Capps' quick recovery a pleasant surprise

Padres looking for fiery righty to bolster late innings

Capps' quick recovery a pleasant surprise

With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Padres squad each day this week. Today's topic: Who might surprise?

SAN DIEGO -- In passing, last July's deal between the Marlins and the Padres is generally referred to as "the Andrew Cashner trade." But among the seven players involved in that swap, only one appears to be a lock for the 2017 Opening Day roster on either club.

It's not Cashner; it's flame-throwing righty reliever Carter Capps.

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This offseason, Cashner inked a one-year deal with Texas. Colin Rea, who was returned to San Diego shortly after the trade, is out for the year with an elbow injury, and Jarred Cosart will have to battle for a rotation spot. The other three players involved were prospects and aren't quite ready to make an impact.

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Capps, on the other hand, could prove extremely valuable at the back end of a Padres bullpen that could be a strength in 2017.

Perhaps understandably, Capps was an afterthought last July. The Marlins were looking to mount a playoff push, but he was recovering from Tommy John surgery and not due back until 2017.

 So the Marlins dealt Capps to San Diego, where his recovery progressed quicker than expected. Capps will likely be back to full health early in Spring Training.

"Some people have lost sight of how good Carter Capps was when he was closing games in Florida," Padres manager Andy Green said. "His numbers were off the charts that last year."

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Green isn't kidding -- Capps was practically unhittable in 2015. His 1.16 ERA was the lowest in baseball among pitchers with as many innings. He struck out 58 batters in his 31 innings-- the second highest rate ever for a pitcher with at least 25 innings pitched.

While he was blowing his fastball by hitters in 2015, Capps gained notoriety for his unorthodox delivery. On every pitch, Capps hops forward, propelled by his back foot, then releases the ball -- closer to the plate than any other pitcher.

According to Statcast™, Capps' released his pitches an average of 8.3 feet in front of the rubber in 2015, easily the highest mark in baseball. It turned his 97.9 mph fastball -- already heat -- into a perceived 101.5 mph in the eye of the batter. (That number is calculated by assuming Capps let go of his pitches at the league-average release point.)

"You add that type of an arm to the back end of a bullpen mix, a guy that almost gets halfway to home plate when he throws a pitch, he's very, very unique," Green said. "Nobody likes facing Carter Capps."

Need proof? When David Ortiz ranked the five toughest pitchers he's ever faced in a piece for the Players' Tribune, he included a Hall of Famer (Pedro Martinez), two Hall of Fame candidates (Mariano Rivera and Mike Mussina), a rising star (Sonny Gray) -- and Capps.

Capps' delivery remains controversial, but it has long been deemed legal by Major League Baseball. It wasn't always that way. In one Minor League game, Capps was called for two illegal pitches, which resulted in balls. Ultimately, he learned to harness the delivery, dragging his back foot on the dirt, while still using it to propel forward.

There are also concerns that Capps' unorthodox delivery could have contributed to his 2015 elbow injury. It's a risk the Padres were willing to take when they traded for him. And if he returns to form, it's easy to see why they did so.

In essence, the Friars are hoping "the Andrew Cashner trade" could soon become "the Carter Capps trade" in baseball circles.

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.