Interview with Yusuf Carter: Oakland A’s Prospect

MLB reports:  In our latest interview feature, we meet Oakland Athletics catching prospect, Yusuf Carter.  Yusuf is 26-years-of-age and currently playing AA ball with the Midland RockHounds.  Carter has the distinction of being drafted by three different major league teams, the Mariners, A’s and Cubs.  Carter ultimately signed with the Cubs and played in their farm system before joining Oakland.  The nephew of former major leaguer Joe Carter, Yusuf has graciously agreed to this interview with MLB reports.  After speaking with him, I can fully say that you would be hard pressed to find a nicer, more down to earth player than Carter.  A terrific human being and baseball player, Yusuf Carter is one of the lucky ones to play professional baseball and appreciates every minute.  He is a hard worker, does not take anything for granted and is giving it his all to make it the major leagues.  We proudly present:  Yusuf Carter, of the Oakland Athletics.

MLB reports:  Welcome to MLB reports Yusuf.  It is a pleasure to have you join us.

Carter:  The pleasure is all mine.  Thank you for contacting me and having me on board.

MLB reports:   Let’s start off with learning who was your favorite baseball player growing up.  Which player did you most idolize and pattern your game after?

Carter:  My favorite player growing up was definitely the kid, Ken Griffey Jr.  I loved the way he brought style and swagger to the game of baseball!  He was the best at hitting long home runs (and pimping them) and making highlight catches seemingly every night!  Griffey probably had the most pure talent of any player I have ever seen and I hope that he makes the hall of fame one day.

MLB reports:  To flip it around, which current MLB star do you most admire and why?

Carter:  The player I most admire now is definitely Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees.  I admire the way he goes about his business and plays the game.   Jeter works very hard and plays the right way, every day.  I am also impressed that Jeter has not let stardom get to his head and has remained humble despite his vast successes in baseball.

MLB reports:  Reflecting on your career to-date, what are your proudest accomplishments on the baseball field?

Carter:  Well looking at my career so far, I would have to say winning the Florida State League Championship in 2008 with the Daytona Cubs.  It was the best feeling I ever had playing baseball.  I hit a game-tying home run in a crucial game during the series and that was a pretty awesome feeling.

MLB reports:  What are your goals going into the 2011 season? 

Carter:  My goals are to hit  .400 with 50 home runs and 150 RBI’s!  They say it is important to dream big, right?! (laughing)  Realistically though, I am  just going to go out and play hard every day and give it my all!  I want to look back after every game and know that I never took a night off and never gave away any at bats.   As long as I play like that, I am sure that I can achieve at least half of my expected goals.  That would be pretty good!

MLB reports:  When you first found out you were drafted by three different teams in three years, what were your reactions?  Did those reactions change over time? If you can comment on each team and why you chose to re-enter the draft that would be great.  Please also tell the story of final signing with the Cubs and how you came to the A’s. 

Carter:  To be drafted at all is a pretty big deal.  After it happened 3 years in a row, I was very happy that different organizations thought I was good enough to play for them and wanted me.  That definitely gave  me the confidence that I can make it all the way to the big leagues one day and made me work that much harder on every aspect of my game.  But each situation was different for me. After considering all the factors, even when I got drafted early, I decided that I didn’t want to rush into signing and starting my career if the situation wasn’t the best fit for me at that particular stage.  The best situation was when the Chicago Cubs drafted me in 2005, so I signed with the Cubs and started my baseball career.  I played with the Cubs from 2005 -2008.  I was picked up by the Oakland A’s in the winter of 2008 in the rule 5 draft and have been with the organization ever since.

MLB reports:  Can you give an insight as to why you originally chose not to sign in the 2 previous times you were drafted before signing with the Cubs?  Did you have any fear that you may not be drafted again or not have interest if you did not sign each time you chose not to sign?

Carter:  I was first drafted out of high school by the Mariners and the offer wasn’t very much.   I knew it would be best for my career if I went to college and played more. That way I could gain more experience playing at a higher level, with the chance of increasing my value if I played well.  The second time around, I was ironically drafted by the Oakland A’s.  I was a draft-and-follow (before they got changed the system and got rid of it).   The A’s wanted me to play another year of college ball and come to a decision once the year was over.  I decided not to sign with them because they had just drafted a catcher in the 1st round that year and another catcher in the 2nd round.  Kurt Suzuki and Landon Powell were both catchers that I knew of and as it turns out, are now the starting and #2 catchers for the A’s today.  With such a backlog at the position, I thought I would have a better chance at advancing with a different organization.  That’s when the Cubs drafted me and I felt it was a good situation for me and I signed.  I definitely had a slight fear each time that I may not be drafted again by not signing.  But I was also confident in my abilities and didn’t want to sell myself short just out of fear.  I just wanted to play hard and do well and I felt everything would work itself out.  Which it did. 

