ARLINGTON, TEXAS — In the months ahead, they and all of baseball would have ample access to Paul Goldschmidt’s numbers as a junior at Texas State – the school-record homers, his thundering OPS, the 88 RBIs, his weight, his height, the vitals – but a Diamondbacks’ area scout wanted his boss to have something earlier than other teams: access to Paul Goldschmidt.
So he invited both of them to lunch.
In January 2009, before a preseason scrimmage, Goldschmidt and a teammate made the 4-minute drive from the Bobcats’ ballpark to a Texas Roadhouse restaurant in San Marcos, Texas, to meet scout Trip Couch and Tom Allison, Arizona’s scouting director. In reports Couch had filed about Texas State’s first baseman he had dutifully graded Goldschmidt’s tools on a 20-to-80 scale, 80 being elite. Next to makeup he had written, “80.” A conversation would prove it. Allison and Goldschmidt bonded over experiences in Alaska and “talked about the Moose Dropping Festival and all kinds of (stuff),” one attendant said. On the car ride away from lunch, Allison stopped Couch.
“I think you were a little light on the makeup grade,” he said. “This guy is like a 90.”
That was the start of what led to Allison and Arizona making “this guy” their 13th pick in the draft, the 246th player taken overall. That was a little light, too. The 2009 draft has proven thick with talent, from first-rounder Mike Trout to second-rounder Nolan Arenado, and it produced five members of the Cardinals’ last NL pennant-winner, in 2013. The Diamondbacks’ eighth-round selection out of Texas State has been the second-most productive player in that draft class. And just behind him: Another college kid from Texas taken in the 13th round, 399th overall, by the Cardinals – Matt Carpenter. Neither was ranked by Baseball America as a top-200 talent that June.
A decade ago scouts crisscrossed this area of Texas scouring for such talent, and these two later-round picks, mined from nearby, have emerged as the Cardinals’ corner infielders and the franchise’s cornerstones for years to come.
They knew of each other while playing for Houston-area high schools. They played against each other in college. And, teammates for the first time as Cardinals, their paths from college to All-Star had parallels. They each faced doubts from scouts entering the draft, they each shed weight to change their body type, and, as one evaluator wrote, they each “became elite players at the major-league level.”
Their advocates shared similar reviews: To know what they could do it wasn’t enough to know their numbers or know the scouting reports.
You had to know them.
“Look at that ’09 draft: Carpenter is a face of a franchise. Goldy is Goldy, an MVP candidate. Trout is Trout, of course. Arenado is the face of his franchise,” said Allison, now Seattle’s vice president of pro scouting. “I sat and listened to enough evaluations of Arenado about how he couldn’t run to know there’s more to it. Matty and Paul, looking back, you see where it came from. We knew this: They’re just baseball players. They had a great understanding of the game.”
Carpenter’s Horned Frogs played Goldschmidt’s Bobcats four times in their final two college seasons. TCU won all four games. Goldschmidt’s first home run of his final college season came against TCU in an 8-2 loss. In each of the 2009 games, Carpenter, true to his brand, drew a key walk to ignite a rally that led to a victory. He had six walks combined in the two games against Texas State.
That left an impression on first base and the first baseman.
“He definitely set the tone for how they played,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s funny that’s what sticks out. You don’t always notice that on another team. But with him, definitely.”
Carpenter said Goldschmidt was just hard to miss.
“He was big,” Carpenter said. “He was about 50 pounds heavier, so real big. His forearms were huge. Any time you have a (smaller) school that has a player like that come in and take over a game, you take notice.”
In three seasons at Texas State, Goldschmidt hit a school-record 36 home runs and drove in 178 RBIs. His 88 RBIs as a junior led NCAA Division I and he had a 1.172 OPS. He was the first player to repeat as the Southland Conference’s hitter of the year and the first player to have his number retired at Texas State. He got No. 37 assigned to him because that was the jersey big enough to fit him.
Scouting reports described him as “linebacker-ish,” with “limited range,” and about 3 ½ hours away at TCU Carpenter had reports suggesting he was “bad-bodied” and a bat without a position. Both were known as patient, savvy hitters. The Cardinals’ internal reports read similarly about their low strikeout rates and plate discipline, an official described. Evaluators elsewhere also questioned how that would translate to pro ball.
