Carlos Frias spent his whole career in the Dodgers organization and a majority of his time in the minor leagues, originally signing as a 17-year old amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2007. He bounced around between the bullpen and starting rotation over his long career with the Dodgers. While his pitch arsenal tends to profile better as a relief pitcher and he has the stuff to be a bridge guy to the late inning relievers, the Dodgers never gave up on him as a starter.
Frias played his first four seasons at the rookie level and had varying degrees of success. In 2007, his first professional season, he was great as he appeared in 13 games and racked up 49.2 innings with a 1.81 ERA and really did a nice job of limiting baserunners posting a career low 1.107 WHIP (minimum 10 appearances). In 2008 and 2009 he was solid with an ERA below 4.28 and he threw over 60 innings in both seasons. Of note, he only gave up one home run over his first three professional seasons, which covered 149 innings.
Frias encountered his first real struggles in 2010 when he allowed seven home runs, walked 21 batters and compiled a 1.678 WHIP in just 39.1 innings. Even with the rough 2010, the Dodgers moved him up to High-A Rancho Cucamonga in 2011 and he struggled there in 12 appearances, ending the season with a 6.19 ERA. Again, he was plagued by poor control as he walked 17 batters, gave up three home runs and had an ugly 2.125 WHIP in only 16 innings pitched.
The 2012 season saw him start with a return to rookie ball where he pitched in 15 games and did well enough to get another look at High-A later in the season though struggled in the three short appearances he made there. He remained primarily a starter and bounced back nicely in 2013 and made it all the way up to Double-A Chattanooga.
In 2014, Frias made his Major League Baseball debut on August 4th and for the most part pitched out of the bullpen while with the Dodgers. He didn’t have much success giving up at least one run in 8 of his 15 appearances, but he did have a solid 29/7 K/BB ratio. In 2015, he spent time between High-A, Triple-A and the majors and the Dodgers again tried him predominantly as a starter with mixed results. At the major league level he started 13 games and had a 4.06 ERA over 77.2 innings and in 10 of his 12 starts he allowed three runs or less.
The 2016 season was a bit of a lost season for Frias. He missed out on the fifth starter spot for the Dodgers and spent the season between Double-A and Triple-A. He missed the first month and a half of the season with an oblique strain and only returned for less than two months before making his last appearance on July 7th before the oblique issue cropped up again and ended his season.
The question going forward is whether Frias will start or relieve. Of note, when the Dodgers used him strictly out of the bullpen in 2014, his 5.1% walk percentage was over 2% better than the league average of 7.6% and his 21.6% strikeout percentage was a bit above the 20.4% league average. On the flip side, his numbers changed when he went from the bullpen to a starter. In 2015, while starting for the Dodgers, his K% and BB% both worsened considerably as his K% went down almost 9% and his BB% went up over 2%. Also, in 2014, 70% of his pitches were thrown for strikes, but in 2015 as a starter his strike percentage went down by 6%. He’s certainly had more success in the pen to date.
The Indians appear to be taking a flier on Frias because he has Major League experience and is versatile to use as a bullpen guy with the ability to be a spot starter. He’s a hard thrower with a two and four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup and curveball. His fastball sits in the 94-96 MPH range and his changeup is in the mid to high 80s, though he doesn’t seem to have a ton of confidence in his off-speed pitches, mainly his curveball.
At the end of the day Frias is still only 27 years old, so there is still time to be able to work things out. He will have close to six weeks of time this spring to work directly with pitching coach Mickey Callaway, which could do him a world of good as Callaway seems to have an uncanny ability to get the best out of his pitchers and really get them to pitch to their strengths. After some time to work with Frias, Callaway could make some tweaks and send him to Triple-A Columbus to work on them and perhaps finally bring out the consistency in his pitching that the Dodgers lost patience waiting for.
This move is a very low risk move for the Indians. You can never have enough pitching, so the fact that the Indians are adding another arm isn’t surprising. Best case scenario, he figures it out and becomes a nice bullpen piece or fills in nicely as a depth starter. And there is still upside in his arm where he could finally live up to his prospect hype of the past. If not, it’s a no harm, no foul situation for the Indians and he can be designated for assignment to add another arm later in the year from within or via trade.