BOSTON -- Mike Carp always has had power. It showed in high school in Lakewood, Calif., where he set the school record for home runs while playing at a field where the fences were 36 feet high and it was 440 feet to dead center field.
It showed in the Florida State League, where as a New York Mets draftee he was named the organization's player of the year in 2006 after hitting 17 home runs, then batted .350 in the playoffs to help Port St. Lucie win the FSL playoffs.
It showed in Seattle, where the Mets sent him as part of the J.J. Putz deal, as he hit six home runs and drove in 25 runs for the Mariners in August 2011.
It showed in Fenway Park a month before that while playing for the Mariners, when he hit a slider from Franklin Morales 408 feet, over the visitors bullpen for a three-run home run, then the next night hit a cutter from Josh Beckett 416 feet into the Sox bullpen, breaking a scoreless tie.
And it has shown this spring, especially in the past two weeks, when in a span of 11 games Carp has homered five times while driving in 11 runs and batting .417. Carp has homered eight times in just 105 at-bats this season, while posting a slash line of .324/.379/.686/1.065.
Only one player in the big leagues has more home runs in the same number of at-bats or fewer: Jeff Baker of the Rangers, who has nine home runs in 82 at-bats.
"He didn't come out of nowhere," said Jared Porter, the Red Sox director of pro scouting. "He's been a good player overall, if you look at his minor league and major league numbers."
But for Red Sox fans, Carp might as well have materialized out of thin air. Spring training already had begun when the Sox acquired Carp from the Mariners, who had designated him for assignment, for cash or a player to be named later. The deal was nudged along by Carp's agent, Tom O'Connell, who showed up in camp to pitch Carp personally to general manager Ben Cherington.
"One of our major league scouts, Steve Peck, always liked him and stuck with him," Porter said. Peck worked for both the Mets and Mariners before coming to the Sox and knew Carp's history well.
"Carp is a guy who had a lot working against him: injury, the ballpark, [lack of] opportunity. This was a good situation to buy low, and Ben did a great job acquiring him."
At the time, Carp appeared to be just another guy, part of the mix competing to be a left-handed bat to back up Mike Napoli at first base and play a little outfield. Veteran first baseman Lyle Overbay was a better first baseman, former Royal Mitch Maier was a better outfielder, and Daniel Nava was a good outfielder learning to play first. Carp was on the edges and didn't exactly light it up in spring training, batting .178 in 45 at-bats, with a couple of doubles and a home run.
A time of high anxiety?
"It was more pressure to prove myself healthy and ready to go," Carp said Sunday. "Last year was such a bummer of a year. I was injury plagued and didn't feel like myself. I never had that experience before. Unfortunately, I didn't get to play at the end of the year to find myself, so it was a long layoff back before I was playing. I had to get my timing back, and the confidence that I was healthy and ready to go."
Carp was coming off a season in which he injured his right shoulder on the season's opening night trying to make a diving catch in Tokyo. He came back too soon, never felt right, injured his groin and lost more time and didn't get his average over .200 until the end of July. All this only a few months after his best friend in baseball, Greg Halman, was stabbed to death by his brother in the Netherlands.
The Mariners deemed him expendable, acquiring other players -- Kendrys Morales, Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse -- who played either outfield or first base or both, the positions Carp played. At 26, Carp was starting over again with Boston, and facing long odds.
But Overbay also struggled during spring training, the Sox decided they couldn't put him in the outfield, and Maier was hurt making a diving catch. On the day before camp broke, Carp was informed he had made the club. He was the 25th man to receive that message and headed to New York with a big league contract paying him $509,000, a few bucks more than big league minimum.
Excited for the news? Of course. Then Carp sat, getting only three at-bats in the season's first 13 games. Napoli played every day at first base, Nava did a lot of DHing in place of the injured David Ortiz, and the Sox gave first dibs on left field to rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., the sensation of camp.
But Bradley understandably proved overmatched, and the first time manager John Farrell put Carp in the lineup, on April 17 in Cleveland, he responded with two doubles and a triple. Enough to get his name on the lineup card the next night? No. His next start came four days later, and he doubled and tripled.
With Shane Victorino going down with back and hamstring injuries, playing time materialized for Carp, and he has responded far beyond anything the Sox could have reasonably expected. During the Baltimore series this past weekend, he played first base in place of Napoli, who flew back to Boston to undergo tests for an illness.
"He's given us a huge lift," Farrell said. "His name comes up frequently."
Napoli is expected be available Tuesday, as is Carp, who came out of Sunday's game with hamstring tightness but said he believes it was only a cramp and he should be able to play.
He gives the Sox an asset that has been rare in the past decade, a player who can come off the bench with power. Only two players come to mind -- one is Wily Mo Pena, and he was supposed to be an everyday outfielder when the Sox traded Bronson Arroyo to get him in 2006.
"I hadn't lost that confidence in myself mentally," Carp said. "I knew it was there. I had to let my body feel good again. This is where I want to be. My ultimate goal is to be in the big leagues and have success there. I proved myself in 2011, but now to have the chance to bounce back means the world.
"My confidence is sky high and let's keep it going from there."