Phil Maton- RHP, 24 years old, 6-3/220 lbs
2017: 17.1 IP, 3.63 ERA, 3.09 FIP, 23.9 K-BB%
Next up on the list of potential closer options is the youngest of the bunch, 24-year-old right-hander, Phil Maton. While Yates didn’t break into the big leagues until he was around 27, Maton already finds himself in the big leagues despite being three years younger than Yates. Originally drafted by the Padres in the 20th round of the 2015 MLB Draft, as a high-risk flier, Maton has made a quick ascension through the Padres’ minor league ranks.
It’s clear Maton has had success from the beginning, as he has excelled at just about every minor league level: 1.38 ERA in short season ball, 1.42 ERA in Low-A, 1.91 ERA in High-A, 1.50 ERA in his first Triple-A stint last year, and a 2.84 ERA in his second stint in Triple-A this year. Despite pitching just over 100 minor league innings, Maton already finds himself with just over 17 innings of big league experience under his belt. As Maton has moved up the minor league ladder, there has been constant chatter about how he has the makeup of a potential future closer. With bigger roles opening up in San Diego’s bullpen, now may be Maton’s time to shine.
Through his 17 and a third innings with the big league club this season, Maton has shown a lot of strengths, with a 3.63 ERA and 23.9 K-BB%. Not only is Maton doing a great job of getting swings and misses, but he is also limiting walks as well as limiting big mistakes on the mound. Although he has only thrown just over three high-leverage innings, Maton has been lights out, with a 44 percent strikeout rate and 0.14 FIP. Interestingly enough, Maton has actually been worlds better in medium and high-leverage situations than he has been in low-leverage situations. Maton appears to be a guy who loves pitching under pressure, and he certainly should get that opportunity more now that Maurer and Buchter are with another team.
Carter Capps- RHP, 26 years old, 6-5/220 lbs
2017: (AAA) 21 IP, 2.57 ERA, 3.64 FIP, 14.5 K-BB%
Last but not least, is the biggest and most experienced of the bunch, right-hander Carter Capps, who is currently with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. With two spots now opening up in the bullpen, it seems like just a matter of time before Capps gets the call to fill one. After being picked at the end of the third round in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Seattle Mariners, Capps had a lot of struggles in his first two seasons with the Mariners, finishing those seasons with a 3.96 and 5.49 ERA respectively. After his 2013 season, Capps found himself on the move to the Marlins, where he really solidified himself as one of the best relievers in baseball.
Following a mildly successful first year in Miami in 2014, in which he finished with a 3.98 ERA and even better 2.35 FIP, Capps broke out in a big way in 2015. Out of nowhere, Capps threw 31 innings in 2015, finishing the season with a 1.16 ERA, 1.10 FIP, and gaudy 49.2 percent strikeout rate. At least for a minute, it seemed like Capps had it all figured out. However, prior to the 2016 season, Capps felt something in his right elbow and ended up undergoing Tommy John surgery, ending his season before it ever really began. After that, Capps ended up as a bit of a throw-in in the trade that also netted the Padres Josh Naylor and Jarred Cosart.
Since returning from his Tommy John surgery, Capps has been a little shaky, as his velocity has ticked slightly down, his command has sort of been all over the place at times, and his odd pitching motion has caused some issues with umpires. However, despite his early season struggles, Capps has been on quite a successful run with the Chihuahuas. In fact, Capps has not given up an earned run since way back on June 6. Since then, Capps has thrown 15 scoreless innings with 13 strikeouts and just four walks. The strikeouts aren’t there in the same way they have been in the past, but he has shown he can still be an effective pitcher with a strikeout rate in the mid-20s rather than the upper-40s. Of the three options here, Capps has the most closer experience and perhaps the most potential. On top of that, Capps’ contract does expire at the end of next year, so the Padres have to hope they are able to extract some value out of Capps in a trade scenario. Giving him a chance to close will definitely help out that situation.
So of the three options listed here, it appears there’s no real wrong answer. However, it seems like it would be the best idea to let Carter Capps have the role. Given his recent string of success in Triple-A, and the need for him to start building big league value, it appears he is the best fit to be the Padres’ closer through the end of this season and into next. With that being said, it’s unclear if the Padres will want to advance him into that role with the big league club so quickly. If not, Kirby Yates may be able to really build up some serious trade value if he can have success in that role. I know it’s hard to just think about these players in terms of building trade value, but that’s the Padres’ best course of action for accumulating more assets and speeding up the timetable for competing. Anyway, if I was a betting man, I would say Capps in the ninth inning role, Yates in an eighth inning or multi-inning role, and Maton used in the sixth or seventh inning until he gets some more experience under his belt.