Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

The Arizona Fall League will name a champion on Nov. 18, and Braves prospect Max Fried could have a key role to play. The southpaw has fully overcome Tommy John surgery to reestablish himself as a top prospect in MLB.

For the Braves, Fried’s rise couldn’t have come at a better time. With many prospects like the much heralded Ronald Acuna ready to make the major league jump, Max Fried has tasted MLB, and is ready to take the ball every fifth day in Atlanta. This is prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook.

The injury

Entering 2014, Fried was one of the hottest left-handed pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2012, the San Diego Padres were sure they had an “ace of the future” waiting in the wings. They might have been right, had Fried not injured that prized left arm of his.

At just 20 years old, in 2014, Fried was the third ranked prospect in San Diego’s farm system as rated by Baseball America. Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until early in the spring months, Fried began feeling soreness in his left forearm.

As a result, the Padres medical staff shut down all throwing activities for the young hurler. He wouldn’t see live action again in 2014 until mid-July. However, he didn’t last long. In his third start after his return, he began to complain of soreness in his arm, this time in his elbow. And this time, it would require surgery to repair. Tommy John surgery and the resulting rehab would cost Fried nearly two years of his career, and he wouldn’t again pitch until 2016.

The comeback

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried as a fresh-faced draft pick of the San Diego Padres. (Photo courtesy of: AP/Alex Gallardo)

Although Max Fried would lose nearly two years of his development to rehab after undergoing Tommy John, he remained committed to the cause. However, when he resumed pitching he would no longer be doing it for the team that drafted him. During December of 2014, Fried was part of a trade that sent Braves’ outfielder Justin Upton to San Diego in return for a load of top-end prospects. Fried was one of them.

In 2016, Fried would break camp with Low-A Rome in the Braves system. While he started slowly, the surgically repaired elbow stood up to the test of live action. By season’s end, Fried would be firmly entrenched as one of the most dominant pitchers in the Sally League.

In 21 games (20 starts) Fried pitched 103 innings, striking out 112 batters, and posted a 3.93 ERA for the year. Excellent work for a young pitcher coming back from the vaunted Tommy John surgery.

Building off a strong 2016, the Braves decided to challenge Fried by jumping him two levels to Double-A. In 19 starts for Mississippi, Fried pitched to a 5.92 ERA and won two while losing 11. However, the strikeouts were still there. He fanned 85 over 86.2 innings of work. This would suggest that his pitches were taking time to find their bite at an advanced level.

If that were all there was to go on, you might think of Fried as a ho-hum type of prospect, but he buckled down when the Braves moved him to Triple-A Gwinnett. In two starts at Gwinnett, spanning six innings of work, the youngster only surrendered one hit, walking two and striking out six. It was on the back of this performance that Fried earned his first big league call-up. And he didn’t disappoint.

For Atlanta, their eighth ranked prospect, fared well in his first taste of MLB. In nine appearances (four starts), Fried went 1-1 with a 3.81 ERA striking out 22 and walking 12 in 26 innings of work.

For Fried, the road back has been long, but his outlook for 2018 is bright.

Prospect Max Fried’s 2018 season outlook

Max Fried fires one to home as a member of the Atlanta Braves.
(Photo courtesy of: Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

As it stands now, into the last week of the Arizona Fall League’s schedule, Fried has arguably been the best pitcher in the league. What Fried has done in Arizona, considering his past injury, has been remarkable. His line this fall 3-1 with a 1.73 ERA has shown that this young man is ready for the big-time. Fried has tested himself in Arizona against baseball’s most elite prospects, and has come through in fine style.

The strikeouts are still there as well. In 26 innings of work for the Peoria Javelinas, Fried has struck out 32 batters, while only walking eight. Mitch Keller and Justus Sheffield are the only other starting pitchers in Arizona with a better WHIP than Max Fried. Neither of those two pitchers, however, has posted as many innings of work as Fried has this fall.

Based on the late season call-up to Atlanta, and the success he had there, it would be inconceivable to see Fried start anywhere but Atlanta. It’s a bonus for the Braves’ front office personnel that Fried has dominated in Arizona like he has.

The kid is ready. Give him the ball.

 

(feature photo courtesy of: David Banks/Getty Images)

 

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Ronald Acuna

Why has Ronald Acuna not been called up?

Background

Ronald Acuna

Acuna is currently on a 14-game hitting streak, where he is slashing .406/.418/.672. (Photo by Last Words on Baseball)

Ranked eighth by MLB.com on the 2017 prospect watch list, Ronald Acuna has continued to prove himself at every professional level. The Venezuelan international was born on Dec. 18, 1997, and was signed in 2014 by the Atlanta Braves as a 16-year-old for $100,000.

This deal was an enormous steal for Atlanta, as they spent a combined seven million dollars on prospects Kevin Maitan and Abraham Gutierrez, who are both 17-year-olds playing in the Gulf Coast league.

At 17 years old, Acuna spent time in the Gulf Coast and Appalachian Leagues, where in 55 games he batted a combined .269 with four home runs, 18 RBIs and 16 stolen bases. He took a huge leap forward in 2016, batting .312 in 42 games in primarily the South Atlantic League, proving he is one of the Braves top prospects moving forward.

In 2017, Acuna began the year in high-A, although after batting .287 with 19 RBIs and 14 stolen bases in 28 games, he was called up to double-A. Acuna continued his tear, batting .326 with nine home runs, 30 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 57 games for the Mississippi Braves.

The 19-year-old was then called-up to triple-A Gwinnett, where he has since batted .358 with eight home runs, 27 RBIs and eight stolen bases in 43 games. Acuna is currently on a 14-game hitting streak, where he is slashing .406/.418/.672 with four home runs, 13 runs scored, 14 RBIs and five stolen bases.

His heroic rise up the minor league ladder has been halted, as he has yet to receive a call to the majors despite his incredible levels of success.

Give this man a chance

Ronald Acuna

According to MLB.com writer Mark Bowman, former Atlanta Brave Superstars Chipper and Andruw Jones had “raved about Acuna” during spring training. (Photo by Zimbio.com)

Acuna has continuously decreased his strikeout rate, while increasing his home run to fly ball rate at each succeeding level. He has also shown the ability to hit the ball to all fields, as he is currently hitting 36.8 percent of balls to the opposite field.

His speed is worth noting, as his speed score has ranked anywhere from 5.4 to 9.3 in his career, which is recognized as above average to excellent according to Fangraphs.com. His batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, measures over .400 in 2017, although this seems to be more skill based than luck, as BABIP has not dropped .359 since rookie ball in 2015.

According to MLB.com writer Mark Bowman, former Atlanta Brave superstars Chipper and Andruw Jones had “raved about Acuna” during spring training. The five-tool prospect has been compared to the likes of Starling Marte, who is a two-time Gold Glove winner and one-time All-Star.

With the Braves 19 games back of the Washington Nationals in the National League East, and 11 games back in the wild card race, it seems like a perfect time to bring up the red-hot 19-year-old.

With Ender Inciarte being the everyday center fielder, and veterans Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis in the corners, there is no place for Acuna to play, hence why he has been kept in the minors, as they want him to get as many at-bats as possible.

With no real chance at making the playoffs, the Braves should give Acuna a chance to begin his major league career. He will undoubtedly need to make an abundance of adjustments, so why not allow him to begin progressing, and/or struggling, now when the results do not matter?

The Braves would be stupid to allow veterans like Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis to steal major league at-bats away from their up-and-coming prospects like Acuna, which is why Acuna will likely be called up in September, rather than getting his first shot with the big league club next April.

 

Featured Image by Getty Images

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