The first, and possibly still the best, feather in General Manager Jack Zduriencik's cap came in his early days on the job. A three-team trade landed the Mariners starting center fielder and Gold Glove winner Franklin Gutierrez and starting pitcher Jason Vargas who have both been major contributors to the major league team in Seattle. In 2011, a third name from that trade can be added: Mike Carp.
While in the Mets organization, Carp was seen as having a very good eye and a good approach at the plate, but his power took a while to develop and he never really handled left-handers well. Drafted out of high school in 2004, the Mets moved him along fairly quickly and 2008 was his breakout year: .299/.403/.471, 47 XBH, 79 BB. But the Mets bullpen was famously bad, and they also had first basemen Nick Evans and Ike Davis in the system. So Carp was sent to Seattle as part of the J.J. Putz deal.
While Carp performed well enough in 2009 for the M's in Triple-A Tacoma (.271/.372/.446 with 41 XBH and 58 BB), the club reportedly asked the then 23-year-old to alter his approach and hit for more power in 2010. Carp did that as his home run total jumped from 15 to 29 in his second trip through the Pacific Coast League and although his average and OBP slipped, his jump in slugging was still enough to improve his OPS by nearly 30 points. Still, Carp's place with Seattle took another turn when the club traded for a fellow first baseman--Justin Smoak--that summer. Seemingly a player without a future position, Carp began to see time in left field for the Rainiers in 2010.
When he reported to camp this year, SeattleClubhouse saw first-hand that Mike had undergone a mini makeover by slimming down and toning up, perhaps in preparation of becoming a full-time outfielder. He certainly counts as one of the "best shape of his life" candidates this year. His minor league season in the PCL looks a little silly: .343/.411/.649 with 21 homers in 251 at bats. But when Carp got his first call up to Seattle this year, his time was mostly spent on the bench: He managed just seven hits (two doubles) in 35 at bats over 15 games before being optioned back to Tacoma.
When his second call came, Carp returned with a vengeance. He has hit .288/.333/.508 with 13 doubles and nine home runs while playing basically every day in his 48 games since the second recall. He's played well at both first base and left field while also seeing 17 games as the DH this season. He has also seemingly begun to put what was once his biggest weakness behind him as he has hit lefties to the tune of .319/.372/.660 over 51 plate appearances. He's also hitting .304 with four of his nine home runs at Safeco Field.
Carp will never be an above average outfielder defensively because of his lack of ideal foot speed for the position--particularly for the spacious left field in Safeco. But he has improved his routes and jumps and has shown an adequate arm for a converted first baseman. The change in his approach at the plate has erased the question of power, and he now is a legit 55+ power guy now. His plate discipline hasn't really fallen off so much as that his aggression at the plate--which was at the urging of the organization--has increased. Because of that, he likely won't draw 75+ walks like he used to be projected to be able to. But he has a solid approach at the plate and doesn't expand the zone too often which should allow him to hit for a reasonable average to go along with his power.
Carp has 226 at bats this season after coming into the year with just 91, so I feel that the production we are seeing from him right now is sustainable to a point. If he can hold that success rate against lefties and cut down on his strikeouts a tad (up over 28% right now), he could be an everyday player as a LF/1B/DH guy for 2012 and beyond.