Carter Capps found himself at a crossroads following his redshirt freshman season at Mount Olive College.
Capps had split time as a catcher and pitcher for the team until he asked his coach to decide what route he should take.
“I told him I felt I’d like to concentrate on one or the other instead of being mediocre at both,” Carter said. “I let him pick, and he picked pitching for me.”
The 23-year-old right-handed reliever, who the Marlins acquired in a trade with the Mariners for Logan Morrison last week, can look back and say the right move was made.
During a two-year collegiate stretch, Capps went 24-1, setting a Division II record with 24 straight wins. He was named the consensus National Pitcher of the Year before Seattle selected him in the third round of the 2011 draft.
Since then, Capps boasts one of the fastest fastballs in the Majors. The 6-5, 220-pounder was once clocked at 102 mph in a Double-A All-Star game. Less than a year after signing a professional contract, he earned his MLB debut Aug. 3, 2012.
His delivery — what he calls “not high or low three-quarters” — troubles hitters because it prevents them from seeing the ball until the last possible moment. It’s an arm slot that took time to learn when he focused solely on pitching.
Then there are his two above average pitches — a fastball that hits triple digits and a complementary slider. Capps also has a changeup in his repertoire that he hopes to improve as well as a two-seamer.
“What’s most important is the ability to get people out,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “I know we’ve all watched enough games. We’ve seen power arms that can’t get outs, but this is a pitcher with deception in his delivery, a power fastball and a power slider. Very difficult to see from a hitter’s standpoint, and we think he’s going to pitch very meaningful innings for us this season.”
With the departures of right-handers Chad Qualls (Astros) and Ryan Webb (Orioles) this winter, Capps fills a void in the back of the bullpen for years to come. He is not arbitration eligible until 2016 and a free agent in 2019.
Yet Capps must first rebound from a rough 2013, his first full season in the big leagues.
In 53 games, Capps went 3-3 with a 5.49 ERA, troubled by 11 multi-run appearances. Over 59 innings, he surrendered 12 home runs and 73 hits. He did strike out 66 batters, while issuing 23 walks. Batters posted a .302 average (.326 for lefties).
During a seven-game stretch when he was sent down to Triple-A Tacoma, Capps worked out some kinks for a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. His final four outings back with Seattle were scoreless ones.
“I felt I pitched really well and had a few bad outings and didn’t make the adjustments and let it get me down,” Capps said. “(It) extended to a couple more bad outings and (I) got sent down to Triple-A where I relaxed a little bit and I felt I came back and finished strong.
“I feel like the numbers aren’t very accurate of how I performed, but obviously they are what they are. Overall I was happy about it. I have to keep the ups and downs more minor instead of struggling right in the middle.”
Hill said the organization has identified something in Capps’ delivery that will be addressed to “return him to the dominant form they saw from him in 2012.”
That season in 18 appearances, he didn’t factor in a decision and held a 3.96 ERA. Over 25 innings he gave up no homers and 25 hits with 28 strikeouts and 11 walks.
“We’re not worried at all that he will not be an effective back end reliever for us,” Hill said. “Definitely we have not seen the best of Carter Capps, and I think that’s why we were so excited to be able to acquire him because there’s still room for improvement, and who knows where things end with him in terms of his potential?”