Carter Capps Joins 'From Phenom To The Farm:' Episode 10
“From Phenom to the Farm” releases new episodes every other Tuesday featuring players whose experiences vary across the professional baseball spectrum. Players will discuss their personal experiences going from high school graduation to the life of a professional baseball player.
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If you take a brief glimpse at Carter Capps’ early professional baseball resume, it reads like that of a true phenom. High-round draft pick. Large signing bonus. 99 mph fastball. A big league debut just before his 22nd birthday in August of 2012.
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Then you look a bit closer and learn that just three years prior to that flame-throwing debut, Capps was a slap-hitting catcher redshirting at NCAA Division II Mount Olive College, the only college that’d even offered him a roster spot. In fact, Capps hadn’t spent more than a handful of garbage time innings on a mound at all before he headed to Mount Olive, and was only moonlighting with the occasional bullpen session early in his time at college.
Once arriving in college and going through his freshman year, Capps’ frame (listed at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds by the time he reached the major leagues) and electric arm had then-head coach Carl Lancaster salivating thinking of what his redshirted catcher could accomplish if he focused exclusively on pitching. Lancaster gave his young right-hander every reason to end his days behind the plate.
“I would catch like 20-30 bullpens in a row, I would throw my bullpen, and then they’d have me come out and they’d do the dirt ball reads off of me” said Capps. “They’d literally set up a pitching machine and it’s just throwing 80-mile-per hour bangers in the dirt ... and it’s my job to just wear them back behind the dish.”
During his second year at Mount Olive, Capps committed to pitching full time and quickly became one of the most dominating pitchers in Division 2. Over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons Capps would compile a combined 24-1 record on the bump and finish his RS-Sophomore year with a 1.75 ERA and 129 strikeouts over 118 innings.
In addition, Capps would be named Baseball America’s top prospect in the Coastal Plains league during the summer of 2010. Despite the near instantaneous track record of success and praise, Capps was understandably a far from finished product as a pitcher.
“I had exactly one pitch at the time; it was a fastball” said Capps.
Even taking into account how raw Capps was on the mound, the Mariners liked his talent enough to select him with their supplemental third round pick in the 2011 draft. However, citing his lack of experience against top tier talent, the organization’s initial bonus offering was what Capps perceived to be a low-ball offer.
He might’ve at that point been a pitcher-only, but he still had the chip on his shoulder of a slap-hitting catcher trying to grind his way to playing time. Capps took the offer as a slight, and bet on himself by heading to play summer ball.
“I basically ended the conversation with 'Well if you don’t think I can play against guys, I hear the best [Division 1] players in the world are in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, so I’m going to go’” said Capps.
Capps more than held his own against those top college players; he posted a 0.39 ERA during his time at the Cape, ironically while as a member of the Harwich Mariners. The big league Mariners saw what they needed to see, and in August of 2011 signed Capps to a $500,000 bonus that was much more to his liking.
He moved to the bullpen, flew through the minor leagues and wound up in Seattle’s bullpen less than a year later. Despite the rapid success, Capps would spend the entirety of his big league career playing catch-up in terms of learning the craft of pitching.
Even once he’d reached the major leagues, Capps would constantly tinker with his mechanics, trying to find the right fit. Adjustment after adjustment led to one of the most unique deliveries in professional baseball, featuring a semblance of a hop-step as he strode to the plate.
Once he’d finally settled on some mechanics and combined that with an increased knowledge of how to attack hitters, Capps started to reach his full potential. He recorded a 1.16 ERA in 30 games with the Marlins in 2015 before having Tommy John surgery to repair a torn UCL.
Capps wasn’t sweating the surgery; he’d rehab and come back at full strength. What he didn’t know at the time of his injury was that when it was time to come back, a new MLB rule would be out to get the delivery he’d spent so long fine turning.
On the latest episode of From Phenom to the Farm, former big league pitcher Carter Capps joins to discuss his rapid ascent from Division II catcher to MLB pitcher. He’ll discuss his first flight ever being to the Cape Cod League, entering pro ball with one pitch, and the best heckling he’s ever received from opposing fans.