Colorado Rockies rookie lefty Christian Friedrich made his major league debut on Wednesday, throwing six impressive innings to win a victory against the San Diego Padres. Not long ago, it looked like Friedrich was a failed prospect, but he's completely turned his career around over the last few months, restoring the luster that made him a first round pick in 2008.
Friedrich was a star pitcher at Eastern Kentucky University and one of the best pitchers available in the 2008 class. Drafted in the first round and signed for $1,350,000, he had an outstanding season in A-ball in 2009, posting a 2.41 ERA with a 159/43 K/BB ratio in 120 innings split between Low-A and High-A.
2010 was a different story: he was limited to 18 starts and 87 innings for Double-A Tulsa by a sore elbow, and was ineffective when he did pitch, posting a 5.05 ERA and allowing 100 hits. Friedrich returned to Tulsa in 2011 and wasn't much better, going 6-10 with a 5.00 ERA and 156 hits in 133 innings. His velocity was down, his breaking stuff wasn't sharp, and he entered 2012 as a huge question.
The southpaw knew his career was at a crossroads, and went on a workout program this past winter, losing weight and improving his physical conditioning. The results are clear: he posted a 3.00 ERA in five Triple-A starts for Colorado Springs before his promotion, with a sharp 27/4 K/BB ratio and 23 hits allowed in 30 innings.
Listed at 6-4, 215, Friedrich is a right-handed hitter and left-handed thrower born July 8, 1987. He appeared heavier than his listed weight last year, but reportedly lost 30 pounds this past winter. Friedrich threw in the low-90s in college, but his velocity sagged into the 80s in '10 and '11, concurrent with the elbow problems and weight gain.
With better health, he's back up into the 90s now, topping out at 94 MPH on Wednesday and averaging 92. He has two breaking pitches, a curve and a slider, and both offerings appear sharper this year. Better velocity separation with the revived fastball helps, but his secondary pitches just look better in general. He also has a solid changeup. His command and control improved this spring after wobbling during his tenure at Tulsa.
Friedrich's successes this spring don't completely erase past concerns, but he looks a lot more like the confident, talented pitcher the Rockies drafted in 2008 than the guy who stumbled through Double-A.