It wasn’t an easy road, but Oakland A’s 2015 seventh-round pick Kyle Friedrichs’ path to professional baseball has left him well prepared for the next step in his career.
Friedrichs began his career in the Long Beach State bullpen and had carved out a role as the team’s closer by his sophomore season. A fierce competitor, Friedrichs thrived in a ninth-inning role, saving 10 games and posting a 1.88 ERA in 38.1 innings for the Dirtbags in 2012. Unfortunately, Friedrichs began to experience elbow pain at the end of his sophomore season and he eventually required Tommy John surgery to fix a torn UCL. Friedrichs went 20 months in-between appearances for Long Beach State.
Friedrichs says that the experience of rehabbing from Tommy John surgery was more painful mentally than it was physically, but that it helped him grow a lot as a person.
“It was more tough mentally than everything else,” Friedrichs said just hours after he heard his name called in the draft. “Just trying to stay on the plans that they have for you because they know what is best. That is so tough mentally because you think ‘I feel fine. I want to throw. I want to do this.’ They always hold you back – the doctors, the physical trainers and those folks – they always hold you back.
“That’s the last thing that you want. You just want to keep moving forward, but that was probably the best thing that happened to me was slowing me down and slowing down the process. It made me a better person.”
The fruits of Friedrichs’ labor were realized this year with Long Beach State. The redshirt senior made 23 appearances as a reliever in 2014 during his first year back from the surgery. This year, the team needed Friedrichs in the starting rotation. He jumped at the opportunity and turned in a year of a lifetime.
In 15 starts, Friedrichs posted a 2.79 ERA. He struck-out 109 and walked only 12 in 100 innings. Friedrichs also allowed just two homeruns. He was named to the prestigious Gregg Olson semifinalist list. The Gregg Olson award recognizes the breakout performers in college baseball.
Friedrichs was floored to be included on the Gregg Olson list.
“It was one of the biggest honors,” Friedrichs said. “My dad called me and I looked at the names of the guys on that list and I think most of them went on Day One [of the draft]. I was honored to be on that list, but I’ve got to go back to my work, the weight program and the conditioning and the throwing program and all of the work that I went through with my rehab after the surgery.”
Friedrichs says that it took some time for him to regain the feel for his pitches after his surgery. Before that returned, Friedrichs relied on his mental toughness on the mound.
“The one thing that stayed the same was my competitiveness,” Friedrichs said. “The one thing that held on the mound was my competitiveness because that is who I am.”
A creature of habit, Friedrichs appreciated the structure that being a starter brought to him.
“I loved starting. I loved knowing my schedule,” Friedrichs said. “I like being on top of my work. I am really organized and really disciplined so having a schedule I could stay consistent with really helped me out.”
Friedrichs doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he mixes a sinker, a four-seam fastball, a change-up and a slider to get plenty of swings-and-misses and groundballs. In a defining moment this season, Friedrichs out-dueled eventual number four overall pick Dillon Tate in a late March start against UCSB. Friedrichs struck-out 13, walked none and gave-up just two hits in a brilliant, complete-game shutout. That game took place in front of dozens of scouts there to see Tate and may have cemented Friedrichs’ spot on many teams’ draft boards.
A groundball pitcher, Friedrich works quickly and likes to keep his defense alert. He already has an advanced understanding of how to use pitch sequences to keep hitters off-balance. Friedrich walked only 12 all season, but he knows that sometimes the best pitch he can throw is one that is outside of the strike-zone.
“I have learned how to throw quality strikes – and quality balls,” Friedrichs said. “You can throw quality balls at the same time. That’s something that I have been learning this season as a starter because when you are facing a batter three, four times a game, you can’t just throw the same sequence twice in a row, especially at the next level. So throwing quality strikes and throwing quality balls and good misses with those strikes, that will help you out.”
Friedrichs exceeded his career-high in innings pitched this season by more than 50 innings, but he pointed to his conditioning program as the key to his durability this season.
“I felt pretty strong,” Friedrichs said. “There were a couple of times towards the end of the year where I felt a little tired, a little fatigued, but then I just turned to my work, to my throwing program and my weight program and I recovered a lot faster than I normally do as a bullpen guy. I stayed on my routine and that helped a lot this year.”
Friedrichs wasn’t sure when he’d hear his name during the draft, but he says that he got a call from an A’s scout before the seventh round letting him know that the A’s were thinking of selecting him. Two picks before the A’s were on the board in the seventh round, Friedrichs received a thumbs up emoji text from the scout. When Friedrichs heard his name called a few minutes later, the celebration really began.
“I just started crying in my dad’s arms,” Friedrichs said.
The Southern California native believes he will fit well into the A’s organization.
“I like their style of play. I like their grittiness and their competitiveness,” Friedrichs said. “That’s something that I have always held myself accountable for is my competitiveness on the mound. How is my attention? How is my concentration?”
With his college career and the draft now behind him, Friedrichs is anxiously awaiting the next chapter in his life.
“Next step is to sign the paperwork, make it official and we’ll see where we go from there,” Friedrichs said.