Bill Shanks

Is Fried the Braves’ version of Hamels?

By BILL SHANKS

sports@macon.com

Atlanta Braves minor league pitcher Max Fried.
Atlanta Braves minor league pitcher Max Fried. Rome Braves

Cole Hamels is a left-handed pitcher from southern California. He’s 6-4 and weighs 205 pounds. Hamels will turn 33 years old in December.

Max Fried is a left-handed pitcher from southern California. He’s 6-4 and weighs 185 pounds. Fried will turn 23 years old in January.

The similarities between the star Hamels and the Braves’ prospect Fried run deeper than even that. Both were first round picks – Hamels 17th overall in 2002, Fried 7th overall in 2012. Both have great curveballs and can run a fastball into the mid-90s, two great attributes for a southpaw.

Hamels is on his way to a career that may include 200-plus victories by the time he’s finished. He’s at 135 wins now, with five or six years left. Fried is just finishing his second full season in Low-A. Tommy John surgery derailed Fried’s timeframe a bit, but he’s on track now and can only dream about a Hamels-like career.

With the interruption due to the recovery from TJ surgery part of the story, let’s still take a look at the parallels between Fried’s road to the big leagues and what Hamels went through a little more than a decade ago.

Hamels signed in late-August in 2002 after being drafted two months earlier. It was too late for him to play in the minors for the Phillies, so he simply went to the Instructional League. Then in 2003, Hamels started his career in Low-A Lakewood in the South Atlantic League at 19 years old.

Hamels was 6-1 with a 0.84 ERA in 13 starts for Lakewood, and then he was promoted to High-A Clearwater and made five starts. Overall in his first season, Hamels had a 1.34 ERA in 18 games.

The next season Hamels battled elbow tendinitis and made only four starts. Then in 2005, Hamels broke his left pitching hand in a bar fight and missed the start of the season. He was then shut down in late-July for the rest of the season with back spasms.

So in 2004 and 2005, Hamels made a total of 10 starts.

That’s similar to Fried’s story. After being drafted by the Padres, Fried made 10 appearances (nine starts) in the Arizona Rookie League. He then had a full season in Low-A for Fort Wayne in the Midwest League and made 23 starts (3.49 ERA).

But then in 2014 Fried started having elbow issues. He made only five starts before being shut down and then had Tommy John surgery. After his trade to the Braves, Fried was held out of game action in 2015. So he had a total of five starts over the course of two years.

So both Hamels and Fried had two minor league seasons of limited pitching due to injury.

Hamels finally bounced back healthy in 2006 (at 22 years old) and took off. He made four starts in High-A Clearwater to start the season, but a 1.77 ERA got him a quick promotion over Double-A and to Triple-A Scranton. But after a 0.39 ERA in three games in the International League, the Phillies were tempted and promoted Hamels to the big leagues.

When Hamels was promoted to Philadelphia, here is what he had done in the minor leagues:

36 games – 1.43 ERA – 117 hits in 201 innings – 32 earned runs – 74 walks and 276 strikeouts

With Fried back healthy this season, he thrived in Low-A Rome. His overall regular season numbers were good: 3.93 ERA, 87 hits allowed in 103 innings, 45 earned runs, 47 walks and 112 strikeouts.

But it was what Fried did later in the season that has the Braves excited. Counting his two postseason games, Fried had tremendous numbers in his last 13 games of the 2016 season:

8-3, 2.47 ERA, 51 hits in 69.1 innings, 19 earned runs, 23 walks and 96 strikeouts.

Fried’s last five games were incredible, as he struck out 50 batters in 31.1 innings. Scouts said his two postseason performances (24 strikeouts in 14.2 innings) were so impressive Fried could have actually pitched in the big leagues late in the season.

So that means Fried is coming quickly. His curveball continues to be a plus pitch, while his changeup is considered solid. The fastball was clocked at 97 mph during the two playoff games.

Not including the playoffs, Fried now has 250 minor league innings in his career. He’s allowed 223 hits, has 114 walks and has struck out 239.

Fried will turn 23 in January. He has several pitching prospects in front of him, so the Braves have no reason to rush Fried as the Phillies did with Hamels in 2006. So as long as Fried has a solid spring training, he will likely start the 2017 season in Double-A Mississippi. With his age and solid end to this season, he can skip High-A.

If Fried is as successful next season as he was late in 2016, he will tempt the Braves to push him to Atlanta. Chances are the Braves will want him to spend all of next season in the minor leagues, but don’t be shocked if Fried pushes his way into a September call-up. And it is not out of the question that Fried could be in the 2018 Atlanta rotation.

So the similarities between Hamels and Fried are scary. Both are tall left-handers from southern California who throw hard, have a great curveball and had their minor league careers interrupted with injury. Now it’s up to Fried to continue that comparison by becoming a starting pitcher like Hamels.

Fried’s makeup is off the charts. He’s a smart young man with all the tools and intangibles to be successful. He just needs a little more time and Fried will then likely have his chance to show just how similar he is to Hamels.

Listen to "The Bill Shanks Show" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on "Middle Georgia’s ESPN" – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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