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Texas surprised everyone by drafting Carter in '20. Here's how it happened

October 12, 2023

Since MLB Network began televising the Draft in 2009, it annually prepares for 250-300 possible players to be picked in the first couple of rounds. The idea is to avoid any surprises.

But unforeseen picks occasionally happen, with the most prominent example coming during the pandemic-shortened five-round Draft in 2020. The Rangers stunned analysts on two networks and most other teams when they used their second-round choice (50th overall) on Elizabethton (Tenn.) High School outfielder Evan Carter.

Carter didn't crack any media Draft lists -- not's Top 200, Baseball America's Top 500, ESPN's Top 150, FanGraphs' Top 233, Perfect Game's Top 400 or Prep Baseball Report's Top 200. I've covered the Draft for 35 years and intensely for the last two-plus decades, and Carter is the only top-three-rounds pick ever from my territory whom I never had heard of before Draft day.

The only commentator who even had gotten a glimpse of Carter was MLB Network's Dan O'Dowd, whose son Jack was also a Tennessee high schooler in the Class of 2020. O'Dowd's quick take was that Carter wasn't ready for professional baseball and needed to go to college.

"It's supposed to be the happiest day of your life," Carter says. "Well, I just got married [in December], and that was the happiest day of my life. Up until that point, you're hey, this is awesome, and then you're getting blasted on Twitter, like, 'Who is this person?' 'Dumb pick,' whatever.

"You just try to make the people who believe in you proud, make the Rangers proud, they believe in me. I don't blame you all. You can't know what you don't know."

Three years later, Carter definitely has made the Rangers proud. He has developed into one of the best prospects in baseball and after they called him up on Sept. 8, he provided a spark that helped them make the playoffs for the first time in seven years. He has become a postseason hero as Texas won all five of its Wild Card and Division Series games, going 6-for-14 (.429) with a homer, six walks and stellar defense.

Kip Fagg has worked for the Rangers since 1992, first as an area scout before getting promoted to crosschecker in 2002 and scouting director in October 2009. He has run the last 14 Drafts for the club and though the Carter selection caught most of the industry looking, he said it was a relatively easy choice.

"It was not a hard pick in the second round at all," Fagg said. "The conviction we had as a group, how good we felt, it's one of the most unanimous decisions we've had. Everyone loved the kid."

Getting deep in the heart of Texas

The path that led Carter to the Rangers began well before he was even born. His father Jason grew up playing youth baseball with Danny Clark, and the two graduated from Elizabethton High together in 1988. Jason Carter went on to play defensive back at East Tennessee State before going into education, while Clark played baseball at ETSU and made a career in the sport.

Clark coached in high school and college before joining the Rangers as a Minor League pitching coach in 2006. He became Texas' pitching coordinator in 2009 and held that position until shifting into a staff-development role this year. He continues to live in Elizabethton, as does Jason Carter, who's now an assistant principal and athletic director at local Dugger Junior High.


"Because of Evan's love for the game, Jason would text me periodically and tell me he thought Evan was pretty good," Clark says. "Around his freshman year, he said he thought he might be something. I asked if he could run because Jason was an elite runner, and he said Evan was faster.

"I knew his high school coach well because he played at Furman, and he would tell me all the things Evan was doing, how good he was, his bat speed. There was really no technology in the area to validate anything like bat speed or exit velocity."

From his days at the amateur level, Clark has an extensive network of coaching contacts that feeds him tips about players all the time. He says maybe 30 percent of those leads wind up being worthwhile and he'll do what he can to vet them before passing them on. He was always off coaching with the Rangers during the prep baseball season, so he never saw Carter play at Elizabethton High.

During Carter's freshman season, Clark called then-Rangers area scout Derrick Tucker, who covered Georgia and Tennessee. He followed up with another call that summer.

"I told Derrick, 'You need to see this kid,'" Clark says. "'He's got some tools and I haven't seen him play, but his dad verifies it and I can trust him.' I knew who Evan was and what the family was about."

Tucker saw Carter for the first time in the summer of 2017, when he was a rising sophomore. He was intrigued and noted that Carter would be a player to watch as he got closer to his Draft year. The more he scouted Carter, the more he appreciated him as both a player and person.

"By the summer going into his senior year, [Eastern crosschecker] Ryan Coe and I had filed aggressive follow reports on him," says Tucker, who has signed four big leaguers and is now with the Diamondbacks. "We looked at the body type and the athlete and we thought this guy could really pop. His approach, his athleticism and tools, his age was 17 at the Draft, his dad was a big guy and athletic. There was a lot of reason for optimism."

Other teams didn't see Carter in the same regard because it wasn't easy to see him. The Tri-Cities region in northeast Tennessee has produced top-two-round picks Will Craig, Landon Knack and Gavin Cross in the last decade, but they all were drafted that high after attending college. Elizabethton is a small town (population 14,000) that had produced exactly one Draft choice (Braves 11th-rounder Ricky Carriger in 1988), so it's not a priority destination for scouts.

