Isaac Barajas

MadFriars' Interview: Ben Fritz

PASCO, Wash: Ben Fritz, 35 is in his first year of managing the Padres’ short-season Northwest League affiliate, the Tri-City Dust Devils. It’s his first season as a manager after having previously served as a pitching coach in the Arizona League last year; his first with the organization.

Fritz, a former first round selection of the Oakland A’s in the 2002, has an unusual background.  He spent seven years in the minors as a pitcher, but in college in Fresno State was also a star in the field at catcher and first base.

“My “in” to coaching was as a pitcher and an opportunity came up to manage this season; which I have always wanted,” said Fritz on his background. “I am able to work with the catchers now; which is awesome.”  

“One of the biggest things for me as a player is how the bullpen was handled and since as a player I was there a few times, so I have some opinions.  I know what they are looking for but it is a little different because we have so many players.”

The short-season leagues are different from the full-season ones not only in the compressed mid-June to Labor Day schedule, but also in the number of players (35) that are on the roster compared to the rest of the full-season leagues, which can range from 24 to 23 and frequently less with all the internal movement.

The result?  

Usually you will see pitching staffs that can range from 15 to 18 pitchers, which are one of the reasons teams clubs that have drafted college pitchers with a lot of innings on them from the spring like to keep them here as opposed to sending them to full-season leagues.  It is much easier to monitor and control innings.

We caught up with Ben to talk about some of the prospects that arrived in Pasco.

[Editor’s note: the interview was conducted before one of the Padres’ first round selections Cal Quantrill arrived.]

I’ve been impressed with shortstop Chris Baker from the University of Washington. Can he stay at shortstop and he seems to have some power in his swing.

Ben Fritz: I think he can stay at shortstop. Based off of the actions and instincts.  There are guys that are going to have better range than him, but his first step/instincts are solid and the hands work.

I don’t think he is a power hitter, but he has power.  Sometimes when you have power, you try to become a power hitter and doesn’t work.  As long as he stays in the approach middle of the field, he is going to run into some.  Offensively he has done nothing but progress in the time we have been here.

He was a little wide when he got here and was a little tardy and underneath on certain pitches.  We’ve stood him up a little more and got him to get on top of balls and drive them with backspin instead of topspin.

Nate Easley has made a transition from the outfield to second base.  How have things been going for him?

Ben Fritz: At second base it is still a little bit of a work in progress, but it is more about getting comfortable there; the athleticism plays.  He last played in the infield in eighth grade [Easley was a center fielder in high school and in junior college].

It is not that you can take plays off in the outfield, but it is a lot less intense than being in the middle of the infield. Right now for Nate, it’s more about just getting ready and being on time, so he is learning how to do that part.

Where he runs into problems with the slower hit balls as opposed to where he has to rely upon his raw ability to make plays.  What he is going through now is one hundred percent expected.

It is just a question of developing that internal clock.  As with Baker, he has done nothing but get better since he arrived.

With the bat, he is similar to Baker as well, he can run into some as well.  He needs to stay gap-to-gap to be effective.  With two strikes he takes the ball to right field really well.

Buddy Reed is the quintessential prospect; very good athlete can cover a lot of ground in center but his hit tool is a work in progress. What have you and the organization been doing to improve upon that?

Ben Fritz: He went through a lot swing changes and stance adjustments in college [Reed went to the University of Florida].  I’m not saying that it is wrong, but there were changes.  The first thing we noticed on film is that he was late and out of rhythm.

When you are late, mechanics break down.  The thought process right now is to simplify, because timing supersedes mechanics.  That timing is going to be a little different for every player, but there were times that his load was happening almost when the ball was released. 

If you have good mechanics in BP it’s not going to show up because you have to rush.  For him if he can get comfortable earlier he is going to have a better chance to succeed. 

You have two sides of the plate to work with him because he is a switch-hitter.

Ben Fritz: Yup and really both sides are similar because he was having to rush.  If you do that, it makes everything really hard.  Once you get that done, then you can start focusing on mechanics because the swing in BP is good.  

You just got Eric Lauer.  After seeing him the first time, what impressed you the most about him?  How do you see him progressing at higher levels?

Ben Fritz: I know it sounds counter-intuitive, for guys that know how to pitch, when they face better hitters and know how to pitch, it can become easier.  That first pitch when you go outer-third, here they are hacking; in High-A they are also hacking.

When you go up to Double-A and Triple-A when the approach and plan is a little more mature, he will have strike one.  The talent gets better, but it gets a little easier to pitch because you also start having scouting reports and you know where to pitch to get that strike.

For him, it’s about not trying to not expand the zone early to get hitters out.

For left-handed pitchers do you look at how well they can pitch inside to right-handed hitters?

Ben Fritz: Not every lefty can do that, but he does seem like a guy that can do that.  If you can drive the ball glove side in, that is big. That will make his changeup play better along with the backfoot slider.

I thought another left-hander Will Headean looked about one or two steps away from really putting it together.  What have you seen?

Ben Fritz: I had him last year for a little bit in the AZL.  He has had a few legit starts and a couple where they have just unravelled on him so far here.  There are two types of guys for me; the ones that you have to be on the gas pedal and the others where you have to get them to slow down.

For me he is a guy that is on the gas pedal and instead of slowing down, he red lines it.  Will needs to back off a little.  He can throw glove side to righties really well and the pitch that is a work in progress for him is his changeup. He knows that and is busting his butt to get better at it and it’s starting to show.

He knows that he has to throw it more, but he also doesn’t want to throw his third or fourth best pitch with runners on.  Early in the count, or when he is ahead is a good time to use it.  Because I don’t care how well you throw it in the bullpen, until you can throw it to a batter and see it work is the only way you are going to get the confidence you need to throw it consistently.

Joey Lucchesi has a had a good year and is coming off of a great year in college.  What have you seen?

Ben Fritz: He has some crazy deception.  You can take his delivery and you will see some funkiness where you don’t see a lot of comfortable swings on both sides of the plate.  His fastball gets on you and the hitters tend to be out front on the breaking ball.

He is a guy that there doesn’t matter if there are runners on base or not, he is the same dude;  Give me the ball.  You have to like that.

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