MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Carter looks to be more than power bat for Crew

Slugging first baseman working to hit to all fields in camp

Carter looks to be more than power bat for Crew

PHOENIX -- New Brewers first baseman Chris Carter is another one of those high-risk, high-reward players.

In his six-year career, split evenly between the A's and Astros, Carter has 109 homers and 280 RBIs but a .217 batting average and 669 strikeouts in 1,736 at-bats.

Carter, though, is working on some things this spring and the propensity to strike out is going to change.

"I think he feels like he needs to see the ball longer and attack the ball the right way," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said before his club outslugged the Rockies, 7-6, on Saturday at Maryvale Baseball Park. "More quality contact. Quality contact for him? They're home runs."

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Carter had 90 homers and 545 strikeouts the last three seasons for the Astros. He signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract this offseason and at 29 came into camp working on a dual basis to improve his defensive play at first base and cut down on the whiffs.

In actuality, his strikeout rate has been going down, from a career-high 212 in 2013 to 182 in 2014 and 151 last season.

"I've been spending this spring working on hitting the ball to all parts of the field rather than just pulling the ball all the time," said the right-handed-hitting, soft-spoken Carter. "It's just a different approach for me. Hitting the ball the opposite way when they put the shift on me. Just getting on base more."

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Carter batted .199 with 24 homers and 64 RBIs last year, and he knows he has to do better than that.

The dip in performance caused Astros manager A.J. Hinch to bench Carter at times last season. And in early August, the first-year Houston skipper met with Carter in an attempt to figure out what was wrong. The meeting came after Hinch had started Luis Valbuena at first base for a week.

Hinch told Carter to clear his mind.

"I met with Carter to try and support him," Hinch said at the time. "We're going to need him down the stretch and we're going to need him to be productive."

Carter did respond down the stretch. After batting .171 with a homer and seven RBIs in August, he hit .333 with six homers and 12 RBIs from Sept. 1 through the end of the season as the Astros clinched the second American League Wild Card berth in the last weekend.

That led to a productive postseason as Carter walked three times in Houston's Wild Card Game win over the Yankees at Yankee Stadium and hit .294 with a solo homer in an AL Division Series loss to the Royals in five games.

Carter had only good things to say about Hinch.

"He was great," Carter said. "He communicated well. He always told you what was on his mind. That's all you can ask from a manager."

The Astros were a young team playing under the radar after losing 92 games in 2014, surprising many by turning around to win 86 regular-season games last season.

The Brewers lost 94 games last season, finishing 32 games behind division-winning St. Louis in the National League Central. They are in a rebuilding mode and could sneak under the radar into a competitive position, just like last year's Astros.

That would be perfect for Carter, who was very much a part of the Houston reclamation project.

"I mean, you never know what's going to happen," Carter said. "I think we have better young players, a lot of great young talent here. Guys like [Rene] Garcia, [Domingo] Santana. We have so many guys here who are really talented."

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Plus, the Brewers have David Stearns, the young, new general manager who was Astros GM Jeff Luhnow's assistant the last three seasons and is charged with replicating the Houston project in Milwaukee.

"Right, [Stearns] brings the same kind of philosophy," Carter said.

Similar to Hinch, Carter has also had a great first impression playing for Counsell, who is beginning his first full season as a manager.

"So far, Craig's been good with us," Carter said about the 45-year-old manager, who replaced Ron Roenicke last May 4. "Hopefully he maintains that kind of relationship during the season."

Like the Astros, too, the Brewers have a nice mix of veterans sprinkled into the group to help the younger players develop. Carter stands out along with newly acquired infielder Aaron Hill and Matt Garza, the last man standing from what was once a powerful Brewers starting rotation.

Counsell said he's already seen a lot of growth from Carter this spring. He's their first big power threat at first base since Prince Fielder left for Detroit as a free agent after the 2011 season.

"He's going to play a lot of first base, and he's taken a real interest in improving defensively," Counsell said about Carter. "It's been important to him, and that's exciting. I think he's energized by that. He's worked real hard at it so far.

"Look, his power is unmistakable. It's what every team's looking for. And we think that in Miller Park, it's going to really play well."

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.