With rosters expanding today, the M’s are widely expected to bring Mike Carp up from Tacoma and give him some playing time at first base in Russ Branyan’s absence. Because of Carp’s strong spring and beginning to the year in Triple-A, he got a lot of attention as the organization’s first baseman of the future, and we even got to see him get a few hacks in the big leagues during the summer. I’d imagine most fans have a pretty positive impression of Carp’s abilities – perhaps too positive, in fact.
Let’s start with the facts – Carp is a 23-year-old with a good approach at the plate but average power at best, and he’s not a particularly good athlete or defender. We like on base percentage as much as anyone, but his overall package of physical skills isn’t that exciting. Power isn’t absolutely necessary to be a good player, as guys like Sean Casey and Mark Grace had nice careers with the kind of gap power that Carp has demonstrated, but they were really good defensive players with extraordinary hand-eye coordination. That’s not Carp.
For his minor league career, he’s struck out in about 20% of his plate appearances. Part of that is because he’s willing to work counts and lay off marginal pitches on the fringes of the strike zone, but a bigger part is that his swing isn’t conducive to covering the entire plate. He doesn’t lack big time power because he’s got a level swing that is spraying line drives all over the field – he lacks big time power because he doesn’t have a particularly quick bat.
Even as a guy who will walk regularly, you have to either make a lot of contact or hit for power to be a good hitter. Carp doesn’t really excel at either. His biggest strength at the plate is his pitch recognition, but as a first baseman, he’s going to have to do more than draw walks to earn his spot in the line-up.
Carp is kind of in the Adam LaRoche model of first base prospects, offering enough skills to suggest he’ll have a big league career but lacking some key components to be the kind of guy you want to build around. He’s had some decent years, but for his career, he’s averaged about +1.5 wins per season, a bit below average for a major league regular.
That’s kind of what you should expect from Carp over the next five or six years. .270/.350/.440 with below average defense at first base makes him a major league player, but not a guy that should be counted on as a big part of the franchise’s future. If he gets hot and tears the cover off the ball in September, that will be nice to help the team win some games down the stretch, but don’t go penciling him in for a spot on the team next year just yet. The M’s need to get more production from their 1B/DH combo next year, and Carp probably isn’t the answer.