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Eric Fryer: Major League Debut

On June 26, 2011 Fryer made his Major League Debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. One moment that he will remember forever. Today we will look back at how Fryer climbed the ladder all the way to putting on the Pirates uniform as well as asking him about his experience with the big league club.

Eric Fryer: Quick Stats

Team: Pittsburgh Pirates Twitter: @eric_fryer

Height: 6′ 2″, Weight: 215 lb. Born: August 26, 1985 in Columbus, Ohio, US (Age 26)

Drafted:  Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th round of the 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft

Favorite Player Growing Up: Mike Matheny

Chasing The Dream: The Eric Fryer Story

With opening day of the 2012 season upon us, Chasing MLB Dream’s is happy to bring back its second installment of our Living The Dream series featuring catcher Eric Fryer of the Pittsburgh Pirates. On June 26, 2011 Fryer made his Major League Debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. One moment that he will remember forever. Today we will look back at how Fryer climbed the ladder all the way to putting on the Pirates uniform as well as asking him about his experience with the big league club.

Photo – Getty Images

Growing up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio Fryer played his high school baseball at Reynoldsburg High School. He led his team both on the mound and at the plate to district championships in 2003 and 2004. His school also won the regional title in 2004. After a stellar high school career Fryer did not have to go far to start his career as a college baseball player. Fryer chose to attend Ohio State University which is located not far from where Fryer grew up. At Ohio State Fryer was a three-year starter. Each year at Ohio State Fryer appeared in over 50 games and he put up consistent offensive numbers during each season. Over the course of his three years at Ohio State, Fryer batted .338 with 10 home runs and 126 RBI’s in his 172 games played.

As the 2007 draft approached scouts regarded Fryer as one of the most athletic catchers in all of college baseball. That athleticism combined with a solid arm and above average speed for a catcher made Fryer an intriguing talent for teams to consider. The Milwaukee Brewers where the first team to jump at Fryer’s talents selecting him in the 10th round of the draft. Fryer signed quickly and was assigned to Milwaukee’s short season team in Helena. Getting his first taste of the professional game, Fryer played in 43 total games, starting 33 of them as catcher. He batted .209 with 3 home runs and 19 RBI’s.

The following season Fryer was promoted to West Virginia of the South Atlantic League for his first taste of full season baseball. The Brewers also had some other plans for Fryer as they began to covert the athletic catcher  into an outfielder. With West Virginia Fryer split time behind the plate and also in left field. The change in positions did not hurt Fryer’s development with the bat. Fryer posted numbers similar to those when he was at Ohio State. For the season Fryer batted an impressive .335 with 10 home runs and 63 RBI’s. As the season came to a close it looked as though Fryer was poised to continue his climb through the Brewers system.

Despite a strong 2008, Fryer saw his time with the Brewers come to a surprising end as he was traded to the Yankees for Chase Wright during the off-season. The Yankees assigned Fryer to their Florida State League affiliate the Tampa Yankees.  The Yankees continued to play Fryer primarily in left field getting 55 starts there. However he did not stay in the Yankees system for long. Fryer played in just 59 games for the Yankees hitting .250 with 2 home runs and 24 RBI’s before he was involved in yet another trade. The Pittsburgh Pirates sent utility man Eric Hinske to the Yankees in exchange for Casey Erickson and Eric Fryer. Playing for his third team in less than one full season Fryer joined the Pirates Carolina League affiliate the Lynchburg Hillcats. Fryer put up similar numbers after the trade, playing in 47 games he batted .242 with 3 home runs and 14 RBI’s. The Pirates however opted to move Fryer back to his original position of catcher allowing  him to settle back in at the position that was most comfortable to him.

Photo – Getty Images

Following an interesting year where Fryer was traded twice and moved around the field things began to get back to normal for the catcher in 2010. Playing back at the High Class A level with the Pirates new affiliate in Bradenton, Fryer did not see time anywhere but behind the plate. 2009 was a down year for Fryer in terms of batting average, however in 2010 things got back to normal. With the Marauders Fryer hit an even .300 for the season and belted 8 home runs while driving in 48 runs. Playing exclusively at catcher Fryer’s defense also began to improve as a member of the Pirates organization. Over the course of his first year and a half in the system Fryer threw out 37% of baserunners trying to steal on his arm.

After a successful season Fryer was promoted to the Altoona Curve, the Pirates Double A affiliate in 2011 and once again was experimented with due to his athleticism. Fryer was used behind the plate and at both corner outfield positions. This experimenting did not last however as the Pirates were faced with a wrath of injuries at the Major League level. The Pirates lost Chris Snyder, Ryan Doumit and Jason Jaramillo to long-term injuries. Fryer, who was off to an excellent start with the bat in Altoona was quickly promoted to the Pirates top minor league team the Indianapolis Indians.