Both of Carter's parents are educators and they prioritized more than just baseball. The valedictorian of his Elizabethton High class, Carter committed to attend Duke when he was a high school sophomore. He had dreams of becoming an endodontist, which led to shadowing dentists and taking college classes during the summer rather than chasing every high school showcase event possible.

"For me, committing to school was a big deal for me," Carter says. "I was like, wow, Duke education, that's what I was excited about. The Draft wasn't really on my mind, I guess. It was school for me and I wanted the education."

Carter did attend a regional Prospect Development Pipeline event in Cincinnati in June 2018 but didn't stand out. He didn't go to the Perfect Game National Showcase in Phoenix in July 2019 and failed to make the cut for the Reds' East Coast Pro team that summer. The biggest event he participated in was the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., in October 2019, where he was overshadowed on the Astros Scout Team by players like Enrique Bradfield Jr. and Coby Mayo (both now prominent prospects in the Orioles system).

Rangers get an exclusive

The Rangers invited Carter to a workout in Atlanta in January 2020, before the start of his senior season. All of their upper-level scouts were there, including Fagg and national crosscheckers Jake Krug and Scott Littlefield. There were several top prospects in attendance, including Jordan Walker (whom the Cardinals would select 21st overall that July), and Carter outshone them all.

"I think we thought he had a chance to be pretty good, so we had made him a priority for us as a group," Tucker says. "Then he came to that winter workout in Atlanta in front of our whole staff and we thought we had something pretty special. He stood out over Jordan Walker and the other big names in that indoor workout."

Because Clark had tipped off Tucker early and the Rangers began scouting him before other clubs, they had an advantage over their competition. That became even more pronounced when the pandemic struck and the United States essentially shut down by mid-March.

Carter's senior season at Elizabethton was cut short after two scrimmages and three official games. Tucker was at almost all of them -- "I can drive to Elizabethton in my sleep," he says -- ferrying Fagg, Krug, Littlefield and Coe for looks that most teams didn't get and never would. Fagg was in town for Carter's final two games before the shutdown, and the Rangers also hastily arranged a private workout.

The one possible concern about Carter centered around what is perhaps his greatest strength. He has extraordinary plate discipline, rarely chasing pitches out of the zone and earning the nickname "Full Count Carter" because of his ability to work pitchers. But because he rarely faced quality velocity or spin, the Rangers discussed whether it might be possible that he wasn't aggressive enough.

"Literally the only question we had was does he really see the ball that well or is he passive?" Tucker says. "He either had one of the best eyes and approaches I had ever scouted or he was passive. That was a debate we had internally.

"I saw him strike out three times looking in one game and they weren't strikes. I asked him about it and he said he would get himself out if he didn't swing at strikes. He just really knows the strike zone that well."

Lowest chase rate, 2023 (incl. postseason)
Min. 200 out-of-zone pitches seen

  1. Evan Carter: 9.4%
  2. Edouard Julien: 14.2%
  3. Davis Schneider: 15.7%
  4. Cavan Biggio: 16.0%
  5. Robbie Grossman/Travis Jankowski: 16.1%

Tucker's scouting report was glowing. On the 20-80 scouting scale where 50 represents big league average, he projected Carter's hitting ability, approach, power and speed as 60s and his center-field defense and arm as 55s. In his summary, Tucker wrote, "High-Ceiling HS bat w/all the ingredients to a MLB All-Star . . . DNP in major summer events but has a good chance to surpass the famous names once in pro ball. Would be proud to put my name next to this one."

Tucker gave Carter even higher grades on Texas' makeup matrix, including 80s for desire to improve every day, high expectations and goals and being professional and respectful. Of Carter's character, he wrote, "True professional w/a Growth Mindset. Respectful and extremely humble. Lead by example type . . . Will be a true professional that will show up and have the respect of entire org. Very good teammate that will embrace any role given to him."


Tucker's superiors in the scouting department felt the same way and they were determined to make Carter a Ranger. They knew they'd have to compensate him well to turn down Duke and eventually signed him for $1.25 million, which wasn't an issue. The unknown was how high they'd have to select him.

The Covid effect

In a normal year, word about Carter probably would have spread during the spring and could have propelled him into the first round. But 2020 was far from a normal year, and the only other clubs who appeared to be on his trail were the Pirates and Royals. Both teams picked ahead of the Rangers in the Draft order and there was a sense one or both could pop Carter in the third round, so Texas pounced in the second.

"If we had a full year in 2020, Evan Carter would have been known by everybody," Fagg says. "The Pirates and Royals scared me, but there wasn't the normal amount of teams. All of our guys loved the kid. His tools, his approach, he was a middle-of-the-field player, the makeup -- he checked every box.

"We thought he was way better than the industry thought. I was a tad surprised by the reaction of the media because I'm not going to take some dude in the second round who I pulled out of my [butt]."

Once Minor League games resumed in 2021, Carter's tools and advanced plate discipline quickly became apparent. Currently ranked No. 8 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects list, he spent just 246 games in the Minors before getting summoned to Texas, where he batted .307/.413/.645 with five homers in 23 regular-season games and has been even better in the postseason.

He might have been anonymous on Draft Day three years ago, but everyone in baseball knows Evan Carter now.