2013 Houston Astros Season Preview: Chris Carter, First Baseman/Designated Hitter/Left Fielder?

J. Meric

Though his position will be up for debate, there's no arguing against Carter's offensive potential.

At this point, Chris Carter must be more than used to changing zip codes. Along with moving around the minors like most top prospects, Carter has been traded three times in his career now, after being a centerpiece to the Astros return for shortstop Jed Lowrie.

Before that, he was traded from the White Sox to the Diamondbacks for Carlos Quentin and then to the Oakland A's in the Dan Haren deal. All the while, the hulking slugger has kept doing what he does: hitting homers and getting on base.

There's no question that Carter will be one of the best hitters in Houston's lineup from the get-go. Although he's lost some of his "prospect" status, Carter is still a young player who hasn't gotten much of a chance as an everyday player in the majors.

That means there are still some big unknowns about his performance. It's better than even money that Carter will be the team's home run leader by the end of the season, assuming he's healthy and not demoted to the minors. The question will be, where does he play?

First, though, let's see just how well Carter can hit.

Did I mention his nickname is now officially Trogdor? Awesome.

2012 Season

After spending brief time in the majors each of the previous two seasons, Carter finally got a breakthrough last year for those surprising Oakland A's. Carter played in 67 games and accrued 260 plate appearances after getting 324 at Triple-A.

Some of Carter's potential finally shown through in 2012, as he hit 16 home runs with an isolated power average of .275, after hitting just three homers in his previous two stints combined. Carter also saw his impressive walk rate finally blossom in the majors, posting a 15 percent walk rate in those at-bats.

However, he didn't make much contact, striking out 32 percent of the time and hitting less than .240 with a .295 BABiP. Add that to his disappointing Fielding Runs totals and that's a big reason why Carter only had 0.8 fWAR for his major league time.

If we projected out his statistics over the course of a full season and 600 plate appearances, Carter would have hit 36 home runs with 87 runs scored and posted an fWAR about 1.9. If he had done that for last season's Astros, he would have posted the third-highest WAR of any hitter and been the first Astro to top 30 homers in a season since Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee each topped 30 in 2007.

2013 Predictions

The playing time questions color Carter's projections in every system. Plus, there are no adjustments to how his numbers will translate to playing home games at Minute Maid Park instead of the cavern of the Coliseum. Still, we have projections to parse:

Bill James likes Carter the best, but only has him down for 369 plate appearances. Still, the Jamesian system has him hitting 17 homers with a 11 percent walk rate and a 26 percent strikeout rate, which is about five percent less than he posted last year. James also has him with a slash line of .248/.333/.471 and a wOBA of .348.

ZiPS is more bullish on his playing time, pegging him at 568 plate appearances with 25 homers and a slash line of .231/.317/.439. ZiPS also sees his strikeout rate falling slightly to 29 percent while his walk rate stays solid at 10.7 percent with a club-best isolated average of .208 for the A's (ZiPS released on Dec. 21).

Steamer is more positive on his playing time, but splits the difference between ZiPS and James with 466 plate appearances. It has Carter hitting 21 homers with an 11 percent walk rate and a very low 25.9 percent walk rate. His slash line here is .238/.326/.449 because of a career low BABiP of .286. His fWAR here is 1.3.

Oliver's projections are closer to ZiPS, with 539 plate appearances for Carter and a projections-high 28 home runs. It has similar walk and strikeout rates for Carter as ZiPS with a slash line of .240/.328/.473 and an fWAR total of 2.0. That includes a Fielding Runs total of -4.0, which could be seen as a positive, considering how DHs and first baseman can be penalized here.

Conclusions

What isn't clear is where Carter will play. With Carlos Pena, Brett Wallace and Nate Freiman all grabbing for time at first base and designated hitter, the Astros seem to be set on trying Carter out in left field.

Things didn't go so hot the last time Carter was out in left field. The general consensus is that Minute Maid Park's snug dimensions in left could serve Carter well, with him rotating in at DH and first base on the road. However, reports out of Oakland were fairly terrible in his last tiny playing time out there.

The Coliseum is not MMP, but the fact that Carter's comments upon reporting to camp were not supportive of a move to the outfield may leave this idea in an untenable spot.

Still, having Carter's bat in the lineup is exciting. Making sure he's in there with either Freiman, Pena or Wallace is even better. But, because of his bat, you can bet the Astros will try to get Carter in the lineup however they can for most of the season.

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