On May 30th Fryer made his Indians debut and in less than one month Fryer would be making his Major League debut.  On June 25th Fryer got the news that he would be added to the big league roster. One day later, Fryer would be starting at catcher, versus the Boston Red Sox. Fryer batted eighth that night and went 0-for-3 with a walk in the Pirates’ 4-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. Fryer would proceed to start 8 more games for the Pirates and earned his first major league hit off the Washington Nationals left-handed pitcher John Lannan. Over the course of his stint with the Pirates, Fryer would accumulate a total of seven hits in 26 at bats for a .269 batting average. He is still looking for his first major league RBI and home run. Behind the plate Fryer was tested seven times by opposing base runners and he was able to catch three of them for a respectable 30% caught stealing percentage. The Pirates catchers slowly started to return to health however and Fryer was optioned back to Indianapolis to finish the final months of the season.

This season Fryer entered spring training in a battle with Mike Mckenry and Jake Fox for the back up catching position behind newly acquired free agent Rod Barajas. Fryer did everything he could to prove he could handle the job. Fryer appeared in 19 spring games and got 24 at bats during the spring. Overall he batted .333 for the grapefruit league season, which was the highest among all three catchers battling for the back up job. As the final days of spring training approached however Fryer was notified that he will be the starting catcher when the season opens for the Indianapolis Indians. Fryer looks to get the bulk of the action early on behind the plate for the Indians. With the Pirates using seven catchers during the 2011 season Fryer will be ready if  Barajas or Mckenry go down with an injury. Look for Fryer to contribute with the Pirates at some point in 2012 as he continues to get established in the majors. Regardless of what happens though, Fryer will always remember his 2011 season as one in which he made his major league debut, earned his first major league hit and started behind the plate for a Major League team.

Seven Questions with Eric Fryer

What was it like being drafted?
Being drafted was an amazing feeling mainly due to the fact that it gave me a chance to live out my long time dream of playing professional baseball.  It was a culmination of all the hard work that I had put up throughout travel leagues, high school, and college and really hit home that all the hard work had paid off.  I obviously knew there would be more challenges and hard work ahead, but the fact that I was recognized and getting a chance to continue playing after college.
 What were you doing when you found out?
My actual draft story isn’t all that exciting, as I was pretty much just sitting around with my family waiting to hear my name “get called”. I was pretty anxious the whole day, but couldn’t have been more excited once I was selected.

Besides being drafted, you have also been involved in two trades. How did you find out you were traded each time and how did you take the news?

When I was traded from the Brewers to the Yankees I was taking part in early spring training workouts in Arizona.  I remember that I was getting ready to start our throwing program before the workout began, and our farm director came up and said I wasn’t allowed to throw because I had just been traded.  I was a little hesitant of the move, because I had made great friends in the Brewers organization and was sad to go.  I was definitely excited, but also hesitant about what the future would hold.

I found I the news that I was traded from the Yankees to the Pirates from a phone call from Yankees GM Brian Cashman.  I had just finished a morning trip the weight room with the team during our stay in Sarasota when I saw I had a message from Brian to call him.  I was really pretty shocked that I was traded again in the same year, especially because it had only been about 6 months that I was with the Yankees.  As the details from the Pirates front office began coming in to me that they wanted to have me catch again in their organization I was very, very excited.  At that time I was primarily an outfielder with the Yankees organization, though catching was still very much my passion.  So hearing that the Pirates wanted me to primarily catch made eager to get with their organization.

You have had the opportunity to play for three different minor league systems. What are the main differences in the approaches and teachings of the Pirates as opposed to those of the Brewers and Yankees?

The teaching approaches are pretty much the same for all the organizations in terms of instruction, beliefs, strategies, etc.  All three organizations have great coaching staffs throughout their affiliates.  The thing that I really have enjoyed about the Pirates organization is their emphasis on giving back to the community.  Every player (regardless of level) will perform at least 10 hours of community service throughout the season, which I feel helps develop our players into better men off the baseball field as well as instill a sense of pride toward the Pittsburgh Pirates.

If there one particular coach or instructor that has really made a difference in your career? If so, who and why?

Tom Prince has really helped me since I was traded to the Pirates.  He has given me great instruction on how I can continue to improve my catching skills, and has great insight on the game that has come from him spending a long time in the Major Leagues.  He can relate to my experiences and give opinions based on his experiences and my current situation.  Tom is definitely a great resource to have whenever I have questions, comments, or concerns.

Over your career in the minor leagues with all three organizations you have mostly been a catcher but have also seen time at the corner outfield positions and it was reported you even got some practice time in at 3rd base? Is it hard to learn and concentrate on multiple positions for you as a player especially since your primary position is a demanding on as a catcher?

