Max Fried was the big chip acquired by the Atlanta Braves in the Justin Upton deal two offseason ago. Just 20-years old at the time of the trade, Fried was one of the most exciting left-handed prospects in baseball, hovering around the Top 50 slot just two years after being drafted seventh overall by the San Diego Padres.
The only problem was, Fried was coming off Tommy John surgery and wouldn’t pitch at all last season.
Coming off of two scoreless outings, I headed out to Rome to check out Fried’s recovery in person and I caught up with him after the game to discuss life as a Brave.
As previously mentioned, Fried was traded just months after getting Tommy John surgery. Coming to a new organization is difficult for any prospect. You would think that knowing you wouldn't even throw a pitch in your first year on the job may make it even more intimidating to call that new organization home.
"It was definitely a shock," Fried said of the trade. "I was just a couple of months out of surgery and I wasn’t really sure how recovery was going to go. I hadn't picked up a baseball to throw, and then got the news that I got traded. So, there was a lot of uncertainty.
"Being able to be incorporated early to start my rehab and throwing program, it felt like an instant fit the moment I got there. They were really welcoming, warm. I could tell that they cared about everyone, not just me or all the guys they acquired, but the organization as a whole."
It also helped that Fried was part of a four-player package and headed to Atlanta with some familiar faces. He had played with Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith the season prior and Jace Peterson had been up and down the Padres system. He also had the help of an old friend to make the transition somewhat easier.
"I was fortunate to get traded with three other guys," Fried said. "I was also familiar with Lucas Sims because we played high school together."
Finally, on April 9th 2016, Fried took the mound for the Rome Braves. It was an impressive outing, as he went five innings of three-run ball (only two were earned) striking out four and walking one. His command was a bit erratic, as to be expected, as he landed just 37 of 60 pitches for strikes, but all in all, the Braves had to have been excited in seeing what Fried had to offer.
"It was a long time coming," Fried said of that April 9th start. "The plan at the beginning of my rehab was that I was going to sit all of 2015 out. ‘You’re not coming back, don’t even think about it, we’re going to make sure you’re healthy and that rehab goes well’, they told me.
"It was difficult, I love competing. I missed being on a full-season team like I’m doing now. I was cross country, I’m a West Coast kid, so being in Orlando was a different animal. But being able to have the support that I’ve had from everyone in the Braves organization has been making the transition easy. It made me excited to go back out and play and return to being my old self."
Here's a look at Fried in that start from Baseball HQ.
As one would expect after a year-and-a-half layoff, Fried’s first half season back on the mound as seen its ups and downs. After he closed out May with two disappointing starts that saw him allow seven runs over 11 innings while striking out eight and walking the same, Fried has found his groove in June and is looking more comfortable than ever.
He began June by hurling consecutive scoreless outings. Last night would have been more of the same, had it not been for a bizarre play.
Fried came out a bit wild, but in control. He threw 19 pitches in the first inning, landing ten in the strike zone, but wasn’t missing badly when he did. He walked Miami Marlins 2015 first round draft pick Josh Naylor on four straight pitches, but that was the only real trouble he had. He was hitting 91 to 93 with his fastball and looked like he was settling in.
The second inning was much different as Fried came out and landed 13 of 17 pitches for strikes. He allowed a single, but quickly erased it with a sick pickoff move. His curve was coming in in the low-70s and although he left it up a few times, it had good drop when he located it. The third inning was his first clean frame as he got Greensboro's Aaron Blanton chasing a 72-mph curve and Casey Sollis looking on a 91-mph fastball.
The fourth inning would see Fried register his fastest pitch of the evening, clocking a 94-mph fastball. With a runner on first and one out in the fifth, a sure double-play ball by Kyle Barrett hit the umpire and resulted in runners on first and second. Anfernee Seymour would then hit the only hard-hit ball off of Fried all night, sending a two-RBI double into the left-center gap.
"I still have a ways to go as far as my pitches and developing my craft," a humble Fried explained. "I feel like my curveball still needs some work, I feel like it’s behind a little bit. My changeup has made strides recently. My last couple of starts I have been able to rely on that in big situations and counts. The last couple outings I feel like my fastball command has gotten a lot better. Being able to take all facets of my game and put it into one performance is what I’ve been striving for. I believe that sooner rather than later it’s all going to come together and I’ll feel more comfortable on the mound."
Just 22-years old, Fried has the patience and intellect far beyond his years. He understands that this is a process and that he will get back to Pre-Tommy John Max as long as he let’s things take care of themselves.
"This whole first half of the season has been my adjustment period," Fried said. "I haven’t really pitched in over a year and a half. I’m getting on a schedule, and traveling all the time, it’s something you have to re-acclimate to. I feel like I’m starting to get my feet under me. I’m having fun doing it again. At the beginning I was kind of pressing, ‘you have to do this, you have to do that’. I just realize that whatever happens, happens, you aren’t going to be able to control everything that happens. So you go out there, give everything you got, be focused and let it take care of itself."
Fried also has the added excitement of being part of a Braves organization that is rebuilding for its future. He is part of one of the top minor league systems in baseball, and they know they have a chance to be part of something special. In Rome alone, Fried gets to pitch in one of the best rotations in Class A.
"I thought I had a really good rotation my first year in Fort Wayne," Fried said. "Joe Ross, Zach Eflin, another first rounder in Walter Weickel. I thought that was insane. Then I come over here and you have [Mike] Soroka, Touki [Toussaint], Ricardo [Sanchez], Kolby [Allard] and [Patrick] Weigel. Weigel I think is one of the under-the-radar guys. The guy will go out there and touch 98, 99 and he’s kind of dominated this league so far.
"Everyone is just extremely talented. I think it’s the best thing for us because we are all competing against each other in a friendly way. We are pushing each other to get better."