What about relievers?
A lot of stock is put into the Mariners Big 3 pitching prospects of James Paxton, Danny Hultzen and Taijuan Walker. With their phenomenal upsides it’s hard to not get excited. That’s why, to date, they’ve been the only three covered in this column.
Today, we’re taking a different path. We’re going to be examining another pitching Big 3 in the Mariner’s system. These guys aren’t starters, but their arms will one day make up the backbone of the Seattle bullpen.
Big 3 of starting, meet the Big 3 of relieving.
Note: all three of these pitchers have seen MLB time, but none have passed the official “rookie” limit of 50 innings pitched. Therefore, they are still considered rookies and prospects.
Tossed in at last year’s trade deadline, Chance Ruffin was part of the deal that sent Doug Fister to the Detroit Tigers. Before pitching for Detroit’s affiliates he was a pitcher at the University of Texas.
He was a first round pick in 2010.
Ruffin is your typical right handed power pitcher. He’s got a mid-90’s fastball and a really good slider. His slider has been ranked as one of the best in Seattle’s system. In terms of offspeed, there’s nothing.
Assigned to AA at the start of 2011, Ruffin shot through the system. In 44 minor league games, he posted a 2.03 ERA, 19 saves and a 11.1 K/9 before being called up to the Big Leagues.
When he was acquired Seattle kept, the then 22-year old, in their pen where he pitched to the tune of a 3.86 ERA in 13 games.
Things have not gone so well for the right hander in 2012. He started the season back in the minors and the results have been ugly. If the 6.56 ERA isn’t a cause for concern, then certainly the 1.624 WHIP and lowly 6.6 K/9 are.
Once he works through the mechanical issues, Ruffin should be a great setup man in one of the MLB’s best bullpens.
Drafted by Seattle in the third round of the 2011 draft, Carter Capps was less polished than you’d expect from a college arm. That become all the more evident when—as a 20-year old at A-ball—Capps put up a 6.00 ERA and 1.611 WHIP in 18 innings pitched.
Despite his early struggles, Capps has been a dominating force in 2012. He started the season at AA, eventually being moved up to AAA.
After just one appearance with Tacoma he was brought up to Seattle. His combined minor league stats: 1.23 ERA, 51.1 innings pitched, 19 saves and 13.1 K/9.
Though his impact hasn’t been felt in Seattle—7.71 ERA in a mere 2.1 innings—it’s easy to envision a bright future for this flamethrower.
Capps features some really good pitches. He was originally profiled as a starter, but his stuff just wasn’t there in the early going.
As a reliever, his fastball has been able to sit in the high-90’s while occasionally touching triple digits. He also features a solid slider and changeup.
If I had to compare Capps to any major league pitcher it would be Daniel Bard. Both throw hard with solid control and are much more valuable in the pen than the rotation.
As long as he works out the kinks, Carter will certainly make a run at the closers role next season.
But, Capps won’t be the only one vying for that role; and so, we get to Stephen Pryor.
Drafted by the Mariners in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Pryor was a stud from the get go. In 35.1 minor league innings, he had a 2.04 ERA, striking out 14 batters per nine and posting a 4.23 K/BB.
Come 2011, and Pryor met some struggles. However, he quickly settled down and dominated the upper levels. In 2012 the 22-year
old posted a 0.00 ERA in 20 AAA innings before being called up to Seattle.
Since his promotion Pryor has continued to shine. He’s posted a 1.13 ERA in 8.0 innings pitched with a 12.4 K/9.
Despite hitting the DL on June 12th, Pryor has pitched near flawlessly since his return.
In terms of repertoire, Pryor is much like the other two prospects previously discussed. He features a high-90’s fastball—that can touch 100—that has very strong movement.
His secondary pitch is a combination of a hard curve and slider.
There’s no telling who is going to come out in the battle for the closer spot, but as long as it’s Pryor or Capps the Mariner’s future bullpen is going to be great.