Carlson has excelled against advanced competition at every stage of his career since the Cardinals took him 33rd overall in the 2016 Draft. He opened 2019 as the Double-A Texas League's second-youngest position player but went on to garner MVP honors as a 20-year-old after ranking second in the circuit in home runs (21), OPS (.882), extra-base hits (51) and runs (81). Carlson continued to rake after a mid-August promotion to Triple-A to become the first Cardinals farmhand to record at least 20 home runs (26) and 20 stolen bases (20) since Terry Evans (22-26) and Tyler Greene (20-33) in 2006. He reached the Majors for the first time in 2020, debuting on Aug. 15 at age 21, but was demoted to the alternate training site after just 23 games. Carlson looked every bit like an impact player when he returned two weeks later. After batting .286 with seven extra-base hits and 11 RBIs over his final 11 regular-season contests, he posted a 1.016 OPS as the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter against San Diego in the Wild Card Series.
Carlson’s five tools are average to plus across the board. He’s blossomed as a left-handed hitter in the pro ranks, making harder contact and improving his launch angle while tapping into more power each year, while the natural loft in Carlson’s right-handed swing makes him a power threat from both sides of the plate. Carlson’s knowledge of the strike zone and pitch recognition have been constants throughout his career, giving him on-base skills to go along with the power potential and natural hitting ability. He knows how to steal a bag and earns high marks for his baserunning, combining above-average speed with veteran-like instincts.
Those instincts and wheels also allow Carlson to hold his own as a center fielder, although scouts tend to view him as a better long-term fit at an outfielder corner. But whether he’s bouncing between all three outfield spots or playing one exclusively, it will be Carlson’s bat that makes him an above-average regular in the big leagues.
2020 Scouting grades: Hit: 55 | Power: 60 | Run: 55 | Arm: 55 | Field: 60 | Overall: 60
The Cardinals used the first of their back-to-back first-round picks (Nos. 33 and 34) in 2016 on Carlson, then drafted right-hander Dakota Hudson with the next. A product of prep baseball powerhouse Elk Grove (Calif.) High, where his father is head coach, Carlson started to come into his own in 2018, showing power potential, strong on-base skills and an all-around feel for the game in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League that would set the stage for a breakout '19 campaign. The Double-A Texas League's second-youngest position player on Opening Day, Carlson went on to garner MVP honors as a 20-year-old, ranking second in the circuit in home runs (21), OPS (.882), extra-base hits (51) and runs (81). He continued to rake after a mid-August promotion to Triple-A, posting a 1.098 OPS over 18 games to wrap a bow on his season. He was one of 10 Minor Leaguers to record at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases and the first Cardinals farmhand to accomplish the feat since Terry Evans (22-26) and Tyler Greene (20-33) in 2006.
A switch-hitter with average-or-better tools across the board, Carlson blossomed as a left-handed hitter in 2019, slugging .551 with 18 homers in the upper Minors, a marked improvement compared to his previous year (.327 SLG, 4 HR). He continued to fare well against lefties, homering once every 15.5 at-bats, and his fly-ball and line-drive rate from both sides of the plate increased by nearly seven percent. Carlson's knowledge of the strike zone and pitch recognition have remained consistent during his ascent through the Minors, giving him on-base skills to go along with above-average hitting ability and potentially plus power. A good athlete and slightly above-average runner, Carlson is an instinctual defender who can hold his own in center field, though he may fit better at an outfield corner long term.
Hudson made his mark in the Majors in 2019 by finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, and it shouldn't be long until Carlson joins him in St. Louis. With his high baseball IQ, sound approach and promising blend of hitting ability and power, Carlson appears well on his way toward becoming an above-average regular, if not more.
2019 Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 55 | Run: 50 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 55
Hailing from the Elk Grove High School program in northern California that his dad coached, Carlson was one of two first-round picks the Cardinals got at the end of 2016's opening round (Dakota Hudson was the other). Sent aggressively to full-season ball to start the '17 season, Carlson really struggled out of the gate, but righted the ship a bit after that, catching up to the level. Things began to come together for him in 2018, as he showed a mix of power potential and on-base skills at age 19 in the challenging Class A Advanced Florida State League, and he broke out in earnest during his first Double-A campaign in '19, earning a Futures Game selection along the way.
