Wednesday Dish: Stacking Up Dexter Carter

One expects a college draftee to have some success in low Class A, so on that level, it’s not surprising to find Dexter Carter leading the South Atlantic League in strikeouts. But Carter brings more to the table than just the advantages of age and maturity.

"He’s very driven," Carter’s pitching coach Larry Owens said. "He really works hard for us. He has really good stuff and a feel for pitching."

A 2008 13th-round pick by the White Sox out of Old Dominion, Carter entered the pro ranks coming off an utterly disappointing college season. Expected to be one of ODU’s aces, the righthander went just 3-4, 8.76 and saw his control abandon him, as he walked 33 in 37 innings. To be fair, he was hardly the only one to underachieve on that ODU squad, which opened the 2008 season ranked in BA’s preseason Top 25, then failed to make the NCAA Tournament. And so it was on that note that Carter entered pro ball, making his debut last summer for Rookie-level Great Falls.

Carter was plagued by inconsistencies with his mechanics in college, where he had trouble keeping himself on a straight line toward home plate. White Sox coaches worked with him to correct his delivery, and he posted impressive numbers in the hitter-friendly Pioneer League, going 6-1, 2.23 and helping to pitch Great Falls to the league title.

That success has carried over into Carter’s first year in a full-season league with Kannapolis, where Carter has gone 5-2, 3.34 in 105 innings heading to his scheduled start tonight against Augusta. Carter leads the SAL and is second in the minors with 129 punchouts, with three double-digit strikeout games to his credit. His 11.06 K/9 ranks sixth among full-season pitchers. Carter has also started going deeper into games, having pitched into the seventh inning in seven of his last nine starts. He hasn’t lost since May 21 either.

With that level of succes and considering his age, 22, Carter would seem like a prime candidate for promotion. By comparison, his ex-ODU teammate and fellow White Sox draftee, righthander Dan Hudson, also started the season in Kannapolis but has already reached Double-A, going 9-5, 2.61 in the process. But the biggest separator between the two is in the quality their changeups.

When he commands them, Carter’s fastball and curveball are more than enough to succeed against Sally League hitters. His fastball has touched 94 mph and sits mostly 90-92, and he complements it with a downer curveball that gets some side-to-side movement as well. The changeup is the pitch he needs most to develop further if he’s going to succeed at higher levels.

"We’re trying to develop the changeup more," Owens said. "It’s become a pretty decent pitch. We’ve tried it with different grips and whatnot, and I think he’s come up with something that he likes now. He feels comfortable. He’s been able to soften it up."

Carter’s changeup was coming in at a firm 83-85 mph earlier in the season, but Owens said they’ve lowered that figure to 78-80 now. Carter has the added advantage of standing 6-foot-6, enabling him to generate a good downhill plane for all his pitches, though issues with staying on a straight line to the plate still creep in from time to time.

Given the assets he already has, it’s not hard to imagine Carter having success at higher levels if his changeup progresses, a message Owens stresses to Carter and any other young starter.

"You have to get them to buy into the fact that they cannot move on, if they’re going to start, and just have two pitches," Owens said. "In High A, Double-A or Triple-A, if they go to add a changeup then, it’s going to be much more difficult on them than if they can go ahead and develop it here and now.

"It’s a pitch they’re going to need. To turn a lineup over as often as a starter is going to need to turn a lineup over, he’s going to need a changeup to do it, to be successful."

Hellickson To Triple-A

The Rays are promoting righthander Jeremy Hellickson to Triple-A Durham, where he’ll make his debut Friday night when the Bulls open a homestand against Norfolk. Hellickson, 22, was 3-1, 2.38 in 56 2/3 innings for Double-A Montgomery, having missed almost seven weeks in May and June with a supraspinatus sprain in his right shoulder. In his final start for the Biscuits, Hellickson held West Tenn to one run on three hits over six innings on Saturday.

Prospects Blog: Daily Dish, transactions and minor league news
Baseball America Prospect Report: Yesterday’s top minor league lines delivered to your inbox every weekday morning