LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – He pitched in only three Grapefruit League games, but Max Fried and his dynamic left arm made as big an impression this spring as any Braves player or prospect.
One of baseball’s top pitching prospects, Fried gave observers a good idea of why he’s so well-regarded, striking out five while allowing one hit and three walks in four innings over three games before being optioned Thursday to Double-A Mississippi. He’ll skip high Single-A after pitching last season at low-A Rome.
“Max served notice that he is not far away from helping us win games at the major league level,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “He was extremely impressive in every way this spring.”
Minor league spring-training games begin Friday, and the Braves wanted those pitchers who weren’t competing for opening-day roster spots with Atlanta to get to minor league camp so they could get the innings they need to build arm strength before affiliates begin regular-season play.
Fried, a lanky, 6-foot-4 southern Californian with a big curveball and mid-90 mph fastball, did all the right things on the field and off, working hard and showing attentiveness that was appreciated by older players and coaches.
“Definitely really, really excited about how I did and just stuff I was able to learn here, it’s really priceless,” said Fried, who turned 23 in January. “A little taste is obviously nice, but I’m just going to go back, work hard and hopefully get up here soon.”
A first-round draft pick of the Padres in 2012 — seventh overall — Fried was a star since his high school years in the Los Angeles area, but doesn’t exhibit any air of entitlement. Braves broadcaster and Hall of Fame pitcher Don Sutton talked to Fried at length one morning at camp and came away praising the kid’s maturity and intellect.
At spring training, his locker stall was between those of pitchers Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz.
“Looking back on it, I kind of wish I was writing stuff down, as far as just all the different things that I’ve learned,” Fried said. “I was lucky enough that I was put between Folty and Julio, so I was able to talk to them a little bit before Julio went to WBC. There was just a lot of really unbelievable information that was kind of given to me by different veterans, and I was very fortunate to be able to experience this.”
Fried was brought along methodically by the Braves in 2016 in his first season back from Tommy John elbow surgery. They were careful with the coveted lefty after getting him as the principal in a four-prospect package they wrested from the Padres in exchange for Justin Upton in December 2014, when Fried was four months into his surgery rehab.
He got a late start to the season and was a modest 8-7 with a 3.93 ERA and 112 strikeouts in 103 innings of 21 regular-season games including 20 starts at low-A Rome. But Fried excelled in his last 11 starts, posting a 2.80 ERA with 72 strikeouts and 19 walks in 54 2/3 innings.
When he made his major league spring-training debut Feb. 27 against the Detroit Tigers, he faced the powerful middle of their order — Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton — and worked a perfect inning with one strikeout. When he faced the Marlins a week later, he pitched two innings and gave up one hit and two walks with two strikeouts.
In his final Grapefruit League appearance a week ago against the Mets, Fried struck out the first two batters in his inning and, after issuing a walk, picked the runner off.
His lasting memory of his initial big-league camp?
“It’s really hard to beat my first outing,” Fried said. “Just going out there and feeling the adrenaline, and getting through the inning clean. Just build off of that.”