Carlson is a switch-hitter who has some serious offensive potential. While his right-handed swing is more impactful and consistent, Carlson has made significant strides as a left-handed hitter in 2019 while regularly tapping into his plus raw power from both sides. His strong knowledge of the strike zone and pitch recognition are major assets, allow him to find more pitches to drive and tap into his power, which could be above-average in his prime. A good athlete and average runner, Carlson has held his own as a center fielder in Double-A but may fit better at a corner-outfield spot long term.
Carlson has responded well to challenging assignments at every stage in his career, performing increasingly well against older competition in advanced leagues. With his high baseball IQ, feel for the strike zone and blend of hitting ability and power at the plate, Carlson is on his way toward becoming an everyday big leaguer.
2018 Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 40 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
The Cardinals had the last two picks of the first round in the 2016 Draft. With the last one, they were able to get Dakota Hudson, who fell to them. Right before that, they reached a little bit for Carlson, who signed for $600,000 below pick value, which allowed them to go after talent later on in the Draft.
Carlson has an interesting combination of tools and baseball IQ. He plays like the typical coach's son -- he played for his father at Elk Grove High School in California. He was young for the Draft, he'll play all of this year at age 18, and the Cardinals are more than willing to be patient. He's shown some ability to hit from both sides of the plate and could very well grow into decent power as he fills out his athletic 6-foot-3 frame. Carlson was a center fielder in high school and the Cardinals plan to let him stay up the middle as long as he can. Depending on how he fills out, he could move to a corner as needed.
The Cardinals already love how Carlson plays the game and how willing he is to work at it. That kind of makeup should allow him to maximize his tools as he starts the slow climb up the organizational ladder.
2017 Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 45 | Arm: 55 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
Hailing from the Elk Grove High school program in northern California that his dad coached, Carlson was one of two first-round picks the Cardinals got at the end of 2016's opening round (Dakota Hudson was the other). Sent aggressively to full-season ball to start the 2017 season, Carlson really struggled out of the gate, but righted the ship a bit after that, catching up to the level.
Carlson has some serious offensive potential from both sides of the plate, with many evaluators believing he'll be able to get to an average hit tool because of his advanced approach. Carlson walked 11.5 percent of the time during his first full season. His strong knowledge of the strike zone should allow him to find more pitches to drive and tap into his power more consistently. Even when he was struggling, he didn't wear his at-bats and used it as a learning experience. A fringe-average runner, Carlson looks like he'll be athletic enough to play right field, where his strong arm that piled up 14 assists in 2017 profiles well.
Carlson's baseball IQ, his feel for the strike zone and his offensive potential, give the Cardinals hope for his future. How he adjusts from the adversity he faced in 2017 while moving to a new level will speak volumes about what kind of prospect he can become.
2016 Scouting grades: Hit: 50 | Power: 40 | Run: 50 | Arm: 50 | Field: 50 | Overall: 45
The Cardinals surprised some by taking Carlson at the end of the first round of the Draft. But not only do they believe in the Northern California high schooler's abilities, they were able to sign him for nearly $600,000 below pick value, enabling them to aggressively go after talent later on in the Draft.
A coach's son -- Carlson played for his father at Elk Grove High School -- he gets high marks for makeup and baseball IQ. A switch-hitter, he's shown an ability to hit from both sides of the plate. There should be power to come as he matures into his 6-foot-3 frame. A center fielder in high school, that's where he started his pro career in the Gulf Coast League after signing. Most feel, however, that he'll slide over to an outfield corner, given his average speed. He should throw well enough for right field, and could very well fit the offensive profile in the future.
Carlson's passion for the game comes out in his play and he's sure to maximize his abilities as a pro, working to prove to everyone he was worthy of a first-round selection.