MLB reports:  What do you consider your greatest baseball skill(s)?

Carter:  I would have to say that in my opinion and based on what most people say as well, my best skill would have to be my arm.  I like throwing guys out anyway I can.  Defense behind the plate attracted me to the position and throwing out would- e based runners is the best part of being a catcher.

MLB reports:  What facets of your game do you most wish to improve upon?

Carter:  I honestly need to improve on all areas!  But I think as a catcher, I need to focus on improving my receiving skills so that I can handle all the different pitchers I work with on a daily basis much better.  I have made already strong improvements from this spring to now in that  area of my game.  As a result, I am feeling a lot more confident as I work towards being a major league catcher one day.  But my mindset is that I can always get better!

MLB reports:  How do strikeouts and walks figure into your game?  Do you see any of these items changing over time and to what degree?

Carter:  They play a huge part in my game.  When I feel good and comfortable in the box, I see the ball a lot better and I don’t chase many pitches out of the zone.   That inevitably leads to more walks and better overall results at the plate.  I don’t end up getting myself out as much. But if I’m not seeing the ball as well or I’m in a little funk, like most batters I tend to chase out of the zone and swing at pitches that I should have resisted!  That ends up leading to fewer opportunities for success.  My approach at the plate is something that I definitely see changing and an aspect of my game that I have to constantly stay on top of.

MLB reports:  Long term what position do you see yourself playing?  How do you see defense as part of your overall game?

Carter:  I have always been a guy that can play multiple positions, which I consider a strength for me.   By being versatile, I have more ways to stay in the line-up and gain experience in the field   But I think that if I had a choice, I would choose catching at this point.  I know that many people will call me crazy for choosing the most demanding position in the game!  But in my view, I see catchers as an important part of the game.  I have always thought that if I could master that position and be able to catch at the highest level, I would be very important to my team and organization.  As a catcher, defense is the main part of my game which always needs to be sharp!  I have to be able to do it all, including stopping easy runs from scoring by base runners advancing on balls thrown in the dirt or stealing, for example.  So yes, defense is huge.

MLB reports:  A little birdy told us that your uncle happens to be no other than…former MLB star and World Series hero Joe Carter.  Is this true? 

Carter:  Yes, indeed (chuckle).  You are correct.  Joe is my father’s brother and my uncle.  I definitely get my athletic genes from that side of the family.  Just to look in comparison, I am probably the “smallest” guy in the bunch at 6’3″ when I am around my dad’s family, including my father, uncles and brothers. My dad is 6’7″ so I got some of his height luckily (chuckle).

MLB reports:  What is your relationship like with Joe Carter?  Must have been pretty amazing.  What kind of influence was Uncle Joe on your baseball career and life?

Carter:  Joe and I always have enjoyed a great relationship.  He was one of the best uncles a nephew could ever asked for.  He has helped me and been there for me in so many ways since I started playing baseball.  Joe always gives me hitting advice if I needed it and just to talk baseball sometimes.  He always helped get me back on track and improve my game.  I had an advantage with Joe Carter as my uncle, as he always gave me good advice at each stage when I was trying to decide when and where to sign professionally. My agent happens to be also his agent that he has been with for 25 years, so I knew that he would have my best interests in mind.

MLB reports:  What was it like growing up with Joe Carter as your uncle?  I can only imagine the stories that you must have.

Carter:  Growing up with everyone knowing that Joe was my uncle was a good thing and a bad thing at times.  It was cool because I had a famous uncle to brag about if I wanted! (chuckling) Although I usually didn’t tell people about Joe often.   Having such a famous uncle got me a great deal of exposure and extra looks from scouts and teams.  The only thing was that I just did not want to be known solely as his nephew though.  I wanted to stand on my own and have people see that I could play and had talent as well.  But it was always cool going to watch him play whenever he played in New York (my hometown) against the Mets or Yankees!  I got to meet a lot of my favorite players after games waiting for him to come out.  That was always a treat.

MLB reports:  Any memories of your uncle that stick out?

Carter:  A cool time that I remember is when Joe was a commentator for the Cubs back in 2003.  That was my senior year in high school.  He set it up so that I could take batting practice on the field with the Cubs!  The team gave me a uniform and everything.  I got the chance that day to meet Sosa, Alomar and a lot of guys from both teams . I didn’t hit any out of the park that day, but it was fun!  Later, to top it off Joe brought me up to the press box with him and put me on tv with him for a bit!  I’m just lucky to have someone of his stature in the game, that has been there and to look out for me.  Joe knows what it takes to succeed in life and baseball and has always been there to give me advice and to help me out. 

