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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #38 : Luis Frias

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This season he showed he can pitch in the Majors. The big question is, “Will he pitch as a reliever or as a starter?”

Carson Kelly congratulated Luis Frias.
Carson Kelly congratulated Luis Frias.
Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images
  • Rating: 3.00
  • Age: 23
  • 2021 Stats: 3.1 IP, 2.70 ERA, 174 ERA+, 0 HR9, 8.1 SO9, 13.5 BB9
  • 2021 Earnings: $46,005 (via Spotrac)
  • 2022 Status: Pre-Arb, 2 options remain

Introduction:

Luis Frias pitched for the Diamondbacks organization since 2016. He wasn’t always a pitcher. Before he started his professional baseball career, he was seen as an outfielder and a third baseman.

“…[Frias is] a Paul Blair-type outfielder.” — Rudy Santin, scout. Paul Blair played in the outfield from 1964 to 1980. He won 8 gold gloves and was in the World Series 4 times.

“Frias was a thick-framed, strong-armed third baseman when he signed [with the Diamondbacks] out of the Dominican Republic for $50,000 in November 2015.” — MLB.com

In 2017, he was on the IL from 8 June to 29 September. He did not let injury stop his progress.

In 2018, he advanced from rookie ball to A-level minors.

In 2019, he had remarkable success.

  • “When he pitched, every single guy in the league looked overmatched. He was the best pitcher in the Northwest League, no doubt.” — Javier Colina, Hillsboro Manager
  • He was named starting pitcher for the Northwest League All-Star game. He did not pitch in that game because 5 days before it happened, he was promoted from Hillsboro Hops to Kane County Cougers.

In 2020, he pitched at the alternate site. He was out of sight and out of mind, which is how he dramatically emerged from the shadows.

2021 Review:

Before this season, he had not pitched above A in the minors. He had pitched in only 43 games (182.2 innings).

This season he started the season in A, he was promoted to AA, then he was promoted to AAA, and then in September he was called up to the Majors – his season was remarkable.

In the Majors he pitched 3.1 innings in three games against the Astros, the Dodgers and the Rockies. Those innings were remarkable because their stats were the very best on the team (ERA+ of 174) and at the same time the second worst on the team (BB9 of 13.5).

Those innings showed promise for several reasons, including he faced 16 batters without allowing a homer. That concern about homers was because his fastball velocity is outstanding, batters in the Majors can hit fastballs, and in AA he allowed 16 homers in 330 batters faced.

This AZ Snake Pit article described his 7 inning no hit shutout game in AA. That brings to mind April 25th of this season when Zac Gallen and Madison Bumgarner pitched back-to-back shutouts in a double header.

Let’s talk about his pitching. He has three pitches.

  • This season, Baseball Savant showed his average 4-seam fastball velocity was 96.5 mph. MLB.com wrote that it touched 99 mph. It was a plus pitch.
  • He has a spike curveball with “huge vertical depth and hard, 12-to-6 downer action” per MLB.com. Baseball Savant showed its’ average velocity was 84.4 mph. It was a plus pitch.
  • He has a split changeup. It “bottoms out as it nears the plate” per MLB.com. Baseball Savant showed its’ average velocity was 90 mph.

“Frias has thrown more strikes in 2021 and has also shown an ability to hold his velocity deep into starts.” — MLB.com

Although he is still polishing his rough edges due to his rapid progression, this season he showed he can pitch in the Majors.

”A very hardworking year, he progressed through 3 levels and continued to make strides. Hard throwing pitcher who is learning and growing. There’s a ton of strikeouts, it’s a high octane fastball and he’s been working on secondary stuff.” — Torey Lovullo

2022 Outlook:

With his rapid progression, and with his options, I’m confident he will pitch for the Diamondbacks. The big question is, “Will he pitch as a reliever or as a starter?”

In the minors he started 63 games, and entered the game as a reliever in 3 games. Although that tells me he could be a starter, is that the role that he can contribute the most to the Diamondbacks?

James Atwood wrote that either role is possible.

“The team continues to develop Frías as a starter, with a potential #4/5 starter likely being his ceiling. His 98 mph fastball and above average curve with great depth and late break give the alternative option of being a long-term impact arm for the bullpen.” — James Attwood, 2021

In this AZ Snake Pit article, Jack Sommers pointed out the need for relievers whose fastballs average over 95 mph and can throw a reasonable number of strikes. My view is that Luis Frias would meet that need.

[For relievers in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings] “They need at least a couple of guys that can average over 95 with some movement and throw a reasonable amount of strikes. They don’t have anyone like that on the roster. In fact the D-backs have the 2nd lowest average FB velocity in MLB.” —Jack Sommers, 2021

He has two plus pitches. If his third pitch reaches plus, and if he continues to transform from flamethrower to pitcher, then he could meet the need for starting pitchers.

“A lot of guys, until this year, saw him more as a reliever because he didn’t have that third pitch. Now that he has that third pitch, it being so new and him having such a good feel for it and him being able to pick things up relatively quick, I think he has, on the low end, the (upside) of a No. 3 starter. He has the arm of a No. 1 starter.” — Barry Enright, 2019, Hillsboro pitching coach.