The Braves had an absolute slew of pitching prospects make their major league debuts in 2018. Some of them, such as Mike Soroka and Touki Toussaint, look like very viable candidates to make the starting rotation in 2019. However, one player who very much looks the part of a major leaguer but could end up as a starter or reliever was Max Fried.
Fried is a tough player to project going forward for a number of reasons. After he was drafted by the Padres in the first round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Max had to undergo Tommy John surgery before he was traded to the Braves in the transaction that sent Justin Upton to San Diego. Fried showed alternating signs of brilliance with a knockout curve and good velocity and movement on his fastball along with dealing with nagging blister issues and inconsistency in the minors, but the Braves thought enough of his progress to have him debut in the big leagues in 2017. He appeared in nine games during the 2017 season with four starts and posted a 3.81 ERA and 4.81 FIP in his first taste of the big leagues.
Fried found himself in the minor leagues once again to start 2018, but he would bounce back and forth quite a bit and deal with injuries once again. Fried was recalled from the minor leagues five times in 2018 and he had two separate disabled list stints, one for another blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand and the other for a groin strain. His final call-up of the season was in September and on the whole, Fried appeared in 14 games for the Braves (five starts) and he posted a 2.94 ERA and 3.67 FIP while striking out 11.76 batters per nine innings pitched.
If Fried had been able to stay healthy, his future role on the roster may have been made clear based on his usage, but unfortunately him missing time led to his usage being pretty all over the place. He has put together good starts as well as good relief appearances, but it has been hard for him to string things together consistently to sort out his exact role on the team. Maybe he ends up as a Lance McCullers-type role where he can come in in relief and go a few innings and spot start here and there. Maybe he settles in as strictly a starter or a reliever. Ultimately, we aren’t likely to find out for sure until spring training in 2019 where he is very likely going to get a roster spot.
Bottom line, what did he do in 2018? 3.94 ERA in 15 starts in the minors, 2.94 ERA and 0.4 fWAR in 14 appearances including 5 starts (33.2 innings total) in the major leagues.
Will Fried be on the roster in 2019? First things first, all of the usual trade caveats apply here given what we expect this offseason to be. If the Braves feel like Fried’s best role for them is in the bullpen and another team values him highly as a starter, that could lead to him getting traded. This doesn’t seem like the most likely outcome, but it is certainly possible.
If Fried isn’t traded this offseason, he seems like a pretty clear choice as a roster inclusion. He has a ton of talent and is versatile as a starter and a reliever…a trait that potentially makes him incredibly valuable in today’s game.
What will he do next season? I am going to cheat a bit and say he will do a bit of both relief work as well as spot starts. We don’t know exactly who will be in the starting rotation for the Braves and we certainly don’t know for sure if he will get traded. However, to manage his innings (and in turn try to avoid his blister issues), Fried’s usage can be managed and his value maximized by starting him every once in a while and then having him in the bullpen as a guy with big time stuff that can go long if need be. Touki has gotten the McCullers comparison before, but it may just be that Fried ends up fitting that mold better on this Braves’ roster.