MLB reports:  What have you most taken away from Joe Carter the baseball player?

Carter:  One thing that I always noticed about him when he played is that he had a constant smile on his face and looked happy to be playing the game. I definitely try to do the same when I’m out there on the field.  After all, let’s all never forget that it is still just a game!  The more fun that you have out there, the better you will play overall.

MLB reports:  I know that you must get this all the time, but we can’t talk about Joe Carter without me asking you: what are your memories from his famous walk-off home run in the World Series?

Carter:  A lot of people ask me what I thought about his walk-off home run to win the World Series for the Blue Jays back in the 1990s.   The truth is that I respond that I did not know anything about it until I was 12-years-old and started playing organized baseball!  So I actually learned about “the home run” 4 years after it happened.  Boy, I got a late start! (chuckle)

MLB reports:  What were your experiences like growing up as a baseball late bloomer?  Please give us an insight as to what your childhood was like and how that affected your playing career.

Carter:  I would say my culture or childhood affected me the most as far as playing goes.  I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in a neighborhood where I was fortunate to have many friends of the same age.  We were always involved in some type of sports every day. We would literally play all different sports throughout the day, every day.  My childhood is definitely where my competitiveness on the field comes from.  You never want to lose to another neighborhood at all, so I learned at a young age that you always have to give it your all in sports.  That is how I continue to play the game to this day.  I joined my first organized baseball team when I was 12 years old.  That is a late start for most people but I was lucky to have the raw skills from playing in the streets.  From there, I had to learn the game of baseball and the fundamentals that go with it.  But I think growing up that way taught me to work hard and always play the game the right way.

MLB reports:  How has your general interaction with fans been?  As far as autograph requests, cheering, heckling etc. please share insights.

Carter:  I always try to interact with the fans any chance I get.  I have never been a guy that takes himself too seriously, so I don’t mind small talk or signing autographs for fans if I have time.  I especially like to talk to the young kids at the game if I can.  It is important to me to make sure that the kids get the most out of their time at the ballpark.  In terms of fans cheering, I can take a joke that comes across as a good heckling.   I’ll usually laugh in those situations and not get upset.  As long as it is nothing personal or disrespectful, it doesn’t get to me.

MLB reports:  If you were not playing baseball today, what do you think that you would be doing?  When you aren’t playing baseball Yusuf, what do you do for downtime?

Carter:  If I wasn’t playing baseball, I would try my luck in acting or something.  I would be a bad guy or villain in my movies or the super cool hero! (chuckle)  Either an actor or a music producer.  I Love music, so that would be a fun role for me.  On my free time when I am not playing baseball, I usually try to kick back and relax.  Watch tv or catch a new movie that came out. I enjoy my downtime and try to let my mind and body relax and focus.  Nothing that involves baseball! (laughing)

MLB reports:  On a side note, have you ever met Billy Beane before?  If you can give any scoops as to how interactions with Billy were and/or other members of the Oakland management that would be great to give fans the inside feel.

Carter:  I don’t have much to share, sorry guys.  I have seen him before but haven’t actually met him and interacted with him.  But I would say it would be like any interaction with any management or boss.  My rule is to always do the right things.  Smile, don’t talk too much and laugh at their jokes! (laughing)  If you do that, you should be fine!

MLB reports:  If you had to look into a crystal ball, when do you see your expected time of arrival in the big leagues and what do you think you need to do most to get there?

Carter:  If I had a crystal ball I would definitely try to speed up that process as much as possible! (grin) In my estimation, if I continue to sharpen my receiving skills and work hard on the other parts of my game as well, I think I can be there in the next 1-2 years.  Until then, I will continue to work hard and bust my behind to make it happen!

MLB reports:  Keep up the great work Yusuf.  It was a pleasure meeting and speaking with you.  We hope that we can do this again soon and good luck on the rest of the season.

Carter:  Thank you for featuring me, you guys are awesome.  I read MLB reports all the time and love your articles.  This was fun! 


***A special thank you to Yusuf Carter for his time in speaking with MLB reports as part of this interview and providing several personal photos.  We look forward to Yusuf writing a blog entry for our MLB Guest Blog this season, exclusively on MLB reports.  You can also follow Yusuf Carter on twitter***

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About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

Posted on May 14, 2011, in Interviews with MLB Stars and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Interview with Yusuf Carter: Oakland A’s Prospect.

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