Capps has big fan in Bucs manager

Capps leaves an impression on Bucs' brass

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Last September, when he was managing the Dodgers in a game against the Pirates, Jim Tracy got a glimpse of a young Pittsburgh right-hander named Matt Capps. It was only the third career Major League appearance for Capps, and the rookie gave up one run in 1 1/3 innings that day, but he made a favorable impression on Tracy, who hasn't forgotten.

"It was just a quick look," Tracy said. "But I do feel like I have the capability of making some general assumptions about a guy, and I saw a very aggressive kid [who] said, 'Here's what I've got, I'm throwing it over the plate, you hit it, and we'll deal with it.' "

Now that Tracy is managing the Pirates, he has had a chance to see more of the 22-year-old right-hander and is even more pleased with what Capps has shown.

"He's an aggressive pitcher [who] sets the tone by being aggressive and throwing strikes and coming right at you," Tracy said. "You like guys like that."

There's a lot to like about Capps, a seventh-round selection in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft from Douglasville, Ga. A converted position player, the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Capps has seen his career curve accelerate in recent years, especially since the end of the 2004 season, when he was moved from starter to reliever.

In his last 67 games, covering 122 2/3 innings with Class A Williamsport and Hickory, Double-A Altoona as well as four appearances with the Pirates, Capps struck out 101 and walked only 10. His combined strikeouts-to-walks total in three stops last year was 68-to-6.

"He doesn't walk many," Tracy said. "It changes the perception of the guy that's hitting against you versus a guy who tries to hit the corners. Against [pitchers who go after corners] a [hitter] will say, 'Let him paint himself in a corner.' [Capps] doesn't give you that option."

With so many talented relievers in the Pirates bullpen this year, including Mike Gonzalez, Salomon Torres, Roberto Hernandez, John Grabow and Damaso Marte, Capps is projected to open the 2006 season in the high Minors.

Capps was 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA in four games for the Pirates last season and 0-2 with a 2.70 ERA in 17 games for Double-A Altoona, so a stint at Triple-A may be in order as the club would rather see him continue to get work rather than be the 11th or 12th man on the Major League staff.

If he keeps improving as he has the last two years, it will be hard to keep Capps down for long.

"He's a very interesting guy," Pirates general manager Dave Littlefield said. "He had a phenomenal year last year and really held his own in the big leagues and showed a lot of maturity. I've got a good feeling about this guy. I'm anxious to see how Spring Training goes for him. He's a big strong guy, he's got a real good arm and throws a lot of strikes. There's a lot of good things to like about him."

With such a strong showing the last two years, it is easy for the Pirates to get enthusiastic about Capps. Then again, he's still young, and caution is probably the best course.

"He came very fast last year," Littlefield said. "I don't want to put any restrictions on him, I'm just anxious to see how he does."

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.