Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Though he's entering just his fifth season of professional baseball, it's been a tale of two careers for Colorado Rockies prospect Matt Carasiti. Even that word "prospect" should be qualified; two years ago, Carasiti was nowhere near anybody's radar for a future in baseball after struggling through two summers as a starting pitcher in the low minors.
"I tend to overthink a lot of things, that was kind of my big downfall as a starter," Carasiti told Purple Row at the Rockies' spring training complex. "If I had a bad outing, I’d think about it for four days and then I’d have another bad outing, and it’d just snow ball."
Carasiti is well-spoken, polite, and extremely approachable — but he just didn't work in a starting rotation. He went 2-10 in Asheville in 2013, logging an almost inconceivable 7.94 ERA and 1.925 WHIP over 93 innings, while striking out only 60 batters.
To the Rockies' credit, they weren't ready to give up on their 6th round (2012) MLB Draft selection; to Carasiti's credit, he was open to finding another way to continue his career. And then, going into 2014, a funny thing happened: the Rockies sent the St. John's University product to the bullpen, and he started flying up the minor league ranks.
"Sometimes you see a guy and recognize that as a starter, his command could limit him," the Rockies' player development manager, Chris Forbes, told Purple Row. "For a guy going into the back of the bullpen with the stuff [Carasiti] has, the secondary pitches on top of the velocity and the action that he gets, he fits in the sprint role."
To say Carasiti fits in the sprint role is an understatement; even the righty himself prefers the role to starting.
"I was a closer in college my sophomore year, and I think that was a role I was destined to be in, like a one-inning kind of guy," Carasiti said. "Once I was done with my stint starting after I got signed, it took a little bit for me to get back to that mindset of going all out and giving it all I have for one or two innings, but once I got back into the swing of that, I really took off."
"All my other stuff got hard," he added, "and everything was working a lot better, because I was getting through everything and throwing hard again."
The Rockies had the Connecticut native repeat at Asheville in 2014, this time as a reliever, and the results couldn't have been further from the previous summer. Forty-six appearances playing his home games at hitter-friendly McCormick Field netted Carasiti 76 strikeouts in 76 innings to go along with six wins (he had just two the previous year in 20 starts!), two saves, and a 3.08 ERA.
Then, last summer in Modesto, he did the Rockies one better: after Carlos Estevez's promotion to Double-A New Britain, Carasiti assumed the Nuts' closer role and logged 22 saves and a 3.02 ERA in 49 games, recording 9.1 K/9 against just 8.6 H/9 and 3.5 BB/9. That was quite a change from those long years in the rotation.
"With me it was more mental, just realizing I was still a good pitcher even after the year at Asheville," Carasiti said. "It can cut you down a little bit, but I built myself back up. It was mostly confidence, that was the big thing for me."
And after a couple successful stints as a reliever, Carasiti noticed a mental change in how he beat back the overthinking that got him into trouble the first two years of pro ball.
"If I give up a run one night, I have to go back out there again to save the next day," Carasiti said. "I can’t dwell on things like that, and I think that really helped me push things aside and move on from games where I don’t pitch so well."
Player development is a tricky thing, and it's on men like Forbes to put charges like Carasiti in the best position for success through continuous evaluation. But it's also on the players to help themselves; Carasiti certainly did that the last two summers.
"He’s matured, especially on the field," Forbes said. "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. And he’s matured where he’s starting to have that feel to pitch."
It's not just a feel to pitch for Carasiti, though; his stuff is legitimately dominant, it's getting better every year, and some of it has come through old-fashioned trial and error.
"Mechanically I changed the way I held my fastball, so it sinks now," Carasiti explained, "but I think I’ve always had a good fastball, it’s always had a little bit of movement, but now it’s moving a lot, and it’s heavier."
Carasiti isn't the only one proud of his plus stuff. Seeing him for the first time this month in big league camp, Rockies manager Walt Weiss agrees.
"He's a power arm, and he's impressed early in camp," Weiss said, trailing off to come up with the words. "Carasiti has that split-finger fastball that… it’s the real deal."
For Forbes, all that praise and projection means it's up to Carasiti to make the most of his reinvention and new standing in the Rockies' organization.
"After Modesto, you know what, he’s got a chance to be a guy here, because his stuff is really, really good," Forbes said. "If he can keep harnessing it and every once in a while take that step back and catch his breath, and not allow his head to get in front of him, that’s the version we are trying to get. Really, it’s on him."
From here, Carasiti most likely will take on Double-A Hartford this summer, which will be a nice situation for him, having grown up just a few minutes south of the city in small town Berlin, Connecticut. The Rockies expect him to throw some important innings late in games, too, now that he's on the club's radar in high-leverage relief.
"He’s a throwback, one of the guys sitting back there drinking black coffee the whole game waiting to come flying in," Forbes said, chuckling. "He’s got Rage Against the Machine as his pitching song, you know? He’s a throwback. But some guys just fit better in a sprint role, and Carasiti’s mindset is definitely somebody that wants to be in that sprint role."
Sprint role guys can move quickly through the minors, as Carasiti may be in the midst of proving. For now, he makes his locker in the Rockies' big league clubhouse at Salt River Fields, and until the club sends him down to minor league camp, he's taking it all in stride.
"I’m just trying to soak everything in, and talk to the guys who have been around the league for a while and try to pick their brains and pitch well here," Carasiti said of his time up with the big club. "I know I’m not going to make the club. It’s inevitable, but once I get sent back down, I just want to be able to tell myself I learned as much as I could here, and wherever I go, I want to pitch as well as I can. If they need me in the big leagues this year I’ll be ready."