In the years leading into the 2009 draft, the Cardinals expanded their use of analytics and used studies of ballparks to help identify small-school potential, like Slippery Rock slugger Matt Adams, their 23rd-round pick in 2009. An email to scouts from the analytics group listed Goldschmidt as a player a scout should eyeball because of how highly he graded, analytically. Scout Matt Blood, assigned to the Southland Conference, flew from his home in New Orleans to Houston, and drove to San Marcos for a doubleheader to see Goldschmidt.
Goldschmidt hit two homers in the doubleheader. Blood returned home and wrote a report that suggested where he thought Goldschmidt might go in the draft and how high his bat could take him.
“Little did I know,” said Blood, who is now the Rangers’ farm director, “that he was going to be one of the best hitters in the world.”
The midweek games against teams like TCU and Rice, allowed Texas State to get in front of more scouts who would be at larger-conference games on the weekend. Allison, while with Arizona, attended at least one of the TCU-Texas State games in 2009 and started to see the transformations that would slingshot both Carpenter and Goldschmidt as pros. Carpenter missed a season to recover from Tommy John surgery, and by the time he was a redshirt senior with a .470 on-base percentage he had embraced a workout regimen to slim down and increase agility. Allison recalled how “the things he did as a senior smacked you in the eye and told you who Matt Carpenter was.”
Even then, Baseball America didn’t have a scouting report on Carpenter entering the 2009 draft, effectively dismissing him as an overripe pick. The Cardinals had a fattening file on him. Like Goldschmidt, Carpenter had played for a high school championship in Texas and alongside talent that drew scouts and for a father highly regarded as a baseball coach. The Cardinals’ report on Carpenter, filed by Aaron Krawiec, noted Carpenter’s feel for the game, and the Cardinals knew of his radical fitness change. A veteran scout, Mike Roberts, saw Carpenter and once suggested that even if a hitter didn’t have a position always get the hitter. There aren’t many of them.
Couch, the area scout for Arizona, had watched Carpenter since high school – and he had known Goldschmidt personally since high school, too. That gave him an edge that he stressed to Arizona because “we knew him better than anybody.” After the draft, Couch wrote a report for Arizona’s player development officials that suggested Goldschmidt would be the “leader of your team; any issues and he will fix them.”
The scout said that Goldschmidt’s father chided him throughout that 2009 season because the first baseman never seemed to get a hit while Couch was around.
Didn’t matter. Anybody could find hits in a box score.
He was convinced he already found a player.
“If he was in the draft today, right now, there are things he was doing that people would be all over that,” said Couch, now South Carolina’s director of player development. “There is still something to that character, that makeup that can’t be figured out on a computer. That’s what will come through in the hard times. Sometimes scouting can be negative. We look for reasons why it won’t work instead of why it will.”
The Diamondbacks had a motherlode of picks in 2009 that included five in the first 45 and eight in the first 100. By the time they got to the eighth round, Arizona had already drafted Chris Owings, Keon Broxton, A.J. Pollock, and even another college first baseman but grabbed Goldschmidt, their 90 makeup pick. Another 152 players would come off the board before the Cardinals drafted Carpenter in the 13th round as their lottery-ticket hitter. The Cardinals took Shelby Miller in the first round and stocked their 2013 postseason bullpen with later picks like Joe Kelly (third round) and Trevor Rosenthal (21st round).
In 10 years, the 2009 draft has produced 10 players with career Wins Above Replacement (WAR) greater than 20.0. Goldschmidt’s 41.2 WAR is second only to Trout’s 67.1 and ahead of Arenado’s 34.3 and first-overall Stephen Strasburg’s 29.3. Carpenter’s 26.0 WAR ranks sixth in his draft class. He and J.D. Martinez (21.6) are the only players drafted later than the ninth round to crack 20.0.
The scouts couldn’t possibly know that eight years after their draft, Carpenter and Goldschmidt would finish sixth and ninth in MVP voting, respectively, or start the next season on the same team. But getting to know all they could was a start. Texas State’s coach Ty Harrington had an idea because he saw Goldschmidt’s work away from the field and, in those games against TCU, noticed the similarities Carpenter had on it.
“Both of them have become incredible baseball players. But you get inside that uniform and you find incredible people,” Harrington said Friday as he readied for a doubleheader. “That’s a reason why they are who they are and they are where they are. People want to say they’re surprised both of those guys got to the big leagues. I’m not. I’m surprised at all.
“I was in on the secret.”