softball.
Carpenter, 26, played college baseball at Texas Christian University. Early in his junior season, Carpenter blew out his elbow making a throw from third base. The injury required surgery, and Carpenter missed the remainder of that season. He returned the following year after redshirting and hit .283 with 11 home runs and 48 RBIs.
The Cardinals chose Carpenter as their 13th round selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, and his signing bonus was minimal. His heart and his desire to succeed were not. He wanted to be a professional baseball player.
Carpenter's first season was a bit unusual. He played for three teams at three Minor League levels in three leagues.
Over 291 plate appearances, Carpenter hit a very solid .283. He didn't flash much power -- hitting only two home runs -- but he established himself as an excellent development candidate, playing both third base and first base.
In his Minor League career that included parts of four seasons, Carpenter compiled a .299 batting average. His consistent demonstration that he can make consistent contact was of equal importance. Carpenter struck out only 212 times in 1448 plate appearances.
Carpenter knows his offensive limitations.
When a hitter puts the barrel of the bat on the ball and hits the gaps with regularity, teams take notice. That's what Carpenter can do. He squares up pitches and hits the gaps. He doesn't swing for the fences.
Using very quick hands and very good bat speed through the ball, Carpenter centers the pitch with a short and compact swing. He doesn't have much pre-pitch bat movement as a timing mechanism, and his mechanics are rather quiet.
Carpenter does have very good lower body shift and a measured stride to the ball. His swing is in sync. His ability to repeat his swing and contain the natural instinct to "kill the ball" helps generate hitting success.
Because of such sound mechanics, I don't expect Carpenter to enter any prolonged hitting slumps, at least not where he aimlessly swings at pitches. He might not get hits all the time, but he will put the bat on the ball.
Carpenter's current role with the Cardinals is fairly well defined. He is the player on the bench that is ready, willing and able to play when needed.
Carpenter will see some action as an occasional starter to give one of the regular players a breather, or spell someone during an injury. He'll also appear as a pinch-hitter upon occasion.
Carpenter is the consummate utility player who can also give his manager value as a late-inning double-switch replacement at third base, first base and even the outfield.
Playing sparingly isn't for everyone, but coming off the bench "cold" won't detract from Carpenter's ability to produce. He has the temperament to remain calm in a high- pressure situation and use the proven hitting techniques that make him successful.
Realistically, Carpenter doesn't have the power to supplant a player such as David Freese or Allen Craig as a corner infielder. He doesn't have the ability to change the course of a game with a three run home run with any degree of regularity. However, that is not to say he won't hit an occasional homer. I believe he will.
In fact, Carpenter will provide a quality at-bat that might increase the pitch count of the pitcher with his good pitch recognition, his selectivity at the plate and his ability to hit all types of pitches. Carpenter is a very tough out.
Carpenter finished the 2012 season hitting .294 with six home runs and 46 RBIs. He also had 22 doubles.
Defensively, Carpenter continues to improve.
As an infielder faced with having to make a wide variety of plays; the entire "package" of defensive mechanics must flow one into another.
In the same manner a pitcher is most effective when in rhythm, an infielder is most effective when he works in a rhythm and his legs and arms flow in sync.
In his developmental years, scouts pointed to rather awkward footwork and unconventional handling of ground balls into his glove at third base as Carpenter's possible defensive flaws. He has worked to smooth out his glove work and the transfer of the ball from his glove to his hand.
Carpenter's throws have not been a source of criticism. He has a solid and accurate throwing arm.
Carpenter is an energetic and motivated player. He wants to win and he will do what it takes to make that happen.
The Cardinals are a club that will use their entire roster as they progress through the postseason and on to next year. Everyone on the roster will have to contribute. The team is a mixture of skilled veterans with a smattering of young and less experienced players.
Manager Mike Matheny and the front office are challenged to maintain the high on-field standards that Cardinals fans have come to expect. The versatile Carpenter is among the players that will help the Cardinals realize those expectations.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.