Now pitching this inning of C’s Chat is 2019 Vancouver Canadians right-hander Parker Caracci.
“If at first, you don’t succeed. Try, try again.” That’s what the Toronto Blue Jays did to get Caracci into the nest. They selected the 5-foot-11 hurler in the 37th round of the 2018 Major League Baseball draft out of Mississippi after a season in which he was named as a 2nd-Team College All-American. However, the Jackson, Mississippi native wanted to return to the Rebels for his junior campaign.
“It was a very easy decision. I made the decision about halfway through the college year. I told a lot of people that I was going back to school. I just wanted to go one more year.”
The 2018 season saw Caracci win five of seven decisions with a 2.81 earned run average, 10 saves and 74 strikeouts in 48 innings.
Even though he returned to campus, Caracci began to realize he had a shot to go to the next level after being drafted by the Jays.
“Yeah, that’s when it set in that I had the potential to play or to get drafted and become a professional baseball player. I got drafted last year but it really like opened my eyes to what was about to happen in the next year.”
The Blue Jays came calling again as scout Don Norris recommended they take Caracci, this time in the 21st round of this year’s draft.
“We were actually still at baseball practice. We were still practicing for super regionals. My phone rang while we were at workouts. I stepped out and answered the phone and came back. People were looking at me like, ‘Did you get drafted? Like what happened?’ It was a great feeling.
I had a few other teams who contacted me but the Blue Jays were the first to pull the trigger.”
The Blue Jays gave the marketing graduate a $100,000 signing bonus.
Running with the Rebels
There was no time for Caracci to celebrate his draft selection as the Rebels were gearing up for NCAA playoff action.
“No, not really. We were still getting ready for the most important series of the year so I tried to stay focused on that and just not even think about (it), after I got drafted. After that day was over, I put it in the back of my mind and just didn’t think about it again until we were done with the college season.”
The season for Caracci and the Rebels came to an end as they just missed out on a berth in the College World Series by losing to Arkansas in the Fayetteville Super Regional.
“It was a very up and down year for myself personally but as a team, I felt like we had a really good team, you know. Once we put it all together, we were really good.
Personally, I started out slow and I got hot and then the last three or so weeks of the regular season, I kind of fell into a slump and then got back out of it at the SEC Tournament in the three games that I pitched. I did really well and just went from there.”
Maintaining an even keel was something Caracci believed he was able to do despite a roller-coaster season that saw go 3-3 with a 5.81 ERA and eight saves.
“It never really took away from my confidence or anything like that. I stuck with it and we were just trying to look at it and figure out what I was doing different, what I was doing wrong, like what was changing. But I never really got down on myself or anything like that.
I’m not usually the type to get down on myself or start thinking bad things. I just tried to stay positive and think about the things that I’ve done and how good I am. At certain points, I tried to think back to that time and think about what was my mindset during that stretch when I was really good, like what was I doing different, and go from there.”
A closer mentality is what Caracci believes he has when the game is on the line.
“It can be interpreted a lot of different ways but to me personally, it’s just giving your team the best chance to win. Just doing what you’re supposed to do and going out there and getting outs and not worrying about how you get the outs.
What happens if you come in with runners on base and get out of the inning without letting up runs, just getting outs and knowing in the back of your head, if you don’t do your job and if you don’t do what you’ve been doing that got you to be the closer, you know, getting outs and getting off the field, if you don’t do that, then your team might lose.
It’s just thinking about it like that, like a win or lose situation, helps me a lot. It gives me the really big picture of like ‘If I mess up, we lose.'”
Transition to Pro Ball
Making the move to pro ball for Caracci was simply a matter of getting used to his surroundings.
“Changing teams, even in college going from the regular season playing with your team and then going to summer ball, it’s a little adjustment. You’ve never played with these guys before, you got to get used to it. You got to figure it out. You just got to get comfortable, you got to find that comfort zone.”
Caracci’s arrival in Vancouver also saw him reunite with a pair of college summer teammates Ryan Sloniger and Andy McGuire.
“Andy McGuire. Me and him were pretty close. My sophomore summer in Baltimore, playing with the Baltimore Redbirds, me and him became pretty close. Whenever I found out I was coming here, he was the first person I texted and he told me about it. He told me how excited he was for me to come up here and we get to be teammates again.”
Another player Caracci was familiar with was C’s catcher Philip Clarke as his walk-off single helped Vanderbilt defeat Ole Miss to capture the SEC Tournament title.
“Philip’s a great guy. He came in and he was talking about it in the SEC Tournament how he was surprised I didn’t come in the game and stuff like that whenever we were tied in the tournament. That’s really all we talked about. We didn’t really talk that much about it.”
