The best prospect relief pitchers are almost always found at the back end or on the outside of a top 100. Some analysts say its tough to know how to grade them while others find them to be inherently of minimal value. Thus, the periphery of prospect rankings hide a plethora of exciting bullpen arms who are close to or have already made their major league debuts. This year, the most exciting relief pitching prospect comes from an organization that seems to have an expertise in this area. In 2012 Carter Capps launched his major league career with the Seattle Mariners and immediately established a dominant presence on the hill.
Drafted out of Mount Olive College in North Carolina in the third round of the 2011 draft, Carter Capps made his professional debut with the Clinton LumberKings two months later. All four of his Midwest League appearances in 2011 were as a starter. There was nothing statistically awful about his brief professional stint as starter; however, entering the 2012 season Capps slid over to the bullpen. The 6’5” righty made 38 relief appearances for the Jackson Generals of the Southern League. He amassed 72 strikeouts and 19 saves over 50 innings. Capps allowed 40 hits and 12 walks for a WHIP of 1.04 and the opposition scored seven earned runs against Carter whose ERA was 1.26. After throwing nine scoreless innings over seven consecutive appearances in July, Capps was promoted to AAA where he made one perfect appearance for Tacoma before being promoted to Seattle. Statistically speaking his 2012 major league debut was not dominant. In 25 innings, he walked 11 and surrendered 11 runs and 25 hits for a WHIP of 1.44 and an ERA of 3.96. Capps did strike out better than a batter per inning and gave up no home runs in his 18 games. Capps clearly started slowly in August (5.59 ERA/1.76 WHIP) and then was much improved in September (3.38 ERA/1.28 WHIP).
Over the past several days I watched 11 of his 2012 Seattle appearances on television, and Carter Capps seemed very impressive. Capps has a dominating fastball that easily sits 97 to 98 miles per hour, often hits 99, and sometimes clocks at 100, or even 101. Capps’ command of his fastball is advanced for a young pitcher of his ilk. He was able to keep it down in the zone for the most part while also getting it to appear to rise up and in on righties in particular. At other times his fastball featured some arm side run or some sink to it. Capps doesn’t just rear back and throw his fastball – he gets good depth and action on it.
Capps throws a change-up that comes in at 89 to 91 on the radar gun and a slider that measures about 83 to 85. The best change-ups I saw Capps throw came against the lefty Kendry Morales on October 2nd. He threw two to Morales that faded away and down to the slugging lefty and induced a swing and miss both times, including the third strike of the at bat. Typically the change-up was not quite that effective and Capps threw it rarely, but at times it had flashes of brilliance. His go-to secondary pitch is his slider that has a late and sharp break to it. He threw it away from righties who were reduced to weak one-handed swings (see September 27 versus Mike Trout and Torii Hunter). At other times he was able to back door his slider against lefties as he did to Cliff Pennington for a called third strike on September 29th.
Part of his effectiveness is almost certainly in Capps’ delivery. Capps effectively hides the ball behind his body by hooking his right wrist behind his rear side. When Capps initiates his delivery he angles his body by bending his right leg and then brings his arm at a low three-quarters arm slot. After the knee lift, his striding left leg stiffens and floats forward for a full extension. All of this amounts to a unique and deceptive delivery that puts batters at an early disadvantage.
During the course of his 93 career professional innings, Capps has allowed opposing batters to hit three home runs and has not given up any over his last 62 innings of work. Hitters struggle to barrel the ball up against Capps. Major league hitters were giving up on his sliders and shaking their head at his fastballs. Capps has the potential to be an elite late innings reliever in the very near future for a rebuilding Seattle franchise.