Ernesto Frieri made his first appearance Saturday afternoon, giving up a solo home run in one inning of work while striking out the side. Frieri signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees earlier in the week, which included an invitation to major league camp.
Joe Girardi said a few days ago that the reliever has a shot at making the big league roster, and there is certainly an opening in the bullpen if he can prove himself. Assuming the Yankees carry a seven-man bullpen that includes Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, Tyler Clippard, and a lefty (probably Tommy Layne though it could be Jon Niese), that leaves another three bullpen spots open. We can also assume at least one of the pitchers in the starting competition moves to the bullpen. My best guess here is Adam Warren. That leaves two spots left open in the bullpen for Frieri.
Frieri sports a career 11.6 K/9 ratio throughout his seven-year career, which includes his 2014 and 2015 seasons where he struggled. Frieri did not pitch last season, though he did get in some tosses in the Venezuelan Winter League. He also threw two scoreless innings in the World Baseball Classic for Colombia.
His downfalls throughout his career have included a fairly high walkrate of 4.2BB/9 and home run rate of 1.3HR/9 (which jumps up above 2HR/9 in the last couple years). Pitchers with a high strikeout rate can survive walks, but home runs are always a concern in Yankee Stadium.
Much of the talk surrounding Frieri in baseball this spring is that he’s made some adjustments and looks better than in years past. Though to be fair, a lot of that has come to Frieri himself. At least he’s confident? The Yankees expect to get him another two or three appearances in camp before making a decision.
If Frieri pitches well in those outings, he may remain in consideration for a low-leverage bullpen spot. From there he could work his way up the pecking order if he regains some of his old success. Remember that it was only a few years ago he was considered one of the better relief pitchers in baseball.
The 31-year-old recently said he was willing to head to the minors to continue proving himself, which makes me think that the Yankees will send him there. It’s another smart, low-risk signing by Brian Cashman who, along with Girardi, has continued to get the most of their bullpen over the last several years.
Signs point to Frieri starting the year in the minors, and if he performs close to his career stats, he could be one of the first callups this summer. Here’s to hoping he regains his old form!