By Larry LaRue The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Carter Capps was a catcher until his junior year in college and teammate Stephen Pryor didn’t throw a pitch until he was 16.
The two never knew how hard they threw before then, although the Seattle Mariners and every team they face know now, and the number is riveting — 100 mph.
Baseball has seen a resurgence in baseball velocity, with most every team having pitchers who can throw a pitch in the mid 90’s, but 100 mph?
“That’s still rare,” Kevin Millwood said, “and we’ve got two of them.”
Pryor, 23, offered a correction.
“When I watch Carter throw and he hits 100 mph, I think ‘Awesome,” Pryor said. “We’ve got three guys in this bullpen who can hit 100 on any given day — me, Carter and Tom (Wilhelmsen).”
Capps made his big-league debut 10 days ago and left an impression when the first pitch of his career was a 100 mph fastball.
“I’m not sure how many guys can say that, but it’s got to be a pretty exclusive club,” manager Eric Wedge said.
Capps, 22, has been pitching all of three years now, and never hit that triple-digit figure until this season.
“My first year on the mound, I hit 93 mph, which didn’t seem like all that big a deal,” Capps said. “It’s just what I throw now. I think once you get above 97 mph, it’s all about the same.”
Perhaps, but there is nothing more coveted than a pitcher who can dominate a game with one pitch, a power fastball.
“One game in high school, I went five innings and struck out 15 guys, throwing just fastballs,” Pryor said. “That was the only pitch I could throw for a strike.”
Why is the 100 mph fastball so revered in the game?
“The thing about seeing that 100 mph up on the board when you’re on deck is, you have to be ready for the fastball or you won’t have a chance to hit it,” Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley said.
“You know if he can throw it that hard, he’s going to use that pitch.
“If someone’s throwing 90-91 mph, you might relax, but when they’re in the upper 90’s you have to totally commit to hitting ‘fastball’ or you’re done,” Ackley said.
Which is one reason velocity like that is such an advantage.
“You have to throw something you can command that’s not 100 mph,” pitching coach Carl Willis said. “Yeah, hitters will gear up for 100 mph, they’ll cheat and start their swing early.
“The thing is, a hitter goes up there totally sold on hitting that fastball and you throw him any other pitch for a strike — any other pitch — he can’t adjust,” Willis said.
“Having two kids in the bullpen who throw that hard changes the game, it can pressure the other team. They start thinking, ‘If we don’t score early, we’re gonna spend the seventh and eighth innings looking at 100 mph.’”
It took Pryor years to reach that velocity, and nearly as long to control it.
“My junior year in high school I was clocked at 89 mph. Before then I’d played the outfield, third base, catcher. I knew I had a good arm, but not how hard I threw,” he said. “And some days I didn’t have a clue where it was going.”
College got his velocity up.
“My junior year at Tennessee Tech, my pitching coach told me all fall to throw as hard as I could once I was loose, and by spring the first game I pitched I hit 96 mph,” Pryor said.
Capps first collegiate season someone clocked him at 93 mph, and he didn’t think much more about it until this season in Class AA.
“In the minors, where crowds are smaller. you’d hear fans yelling when you were in the high 90’s, ‘Let’s see you hit 100!’” Capps said. “And you’d hear them buzzing when you did.”
Pryor is a work in progress, throwing the fastball, a 90-91 mph changeup and a 93-94 mph slider. Capps throws a 75 mph curve and an 88-89 mph changeup.
The great thing about being in the big leaues is talking to the veteran pitchers and learning, adding to your game,” Pryor said. “I don’t try to throw 100 mph, but it’s an advantage you might not have at, say, 94 mph.”
Millwood has talked with both and shakes his head at their raw ability.
“I think these two kids are special. You keep them here, stay with them as they learn, that’s a pair of arms that will make a difference,” Millwood said.