Sometimes a shift in roles is all it takes for a player's career to take off. That has certainly been the case for Midland RockHounds' right-hander Seth Frankoff. Selected in the 27th-round of the 2010 draft out of UNC-Wilmington, Frankoff was a starter for most of his minor league career until he was moved into the bullpen partway through the 2012 season.
A's minor league pitching coordinator Scott Emerson said this about Frankoff: Seth has great stuff. His ball moves. It cuts, it sinks, it has some velocity. Being in a more limited role out of the bullpen, his focus is better. He stays focused a lot better in shorter stints than he did as a starter. ... He's got an average major league fastball. He's got plus movement. He's got average to plus curveball. He's an average to plus change-up and then he's got a cutter that's the same – average to plus.
At the time of the shift, Frankoff was stuck in the lower levels of the A's system, having spent much of 2011 in short-season Vermont after starting the year with Low-A Burlington. In 2012, he posted a 9.17 ERA in nine starts for the Bees before the A's moved him to the bullpen. After the switch, Frankoff posted a 2.51 ERA in 27 relief appearances and his career has been on an upwards trajectory ever since.
Last season, Frankoff was part of a High-A Stockton bullpen that led the California League in strike-outs per nine innings. The right-hander K'd 93 in 74.1 innings and posted a 2.78 ERA. He limited opposing hitters to a .208 average and allowed just six homeruns. He posted a 30.4% K-rate, a 7.5% BB-rate and a 43.8% groundball-rate. All of those ratios were better than league average by a significant amount.
The A's tested Frankoff even further during the off-season, sending him to the Arizona Fall League. He more than held his own against top prospects from around baseball, posting a 1.46 ERA. He struck-out 15 and allowed just eight hits in 12.1 innings for the Mesa Solar Sox.
This season, Frankoff is making that all-important jump from A-ball to Double-A, which is often referred to as the most difficult leap in minor league baseball. Thus far, he has had little trouble making the adjustment to the Texas League. Often pitching during the last few innings of the game, Frankoff leads the team with eight saves. He has a 2.08 ERA and a 29:6 K:BB. Frankoff also sports a 50% groundball-rate. His K-rate has jumped to 33.3% and his BB-rate has fallen to 6.9%.
We spoke with Frankoff about his transition to Double-A, his experience at the Fall League and more…
OaklandClubhouse: You've had a strong start to the season. What has been the biggest different in the level of competition between High-A and Double-A?
Seth Frankoff: I think the hitters have a lot better approach up here. They go up there looking for a specific pitch in a specific count. You don't have as many guys hacking at everything. The quality of your pitches really has to be good, especially when you go deep into counts. In the lower levels, those guys will swing at a lot of stuff way out of the ‘zone. You have to make more quality pitches, more pitches that are in the ‘zone rather than out of the ‘zone. Guys aren't swinging at balls over their heads here or swinging at 40-foot curveballs.
The quality of your pitches has to be more consistent and you have to be able to throw all of your pitches for strikes because if you don't throw your off-speed pitches for strikes, they are going to sit on your fastball.
OC: You have been in a lot of late-game situations where you are pitching for a save or a win in the ninth inning or even in extra-innings. Has that been fun to be in that role this season?
SF: Absolutely. Pitching in the back-end of the bullpen is a lot of fun. It's a little different animal pitching in the ninth inning when it is a save situation. I would say that hitters go up there with a little bit more of a plan. They aren't just hacking. They are looking to get on-base and try to create scoring opportunities for their team. For me, it's a lot of fun to be in a high-octane, high-adrenaline situation and come in and try to put guys away as quickly as I can and bring home the win for the team.
OC: You are a big groundball pitcher and you have good groundball numbers again this year. There are several veteran infielders on the Midland roster like shortstop Dusty Coleman. Has it made a big difference for you to have more experienced defenders behind you in the infield?
SF: Oh absolutely. Dusty has made a lot of phenomenal plays not only behind me, but behind other guys. It really gives you the confidence to try to make guys get early contact and put it on the ground. You know that guys are going to make the plays behind you.
OC: Is there a pitch that has worked best for you this year, or has been your go-to weapon?
SF: Really this year I think I have allocated all four of my pitches pretty evenly. I feel like I can throw any of them in any count or situation. I think that works to my advantage some because guys won't know exactly what's coming. I try to mix them all in there. I wouldn't say that one out-weighs the other. I feel pretty comfortable, like I said, using all four.
OC: You had a chance to pitch in the Arizona Fall League this off-season. Did that experience help you coming into this year?
SF: I believe so. It was a great experience playing against some of the best prospects in the game. It kind of re-affirms that I can compete at that level and helps my confidence a little bit getting to pitch against that higher competition. It was a good learning tool for me realizing that I had the ability to do it. I just had to be consistent and get the job done.
OC: This spring you had a chance to join the big league camp a few times and I think you even got the win in one game. What was that like? Was the adrenaline different when you were pitching in big-league camp?
SF: The game I pitched in was against the Diamondbacks. I went in to pitch the ninth inning of a tie ballgame. It was a spring training game and obviously those stats don't count, but for me it was a lot of fun to get to pitch in front of the big league staff and be on the same field with the big league guys. It was a great opportunity and also kind of a confidence builder that you can go out there and get the job done. It was definitely a good experience. I hope to have more of them in the future.
OC: As a team, the RockHounds have had some stirring comebacks lately, even going deep into extra-innings to get a win. Do you feel like this team has a unique bond?
SF: I think this is a team that doesn't give up. We kind of joked that we really turn it on from innings six through nine and guys have put some good at-bats together, have gotten on-base and guys have gotten them over and gotten them in. That's a testament to the hitters that sometimes when we have fallen behind early, they have done a good job of picking us up and getting us back into the game. We have been able pick up some games right at the end.
I know last year they had a couple of teams come back on them, from what I understand from the guys who were here last year. It's been nice to able to return the favor a little bit.