June 22, 2024

Texas Rangers manager Bruce Bochy has a deep, gravelly voice that suggests the seriousness of a drill sergeant from a World War II movie. However, when asked about Evan Carter, his 21-year-old rookie left fielder who has become a sensation during Texas’ 7-0 start to the postseason, Bochy seems to get a little glow across his face. Is that a smile?

“I’m smiling because he’s always smiling,” Bochy said during the Rangers’ ALDS series against the Baltimore Orioles. “He plays the game you want your guys to play. Have fun. Play with joy. He has that innocence about him you love. Doesn’t matter where you play him or where you hit him, he just loves playing baseball, and he’s playing it like he did two or three years ago when he was playing legion ball.”

Two months ago, Carter was at Double-A Frisco, toiling in 100-degree games across the heat wave of the Texas League. He had just turned 21 years old at the end of August and had emerged as the top prospect for the Rangers, then came his rapid ascension to the spotlight: a week in Triple-A, then a call to the majors on Sept. 8, when Adolis Garcia landed on the injured list because of a knee strain, then his star turn so far in October.

Carter has done nothing but hit since joining the Rangers: .306/.413/.645 with five home runs in 23 regular-season games. He got at least one hit in each of his first six postseason games — including four doubles and a home run — with more walks than strikeouts as he slashed .389/.560/.778. The Rangers won all six games. In their 2-0 victory over the Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS, Carter grounded a ball off the glove of Houston first baseman Jose Abreu in the second inning and hustled into second for a double, scoring the game’s first run on Jonah Heim’s single. In the eighth inning, he navigated the difficult left field obstacle course at Minute Maid Park to make a leaping grab of Alex Bregman’s fly ball, doubling Jose Altuve off first base in the process and swiping momentum away from the Astros.

Echoing his manager, after the game, Carter said, “I’m just having fun, that’s what it’s all about. We’re playing a game. And it’s a fun one, too. I’m just out here having a great time. I have a lot of great teammates around me. We enjoy coming to work every day competing.”

The only players this young with more extra-base hits in one postseason are Juan Soto, Cody Bellinger and Miguel Cabrera — and Carter has more games yet to play. Is this for real? After all, this is still all small-sample stuff, and he’s hitting better in the MLB playoffs than he did in the minors. Is he just on an unlikely run at the right time? Let’s dig into three of Carter’s postseason plate appearances to show why he looks like a future star.

1. Wild Card Series Game 2: Home run off Tampa Bay Rays starter Zach Eflin

The Rangers were up 2-0 with two outs and a runner on third in the fourth inning. Eflin tried to go up and in with a first-pitch cutter but left it out over the middle of the plate, and Carter torched it into the fourth row of the right-field seats with a nice, easy swing — 391 feet with a 102.5 mph exit velocity.

Indeed, that’s the simplest description of Carter’s swing: nice and easy. He stands tall and relaxed at the plate and has very little wasted movement with just a small leg kick and short stride. Talking to him before the Baltimore series, I mentioned that I’d seen MLB Network do a video breakdown of his swing changes since high school. Carter laughed. “Don’t look at my high school swing,” he said. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

To be fair, the swing hasn’t changed much. The biggest differences are that he now stands more upright and has shortened his stride. Minor tweaks. But the clean, line-drive stroke that led to the Rangers picking him in the second round of the 2020 draft out of small-town Elizabethton High School in Tennessee was always there.

Carter’s selection was one of the most surprising in recent draft history. Carter played just three games in his local high school league during the COVID-19-shortened spring season, and he wasn’t included in any pre-draft media rankings. Most teams focused on college players in the shortened five-round draft, and while Carter had a commitment to Duke, many MLB teams hadn’t scouted him because he had attended few of the premier showcase events. Then-Rangers scout Derrick Tucker and longtime scouting director Kip Fagg believed in Carter’s five-tool potential, however, and the Rangers knew the Pirates and Royals were also interested. They took him 50th overall.

Despite injuring his back in 2021 and playing just 32 games that season, Carter quickly rose through the minors with that swing carrying him at each level. The biggest surprise since his call-up has been his power. He had just 13 home runs and 17 doubles in 108 minor league games this season and has already hit eight doubles, one triple and six home runs in his first 30 major league games.

Carter had an easy explanation for that: “The major league balls. They’re a lot livelier.” He hasn’t made any changes since joining the Rangers — no extra emphasis on launch angle or anything like that. “My swing is my swing,” he said.

Carter’s ultimate power production might be the biggest question about his future. He has the hit tool. He has plate discipline. He has speed and is a center fielder playing left because the Rangers have a plus defender in Leody Taveras.

