Name: Ernesto Frieri
DOB: July 19, 1985
Signed as an international free agent in 2003, Frieri debuted in the Venezuelan Summer League before graduating to the Dominican Summer League the following season. With the DSL Padres, the right-hander went 4-0 with a 1.43 ERA – allowing 30 hits in 50.1 innings while striking out 59.
He came to the states in 2005 and had an explosive debut, featuring a low-90s fastball and biting slider. In the Arizona Rookie League, Frieri went 7-1 with a 1.17 ERA across 17 games, including five starts. He struck out 59 in 46.1 innings while surrendering just 21 hits.
The 2006 season saw him in Eugene for most of the year. He posted a 3.82 ERA but didn't have the same velocity or bite on his stuff as in the previous year.
Eager to make an impression, Frieri waited until after the All-Star break in 2007 to make a true impact. Given an ultimatum to listen to the coaches and take their advice, Frieri responded – seeing his velocity spike and his pitches become crisper. He wound up posting a 2.64 ERA across 64.2 innings with Fort Wayne before notching a 1.25 ERA in 13 games and 21.2 innings with Lake Elsinore.
His success, and ultimately the stuff he showed in his repertoire, led to Frieri being placed on the Padres 40-man roster.
The Colombian native returned to High-A in 2008 and worked out of the bullpen to begin the season. He tallied a 2.45 ERA over 15 appearances before being moved into a starter's role.
Frieri was placed into the Lake Elsinore rotation so he could continue to work on his secondary pitches in a more concise manner. Sometimes in the bullpen, it is tough to work on a specific pitch – especially when your name might be called in tough situations.
"The changeup and the curveball," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said of what Frieri was to work on. "He mainly worked on the curveball. The kid did a great job for us and went to Double-A and pitched a good game, Triple-A and pitched a good game. There's something there as a starter."
As a starter, however, Frieri was able to work on his offerings during consistent bullpen sessions and take that into the game.
"Part of our goal was for him to put himself on the map," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "Last year, a lot of things came to fruition and he has earned the right to get more innings. The only way these guys are going to improve is get out there. We started him out in the bullpen, and when the opportunity arose, we put him in the rotation too see where he was in his development."
He went 7-5 with a 4.34 ERA across 18 California League starts. His walk totals went down but his extra base hits went up. Frieri also had a spot start in Portland and two starts late in the year with San Antonio.
His 70.7 left on base percentage was fifth best in the California League among qualifying pitchers and his .316 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) ranked eighth.
The right-hander features a popping fastball that hits the mid-90s and sits 92-93 mph. It gets on hitters quick and has late explosion. His ability to work the pitch effectively to the corners, work inside and even throw it up in the zone remains a work in progress – especially as a starter.
While he can move the ball around more as a reliever and get away with pitches, he did not have the luxury as a starter – resulting in more hitters connecting solidly.
Frieri had surrendered just 10 homers through his first 267 innings of work before seeing 14 leave the yard in 101.2 innings as a starter. Part of that was also the work he put in improving his secondary pitches.
Abandoning the slider in favor of a curveball because of his over the top delivery, the hook is the pitch that needs the most work. It has good movement but can get loopy and look more like a curveball. Getting consistent extension and tighter spin was one of the reasons the Padres wanted to increase his workload. He seemed to short-arm the ball and not get a proper release when throwing the hammer.
"He was a guy that we put on the 40-man roster," former Lake Elsinore pitching coach Wally Whitehurst said. "They felt like they needed to see what we have, and not just a one-inning stint, but get him in the rotation, work on his pitches, especially his curveball.
"His changeup has come a long way. He has developed at least an average changeup to go along with his plus fastball. His curveball is a work in progress, but there are signs that it could be o.k. He's just going to have to continue to work on it."
His changeup did, however, see significant progress. Working off his fastball, the slip was very effective in throwing off a hitters timing. He created good separation with his velocity difference and throws it so it looks like a fastball coming out of his hand. It has the potential to be a true plus pitch.
"He throws in the 90s also, 92, 93, 94 at times," Lezcano said. "He needs to work on that curveball and the changeup, off-speed pitches. Once he learns, especially the arm speed with the changeup and staying on top of that breaking ball, he should be all right."
Frieri doesn't show much concern for base runners and rarely throws over to keep them close. Ignoring runners cost him, as 6-of-25 were successful taking an extra base this season. It wasn't that his time home was terrible – he just didn't give varied looks or sometimes looks at all.
Conclusion: On the Padres 40-man, Frieri's big league potential is predicated on the development of his curveball. If he can improve that pitch and have three average to plus offerings, he has starter type stuff. More likely, he has the makings of a solid bullpen arm that isn't afraid of getting dirty.
Frieri's plus fastball and improving changeup make him a difficult pitcher to face in limited exposure. He has a terrific attitude and is fearless on the mound, making him a perfect candidate to work in tough situations.
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