Matt Carpenter's familiarity at third base is showing early

By Corey Noles of the Daily Statesman

I've come to the conclusion that St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter could absolutely rock any position he's asked to play.

He's bounced around the outfield and the infield during his time in St. Louis, playing above average defense wherever he lands. That's why when manager Mike Matheny told him to go home and learn second base before the 2013 season, he was excited about the challenge.

With Kolten Wong likely still a year away from consistent big league play, they needed someone to fill in for a year. Why Matt Carpenter? Why not?

He worked hard. Took his reps.

He learned the position−better than almost every other active second baseman currently in the game. In fact, he learned it well enough to finish in the top 5 of NL MVP voting and to lead to discussions regarding whether he should stay at second base.

Instead of leaving him at second, Matheny decided to move him one more time. It's quite possible this move will be his last.

Third base is nothing new to Carpenter, a native of Galveston, Texas who grew up chasing his father around a high school baseball field. He learned not only from his father, but from the young men his father coached.

Sure, he played in little league like everyone else, but he also spent plenty of time as a young boy taking reps with the high school players—always working far beyond the other players his age.

At that age he was already a third baseman. That's why when he was told to scoot back over into the hot corner, he was fine with the change.

"It's been a position that I've played my whole life, so there's a lot of familiarity," Carpenter said. "It feels great to be back over there."

Even though moving back to third base was like coming home for him, that doesn't mean it wasn't going to take work.

Playing second base is very different. The angles aren't the same. The view of the ball coming off of the bat is different to read. The cues he might get from watching the pitcher or catcher Yadier Molina are even very different.

"I just had to get the reps and get back into the swing of things," he said. "It was all about trying to get comfortable again."

Fortunately for Matt Carpenter, comfort came quickly.

Less than two weeks into the new season, Carpenter is already a frequent flyer on ESPN's Web Gems.

"It's been awhile, but I did play it a little last year, so that helped a little bit," he said.

His Texas values showing, Carpenter is quite modest. He's always glad to talk, but he's not one for taking credit.

He does however, stress the one value that seems to have become synonymous with his name in St. Louis—hard work.

When asked about his gritty mentality, Carpenter is quick to say that it's just a matter of "doing what it takes."

"If you're going to do anything, you've gotta work hard and give it everything you have," Carpenter said. "That's the mind set I take in to everything."

In his case, that mentality has paid off—big time.

Just three short years ago, with David Freese at the height of his career, it wasn't a guarantee that he would have an opportunity to show the big league club what he could do.

Being position blocked by a hometown hero who just marched down Market St. hoisting the Commissioner's Trophy isn't the ideal situation for any young player.

Despite the odds against him, Carpenter killed the ball all of the way through the Cardinals minor league system. During his minor league career, he hit .299/.408/.450 with only two fewer walks (210) than strikeouts (212).

His first chance at the big leagues came over a brief stint in 2011—only seven games. During that stint, Carpenter mustered only one hit. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the hit was a double.

Luckily, he got his second chance in 2012 when he showed the Cardinals that they needed his bat in the lineup. The key to staying alive as a young player in the big leagues, is to play good enough that they have no choice but to keep you around.

That mode of thinking has carried Carpenter a long way.

Instead of poking through arbitration, making what must feel like chump change to a major leaguer, Carpenter opted for a six-year extension through 2019 with a 2020 option valued at $52 million.

For the most part, it's all still sinking in for Carpenter. A player who once projected as a bench bat, he's risen through the ranks to become an All-Star infielder with an endless ceiling.

"It's been awesome," Carpenter said. "It's a lot of hard work paying off. I had a great opportunity to remain with the Cardinals and be a part of a great franchise. I'm really honored to be a part of this club."

With the success he's brought this team, there's little doubt that they are equally excited to know he's not leaving any time soon.

Corey Noles is a Cardinals Writer and Columnist for The Daily Statesman. He is also a regular contributor to and Bleacher Report. Contact him or on Twitter @coreynoles.


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