Carter’s average exit velocity in the regular season was 89.0 mph, just a tick above the MLB average of 88.4 (it’s up to 92.0 mph in the postseason). Players with a similar exit velo include Ozzie Albies, Nick Castellanos and Lars Nootbaar, so it’s certainly possible to hit for power with average exit velocity, although a guy like Albies excels at hitting the ball in the air. Carter’s swing is still geared more for line drives. Still, keep in mind how young he is and that he has room to add some weight and strength to his frame.

But there’s another reason Carter’s power might continue to develop: He hits the ball on the barrel. His hard-hit rate — balls struck at 95 mph or better — in the regular season and playoffs has been 45%, well above the MLB average of 36.2%.



Rangers rookie Evan Carter doubles lead with a HR

Evan Carter slugs a two-run homer to put the Rangers up 4-0 on the Rays.

2. ALDS Game 1: RBI double off Baltimore Orioles starter Kyle Bradish

With the game tied 0-0 in the fourth inning, Garcia on second base and one out, Carter swung at a first-pitch slider at his knees and rifled it into right field, using his speed to beat the throw to second for an RBI double.

In the minors, teammates nicknamed him “Full Count Carter” for his propensity to work the count to the max. Indeed, he drew 81 walks in 513 plate appearances in the minors. But note that both the home run off Eflin and the double off Bradish came against first pitches. The double off Justin Verlander in Game 1 came on a 2-0 pitch — a pitch many batters will take. Carter appears to be adjusting his game to the situation.

“Yeah, you know, hitting doesn’t change for me,” he said in explaining the Bradish at-bat. “But the only thing I guess the mindset was, my change, was situationally there might be more runners on base in front of me, you might be more in an RBI situation. So that showed up for me today, and that was pretty cool. My approach to hitting, nothing changes.”

Carter had been hitting in the No. 9 slot in the batting order, but for the Baltimore series and now against the Houston Astros, Bochy moved him to fifth — a testament not just to how well Carter had been hitting, but the belief the Rangers have that he can handle that position in the lineup.

“From the day I’ve walked in, I’ve heard about Evan’s makeup,” general manager Chris Young said. “Just the person and the character. Those are attributes that will likely serve you well if you continue to progress from a talent standpoint. Certainly, Evan has the talent to go with those intangibles, which have allowed him to come onto this stage at such an early age and perform. … But is it surprising, given the personality and the maturity? No. I think when you have that level of maturity and the way he plays the game and the passion and the work ethic, I think that he’s put himself in a great position to be successful, and he’s seizing that opportunity.”

3. ALCS Game 2: Walk against Houston Astros reliever J.P. France on a 3-2 changeup

Given that “Full Count” nickname, let’s take a look at a final reason we can expect a lot of All-Star Games in Carter’s future: His extraordinary — yes, I’m going here — Joey Votto-like plate discipline. His chase rate on pitches outside the strike zone, including the regular season and playoffs, is 11.8%. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances in 2023, Carter ranks first:

1. Carter: 11.8%
2. Edouard Julien: 14.0%
3. Robbie Grossman: 15.6%
T-4. Juan Soto: 15.7%
T-4. Davis Schneider: 15.7%

Carter explains this like it’s the easiest arithmetic in the world: “The pitcher is trying to paint the black. Why do I want to swing at pitches he’s going to get me out on?” Yes, easy to say, difficult to execute, but — similar to Soto — Carter appears to have acute pitch awareness at a young age. His walk rate through 100 plate appearances is 18%, more than double the MLB average. Only Aaron Judge and Soto had a higher rate in the regular season. Carte is going to be an on-base machine.

“It’s been a very mature approach at the plate for such a young hitter,” teammate Marcus Semien said. “I remember when I was his age, still in the minor leagues, I was still trying to figure things out. A lot more swing and miss. I think he’s learned a lot from what we talk about in spring training as a group. How he’s implemented it, I think he has qualities that we want here.”

As he was coming up through the minors, some scouts wondered if Carter was too passive. His overall swing rate has been 34.4%, which is well below the MLB average of 47.1%, and ranks last out of 463 players with 100 PAs (Soto, by comparison, is at 35.8%). On first pitches, however, it’s 26.0%, which isn’t much below the MLB average of 29.6%, so there are times he is more aggressive. Carter told me he has no idea what his swing rates are. He’s just out there playing baseball.

The scary thing for opponents: Carter appears to be improving as the games get bigger. His strikeout rate in the regular season was 32%; in the postseason, it has dropped to 16%. His OPS in the postseason is a ridiculous 1.338.

But Carter isn’t paying attention to any of those numbers.

“My buddy Tom Saggese [now a St. Louis Cardinals prospect], back in Double-A, always told me never to look at the scoreboard,” Carter said. “So I try not to. I know those numbers are just numbers; you just want to help the team win right now.”

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