Scottsdale, Ariz. -- When one of the best hitters in the Rockies' system says there's one pitcher in the organization he doesn't want to face, and when a scout—tasked with being less than charitable in his evaluation of talent—says that same pitcher "can really throw," that should hold your attention. When that prospect doesn't even make our PuRPs list, then, that should tell you something too: either (a) the Rockies' system is really deep, (b) the pitcher in question is moving very quickly, or (c) perhaps, a little bit of both.
Enter: the quickly improving reputation of Rockies relief prospect Matt Carasiti.
We've certainly written about the big righty before—even yesterday, hearing his thoughts on the upcoming season—but something stuck with me in chatting with players throughout the Rockies' organization in Scottsdale: they can't stop talking about Carasiti. From manager Walt Weiss and player development executive Chris Forbes on down to big leaguers and fellow minor leaguers, people are paying attention to Carasiti's career like never before.
"Those boys got some arms, we got some young arms with some fuel," catcher Dustin Garneau told me when asked about young pitchers in the organization, before he singled out Carasiti. "I know I used to catch Carasiti when he was a starter and he was in the minors, and now he's in the bullpen throwing, and it's a different dude."
"He's bringing the noise," Garneau added—a sentiment expressed by many that very succinctly summed up the reliever's power pitch offerings.
"You know, we both have been on much of the same road," reliever Carlos Estevez told me when asked to compare his career to that of Carasiti. "We are both just really good pitchers, and if we do the same job, that's fine."
Estevez isn't the only one comparing himself and Carasiti. Even unprompted, it's difficult to bring up one without simultaneously including thoughts on the other. That makes sense; both are towering right-handed pitchers who throw very hard and, if current trends continue, each ought to be making their big league debut in the next 12-15 months.
Carasiti himself isn't worried about that, though; even standing in the Rockies' Salt River Fields clubhouse for this interview, he says it hasn't yet hit him how close he might be to seeing time in Denver.
"Spring training is just a time to get ready for the season, but I don't think it will hit me until I make the big leagues," Carasiti mused.
"But by then my eyes will be wide and I'll be like, ‘what the hell is going on,'" he added, quickly apologizing to correct himself, "or, what the heck is going on, sorry."
As overly polite and pleasant as he is to speak with in an interview setting—Carasiti and I discussed his time in Modesto, the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats' upcoming road trip, his thoughts on the respect college baseball programs are starting to get in the northeast, and much, much more—he's not nearly as charitable on the field. Then again, a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s isn't exactly a polite thing to make opposing hitters face.
"I don't even know, I would just think hit and run, try to put it in play somehow," mused Tony Wolters, the Rockies' newest addition behind the plate, when I asked him about his strategy at bat if he had to face Carasiti.
"He is something else, I'm very impressed," Wolters added. "Being with the Indians and then out here, he's very impressive. He stands out. I'm very excited to see where he goes."
Weiss, who of course may not manage Carasiti at all this season, nevertheless is already thinking about what the Connecticut native's stuff would look like in the big leagues—and like Wolters, Weiss is excited about it.
"Both power arms, and both have impressed early in camp," Weiss told Purple Row about Carasiti along side—you guessed it—Estevez. "Carasiti has got the split finger that, it's the real deal. He's had the success as a closer. Those are the guys that we're excited about, the big powerful arms."
Even the newcomers are excited. Wolters, for one, almost can't believe how many guys like Carasiti the Rockies have in their organization.
"It's pretty impressive how many live arms there are here," Wolters said, comparing it to his time with the Indians. "I feel like everyone is throwing 95 and up, and it's just very impressive. Guys are working hard. On the field and off the field, you can see it. Everyone is on the same page."
It took Carasiti some time to get on that same page, as we've documented; the transition from being a poor starter to a dominant reliever didn't come easy. But it did come with an ancillary benefit, at least to the Forbes, the Rockies' player development manager.
"I don’t think there’s ever a lot of self-doubt with him, but the confidence had wavered a little bit," Forbes said of transitioning Carasiti to the bullpen. "But he’s matured, especially on the field. There’s a difference for us, you know, we talk about off-the-field makeup a lot and he’s a great kid, but we need to know what the makeup is on the field."
Now, it's not just Forbes who is starting to find out more Carasiti's strong makeup.
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To watch the Rockies' big league acquisitions this winter should tell you all you need to know about how well the club feels Carasiti—and Estevez—could soon fit in Denver. Jake McGee, Chad Qualls, and Jason Motte all do a few important things (power fastballs, strikes, with plus command), and those and other offseason moves by general manager Jeff Bridich ought to inform your understanding of what the Rockies value in relievers under his tenure.
For Carasiti, being around those pitchers this spring has been invaluable.
"Even just watching the way people go about their business up here is a big deal," he said of his month in the big league clubhouse. "Guys that have been in the big leagues have really good routines. They know exactly what they have to do to get ready, and I think a lot of the minor leagues is figuring out how to get ready to play every day for the whole season."
For Weiss, the hope, of course, is that Carasiti and the other youngsters take away exactly that from their time around the big leaguers this month. If they do, it'll serve them well for their future, after all.
"I preach to our veterans a lot about that responsibility, that passing of the baton and sharing information and helping guys grow," Weiss said. "That wisdom that the veterans have through experience, that's valuable stuff, and we take it seriously. I think it's great that we have guys like that that the young kids can look up to."
But oh, those young kids. As much as Carasiti can look up to the big leaguers, he knows he's soon going to be back in minor league camp, inevitably reassigned to keep developing in what should be Double-A to begin 2016. But if he works well—if he continues to hone his craft as he had once he moved to the bullpen two seasons ago—Carasiti might find himself back in the mix of a big league clubhouse.
Just don't forget this is a new venture for him, having never appeared in Double-A, let alone higher.
"Obviously I haven't had this before," Carasiti admitted about the media attention quickly coming his way. "I had a pretty crappy first two years, and I think once you start doing better you get more attention, that just comes with the territory."
"But it's nothing crazy. I'm not like Nolan Arenado or Carlos Gonzalez or anything," he added, laughing. "It's nice that people notice that you're doing well, but that doesn't change how you've gotta go out there and pitch."
That's easier said than done, but judging from his last two seasons, Carasiti's on the right track; a year from now, you may find him another one of those power pitchers at the Rockies' disposal at Coors Field. If Garneau's right, and Carasiti keeps "bringing the noise," then, it'll be a welcome addition to the big league roster.