College catcher now pitches for the Astros

David Carpenter received the last warmup pitch from a West Virginia University relief pitcher. He quickly stood, and rifled an effortless throw to second base. The next half-inning could begin.

Carpenter was only an average college baseball hitter. Even with the aluminum bats that were allowed when he played, he had too many strikeouts, not enough power and not enough hits to gain any interest from major league scouts.

A sharp-eyed recruiter saw a potential pitcher in David Carpenter.

But he had a very good arm. One day at a West Virginia University game, a major league scout was paying attention to everything that was going on around him. He noticed the strength of Carpenter’s arm. The scout knew Carpenter had no chance of ever becoming a major league catcher.

But with his arm strength might he become a pitcher?

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Carpenter had been born in Morgantown and grew up in Fairmont where he graduated from East Fairmont High School. He came to WVU in the fall of 2002 to become a member of the baseball team.

Carpenter’s arm strength and serviceable defensive ability were the reasons he got to catch for the Mountaineers.

In June of 2006, Carpenter was selected in the 12th round of the major league draft of amateurs by the St. Louis Cardinals.

After signing his professional contract shortly thereafter, he was in the minor league system of the Cardinals — as a pitcher — for four seasons. Carpenter was groomed a possible closer. His fastball was that effective. He steadily moved forward on the Cardinals’ ladder, and he was a “prospect” the front office considered future major league material.

Then in August of 2010, the Cardinals were embroiled in another of the yearly pennant races they enjoyed under the leadership of manager Tony LaRussa.

St. Louis thought it needed bullpen help in the last six weeks of its quest for the National League pennant . . . so it made a trade for Pedro Feliz of the Houston Astros. It was Carpenter the Cardinals swapped for Feliz. Carpenter was 24 years old at the time.

Though he began the 2011 in the minor leagues at Class AAA, Carpenter was summoned to the big leagues by the Astros for the last four months of that season. He appeared in 34 games, all as a reliever. His won-loss record was 1-3 but his ERA was a more than respectable 2.93. Carpenter finished 12 of the 34 games he appeared in and struck out 29 in his 27.2 innings. He was credited with one save.

His salary for those four months of activity with Houston was a cool $450,000 — the minimum wage for a major league player.

Now at age 26, Carpenter is back with Houston to begin the 2012 season.

In the Astros’ first five games, he appeared as a reliever in two of them. He pitched an inning in each game and had no decisions. The one run he allowed was earned and left him with a 4.50 ERA.

As a major league player with almost one year experience, Carpenter’s salary this season is $485,000.

Houston was never a factor in the 2011 National League pennant race. The Astros might not raise much dust this year.

That St. Louis scout who watched the casual mid-inning throw ro second base by WVU catcher David Carpenter was a valuable employee of the St. Louis Cardinals Baseball organization. He allowed his team to draft a player in a middle round where only a small bonus had to be paid for his signature on a contract.

Carpenter was a gamble. But how many 12th round draft choices ever play in the major leagues? Carpenter had the arm strength . . . and the size . . . and had shown the durability in college to possibly be able to make a position change and still be successful enough to reach the major leagues.

At age 26, Carpenter is an unlikely member of a major league team. Since he isn’t arbitration eligible until 2015 and can’t become a free agent until 2018, the Astros will see no need to release him or trade him for those monetary reasons.

From a light-hitting college catcher to a power-pitching major leaguer is a little-used road to the big leagues. Former WVU player David Carpenter found it. And now he is a valued member of Houston’s pitching staff.

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