JUPITER, Fla. -- There will never be a better time for young Astros slugger Chris Carter to realize his power potential.
For years, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound first baseman has towered at the top of prospect charts, primarily for his esteemed right-handed power. Astros manager Bo Porter said Carter can drive the ball to right-center, but it's his "light-tower power to the pull side" that grabs the attention of fans, the way a ball he blasted just left of the foul pole Monday afternoon against the Cardinals did.
Carter, large in stature but quiet in demeanor, was acquired by the Astros this winter in the trade that sent Jed Lowrie to Oakland. And Houston needs his power, perhaps, more than ever.
Last season, the Astros ranked 10th in the National League in home runs (146). Now they move to the brutal American League West, having since lost Lowrie, Scott Moore, Chris Johnson, Matt Downs, Brian Bogusevic, Chris Snyder, Carlos Lee, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bixler and Ben Francisco, who combined to account for 68 of those long balls.
In 67 games (260 plate appearances) last season, Carter smashed 16 homers and drove in 39 runs. Over 162 games, that would equate to 39 homers and 94 RBIs.
"[Carter] will be a run producer in our lineup, one way or another," Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. "And a guy that we really needed, who we didn't really have last year -- a dangerous part of our lineup. We had some good hitters at times, but you never would face two or three guys that would really potentially scare you."
Carter was a 15th-round pick of the White Sox in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft, then was traded in 2007 to Arizona for Carlos Quentin. He wasn't in the organization for even two weeks before he was shipped out to Oakland in the Dan Haren-Carlos Gonzalez blockbuster deal.
"When we made the trade, you looked at his numbers and what he was able to do in 260 at-bats," Porter said of Carter's 2012 season in Oakland. "If we give him 500 at-bats, he may be able to hit 30-something home runs. You always have to take the ballpark into consideration. Oakland is a much larger than our ballpark. The sky's the limit."
Carter is a viable candidate to play first base, though the Astros have interest in seeing what he can do in the outfield, as well. And if his numbers in limited time last year are any indication, they'll want him on the field.
"Hopefully, I'm able to do what I've been doing in the Minors every year -- hit those marks where I'm getting 100 RBIs, 25 homers, whatever," Carter said. "For the most part, I just want to make solid contact on the ball, and whatever happens happens. Instead of this many home runs or this many RBIs, things I can't control."
Luhnow hopes that fellow first-base candidate Carlos Pena can help Carter hold it down in the middle of the lineup. The two combined for 35 homers last season and can provide that pop the Astros lacked.
"We've got some guys," Luhnow says, "that are gonna give the opposing pitcher a little bit of pause, at least."