It isn’t hard to concentrate on other positions, because I am able to stay in the moment and focus on that one position (I only have to play one at a time).  Sometimes it can be tough to learn the positions though.  I feel I am pretty knowledgable when it comes to catching because I have been playing that position all my life.  When it comes to outfield and third base, I am definitely a novice and really try to just grasp the fundamentals because I am already so far behind the eight ball at those positions.  The only way I feel a player can truly become solid at a position is to play it a lot.

What are your biggest strengths and weakness as a player heading into 2012
My biggest strength is probably my catching abilities.  I feel comfortable and confident behind the plate and think that I can handle most situations that are thrown my way.  My biggest weakness is probably my offensive consistency.  I know that I have the ability and potential to swing the bat well, but I need to shore up my fundamentals and approach in order to become a much better and more consistent hitter. I want to try to improve everyday, so that I am ready to play at a high level once my season starts.
  On The Major Leagues 

 Last season you had an amazing opportunity to make your major league debut. Can you tell us the story of how you found out you were getting called up to the Pirates?

I didn’t find out after a game like many players do.  Instead, I got a call from our triple-A manager while me and my family were eating at Panera Bread at about 9 in the morning.  I couldn’t believe the news.  I was told to call the trainer to set up a plane ticket.  Unfortunately I couldn’t make the next plane out of Indianapolis, and they needed me at the ball park that night before the game so I wouldn’t be able to take the later flight.  I told them I could drive, so me and my wife started throwing stuff in bags and hopped into the cars and started driving.  She drove separate so she could stop occasionally and feed our 10 month old.  I think we got everything packed in about an hour, and I made it to PNC park just a couple of hours before the game.

What stands out the most about making your big league debut?
Really just the whole experience.  We were playing the Red Sox and PNC Park was sold out.  There was some excitement from the media about me making my debut, so I did some pregame interviews.  I was calm during all the interviews and hoopla.  I did my normal pregame routine getting ready to warm up the pitcher…but once the national anthem started it really struck me that this was going to happen.  Going out for the first pitch I just wanted to catch the first pitch thrown in, and once that happened I relaxed and just tried to play my game the best I could.  Lots of the Red Sox players were wishing me good luck as they walked to the plate, and all my teammates were pulling for me.  It was a great experience (other than the fact we lost) and I was really just thrilled to have the opportunity to play in such a great atmosphere.
Also if you can remember tell us about your first major league hit?
My first ML hit came against the Washington Nationals… John Lannan was pitching and I was able to hit a 1-2 slider past Ryan Zimmerman for a single.  I was pumped to get that first one out of the way (I was 0-7 up until that point) because I felt I could actually loosen up a bit and play relaxed.  It’s always nicer when you don’t see .000 as your batting average.
You started 2011 at the AA level, then made your way to AAA and finally got to the majors for a number of weeks mid-season. Was it hard from a game calling perspective to call a game at the major league level having not worked much with the pitchers on the Pirates roster?
At first it was challenging because I thought the game was so much different at the Major League level, but I quickly learned that the same basic principles applied at all levels: work ahead in the count, establish a fastball, and have a plan.  Once I learned that we didn’t have to trick every hitter on every pitch, it made the game a lot easier to call.  As far as handling the Pirates pitchers, I was able to catch many of them during spring training so I wasn’t completely foreign to what they wanted to throw.  Obviously the more time I can get with a staff the better the rapport, so there is still room to improve
A Few For Fun
Who was your favorite player growing up? Favorite non-baseball athlete?

 My favorite athlete was Mike Matheny… he went to my high school, and he was the bar that everyone measured themselves against throughout high school.  Plus he was a great catcher, which is something that I aspire to be.

My favorite non-baseball athlete is Rocky Balboa.  I know he is fictional, but the whole underdog/beating the odds story was something I could relate with.
Favorite place to eat in Pittsburgh?
 I really enjoy the sandwiches at Primanti Brothers.  Tasty
If you had to pick a song today, what song would be your walk up song when you come to bat?
The last couple years I have walked out to an Eric Church song, so I could definitely see myself picking another one of his tunes, but I also really like the song Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman…. it’ll be a tough choice for me.

A special thanks to Eric Fryer for taking some time out of his off-season schedule to sit down and talk a little baseball with us. Once again please give him a follow at @eric_fryer and follow us at @CTD_Sypien as we follow Eric and others during the 2012 season.

2 Comments on Eric Fryer: Major League Debut

  1. imadushbag // April 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm // Reply

    i like your chances eric. good luck to you.

  2. Craig Derexson // May 23, 2012 at 9:58 pm // Reply

    This is a great kid…very deserving..worked extremely hard to get to the show…congrads Eric from an old youthball coach in Reynoldsburg!

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