Caracci made his Northwest League debut with a scoreless inning in Hillsboro June 23. His first appearance on Canadian soil also went well with two shutout innings against Spokane June 28. Having the opportunity to pitch in front of a packed house at Nat Bailey Stadium has made his stay north of the border a pleasant one.
“It’s the first time I’ve been to Canada. I like it. It’s a great atmosphere here. The fans are great. The city is great. It’s a lot cooler up here than it is in Mississippi where it’s 100 degrees with 70-80 percent humidity. It’s nice coming up here to 70-80 degrees. It feels a lot better.”
A recent string of six scoreless appearances and seven out of eight has seen Caracci hit his stride with the C’s. Among the highlights were two victories at home July 20 against Tri-City and July 25 against Everett.
“What stands out to me the most is my past couple of outings. I’m feeling like myself again. Like I said earlier, finding that comfort zone and I found it. The last two outings, I’m feeling like myself again and just attacking people, not pitching tentatively. Just going out there, being comfortable and just feeling like myself again.”
Caracci has two pitches in his arsenal with a third one in the works.
“Just a four-seam fastball, slider. That’s it. I’ve been playing around with a changeup for the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure when I’m going to introduce it to the game but that’s just something I’ve been toying with.”
The choice of a slider as a breaking pitch was a matter of mechanics for Caracci.
“For my arm slot, kind of the three-quarters, low three-quarters arm slot, I can’t really throw a curveball or I wouldn’t be able to throw a curveball so I guess a slider was really my only choice.”
Refining the slider is what Caracci is paying special attention to.
“Being more consistent with my slider and having two pitches that I can throw in any count and feel comfortable with it. Maybe introduce the changeup here and there and just pitch good.”
According to Baseball America, “Caracci’s fastball generally continued to play better than its radar gun readings.” He has been in the low- to-mid 90 miles per hour range with his fastball with the C’s. He believes there’s still a bit more gas in the tank.
“I’ve hit 97 once in my life but I used to sit around 92 to 95. Like a couple of 96s here and there but that was last year. This year in college, I was anywhere from 91 to 94-95 around there. Velo is down a tad bit right now but it will definitely come back.
“Personally, I’m not too worried about my velocity as long as it feels like it’s coming out good and feels hard to me and hitters are having trouble hitting it (laughs). That’s good enough for me.”
A pitching routine is also something Caracci is developing.
“I’m still kind of working it out. I do the plyocare balls, stuff like that.”
Climbing on the mound happened for Caracci at an early age.
“Whenever Kid Pitch started, I guess that would be third, fourth, fifth grade. I don’t really remember.”
Most professional players usually have a favourite team or player growing up but that is not the case with Caracci.
“I never really watched Major League Baseball. I figure I play baseball five, six hours a day in college and high school—practicing every day after school and stuff like that. I don’t really want to go home and watch more baseball. I kind of want to get away from it for a little while.”
Caracci—who turns 22 September 13—credits a number of people for helping him make it to the professional level.
“Really, everybody. Anybody that’s ever coached me and spent time developing my game and helping me get better has made me the competitor and pitcher and the person that I am today.
My parents always having my back, always driving me around to tournaments and stuff like that and just always making sure I had whatever I needed to play baseball, you know. Washing uniforms and all the long weekends and stuff like that. So yeah, all the coaches that have coached me and my parents.”
Honouring Fallen Friends
Caracci had to endure plenty of adversity during his time at Ole Miss. He had to redshirt his 2016 and 2017 seasons after being unable to make the Rebels roster those seasons.
Off the field, four of Caracci’s closest friends passed away in a short span of time. He honours them in his Twitter bio “Ole Miss Baseball #65 R.I.P. RM WW CP TP”
“Rivers McGraw was my best friend from the seventh grade until he passed away in my sophomore year of college.
And then Walker Wilbanks was one of my buddies in the grade below me in high school that passed away my senior year of high school.
And then Chandler Pipkin was my girlfriend. We had been dating for about three months, talking for about five months. She passed away during my junior year of baseball season at the beginning of it.
And then another (friend) Truitt Primeau passed away also during all of that time.
Every game, before I pitch, I say a prayer and ask God to help be myself and go out there with confidence and stuff like that. And the end of my prayer, I talk to Rivers, Walker, Chandler and Truitt and ask them to come out there with me and just let me feel their presence out there and it helps.”
Thanks a million to Parker Caracci for the latest installment of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @Parkercaracci. Another thank you to C’s Media Relations Assistant Jordy Cunningham for scheduling the chat.