Likeable Fruto Having Breakout 2005

SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Every class has its clown, and likewise, so does every ballclub. The Missions fill that role with five-year pro Emiliano Fruto, a dance-crazy Columbian pitcher who resides on the far side of normal.

"I like to keep everyone loose and have a good time out on the mound," Fruto said through an interpreter. "Some like it, and some don't – they think I'm nuts, but I am who I am. That's the way I've always been."

A loose and energetic approach to the game, not to mention shedding 30 pounds in the off-season (down to a slim 230), has helped the youngster improve on last year's quality outing with San Antonio, when he went 3-3 with a 5.66 ERA and 13 saves.

"He's a completely different player from last year," said Missions manager Dave Brundage. "He's a young player that has a ways to go, and this year is big for him."

In addition to playing the role of set-up man, Fruto has taken on closing duties after the promotion of Sean Green, who had 14 saves in Double-A San Antonio before heading to Tacoma.

"(Our pitchers) know we have certain roles, and we challenge each other to try and do better," Fruto said. "I like to attack the hitters, and when I go in I know it's my responsibility to make the big pitch and pick up my teammates."

Since earning his first save on June 1, Fruto has converted five such opportunities for the Missions, tied with co-closer Renee Cortez for first among active San Antonio pitchers, and has now registered a 2-3 mark with a 3.02 ERA, tops among the team's relievers with at least 20 innings of work.

"Everybody's working hard in their roles," Fruto said. "You know if you go in with runners on, it's your responsibility to not let in another guy's run."

Although a veteran of the minor league system, Fruto, 21, remains young enough to have yet reached his potential. That being said, there's little denying the fact that he's come a long way since being signed out of Columbia as a 16-year old in July, 2000.

"I felt nervous back then," Fruto said, who posted a 5-3 record with Peoria in his first season. "That first year was difficult, but it's easier now. I've been in the country and system for four years now, and I've learned some of the language and customs."

Missions radio personality Roy Acuff sees a talented but unrefined pitcher in Fruto, pointing out that, contrary to popular belief, youth and ignorance are not always bliss.

"Youth right now is the enemy of Fruto," Acuff said. "He's got four quality pitches (including a mid to upper-90s fastball). He's a couple years away, but once he's 23 or 24, he's going to be top-flight pitcher.

While that may be true, it hasn't stopped Fruto from helping his team now, which finished the first half in second place in the Texas League West division.

"I just hope to pitch well and stay healthy," Fruto said. "The (Mariners) organization will put me where I should be when I should be there."

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