Taking to the mound in this edition of C’s Chat is 2019 Vancouver Canadians pitcher Nick Fraze.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander from Dallas joined the Toronto Blue Jays organization after being selected in the 22nd round of the 2019 draft out of Texas State University. Notable alumni include former Blue Jays closer Tom Henke and 2012-2013 C’s left-hander Colton Turner who pitched at Triple-A Charlotte in the Chicago White Sox system this past season. Fraze was surprised that it was Toronto who drafted him.
“I thought it was going to be another team. I really never talked to the Blue Jays much before then but I talked to them a couple of times on draft day and then when they did call the last time.”
Getting drafted was a thrill for Fraze but he was unable to fully enjoy it.
“I got step throat so I was just at home playing Fortnite. I remember I felt terrible and so I was just sitting there all day kind of waiting for a call. And then finally once I did get drafted, I went downstairs. I just told my Dad, went right back to my bed and fell back to sleep. I felt awful the day of the draft but yeah, I was just happy to finally be drafted and get it out of the way…I kind of starting feeling better the minute I got to Dunedin. I really never got a good chance to celebrate but I was so excited about it. I guess playing pro baseball is celebrating a little bit.”
Chris Curtis was the signing scout for Fraze. After receiving a signing bonus of $80,000, Fraze went down to Dunedin, Florida to get acquainted with his new employer.
“It was all new. All the different tests we did. I thought it was all kind of cool. I think it was just like a cool feeling but it really like didn’t ever hit me yet that I just got drafted, where I was about to play pro. I really don’t think it still has hit me but yeah, it was all like a really cool new experience. I enjoyed it…I just remember walking by some big leaguers and kind of just like I used to watch them all the time and they’re just like right there and it’s just like not really like a big deal anymore. I’m just kind of doing what they usually do but yeah, nothing really too major.”
The Bobcats Den
Fraze joined the Texas State Bobcats after his 2016 senior season at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas in which he won nine of 10 decisions with a 1.64 earned run average. He credits the coaching staff for his development as a pitcher during his three years in San Marcos.
“Steven Trout is the one that gave me the opportunity to go there because I was committed to go to a junior college right after high school. I didn’t sign with Texas State until early July before my freshman year.
Steven Trout gave me the opportunity and then (2017 pitching coach) Jeremy Fikac helped me my freshman year. I threw a lot as a freshman which was really good for me because I kind of learned a lot. That’s really where I learned how to pitch.
And then the last two years, I think (2018 pitching coach-present) Chad Massengale really helped me kind of polish my game.”
Working with a former major leaguer in Fikac during the 2017 season was something Fraze appreciated.
“He was cool. He’s a good dude. He just kind of taught me how to be professional about everything. How when things don’t go your way, how you’re supposed to handle your business. It was good.”
The improvement the Bobcats showed in 2019 was a highlight for Fraze as the Bobcats captured the regular season Sun Belt Conference championship.
“The first two years, we were kind of an average team. We would always kind of struggle to be in the (NCAA) tournament. And then finally this year, my junior year, we actually like really took it up a level. We won conference and we just missed a regional for what would have been our third time to go to regional but we just missed it.
I think like after the first two years of not being that good and then finally putting a good team together and having a chance and almost going to regional, I thought it was really good.”
A personal highlight for Fraze at Texas State was getting to pitch at Minute Maid Park in Houston during the Shriners Classic Tournament this past March. He threw seven shutout innings of one-hit ball against Rice and offset two walks with 12 strikeouts. Fraze was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and made the Tournament All-Star Team.
“That was sweet. It was cool. I was amped up that game for sure. It was a lot of fun because the minute you get on the mound, you really don’t think of it anymore. You just kind of get locked in and it’s just like any other game so it was really cool. It was a cool experience.”
The 2019 season saw Fraze earn a spot on the All-Sun Belt Conference Second Team, capping off a three-year career in which he compiled a 17-10 record with a 4.17 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 251 innings. All but one of his 45 appearances were in a starting role.
Getting a sneak preview of what it would be like to play ball in college was provided by his older brother Jake Fraze who pitched for Mississippi College from 2015-2017.
“I only went out there and saw a couple of games. He kind of taught me with pitching is he was never really like an overpowering guy. He was all about just kind of like craft and how to pitch to people and like how to actually pitch. I think that’s kind of what helped me kind of learn since I don’t have super-overpowering stuff. Just how to learn, just how to pitch, how to read hitters, what count to throw what and that kind of deal.”
Growing up, Fraze says he did not really have a favourite major league team.
“I really never had like a baseball team that I kind of cheered for. Because like as a kid, I played for like the Yankees so as a little kid, I liked the Yankees. I don’t really like them, it’s just because I played for them as a kid. I never really had like a team growing up for baseball but I love the Dallas Mavericks though. I’m a big basketball fan.”
Pitching was not Fraze’s first choice during his high school days as he spent time at first base and third base with Hebron.
“I didn’t really start pitching until my senior year. For the first couple of years, it was kind of like I didn’t want to pitch, I wanted to hit because I mean everyone thinks hitting is more fun. Finally, I was kind of like, ‘If I want to play serious and want to play at a higher level, I’m going to need to pitch.’ I think from my junior to senior year, I started getting really serious about pitching and that’s kind of what took me to the next level.”
Opposing hitters can expect up to four different offerings from Fraze.
“I throw a sinker and then I throw a slider too. I’m starting to get a better feel of my changeup so I’m throwing that more to lefties now but I’m just mainly (throw) sinkers, sliders.
My sinker will be slower than my four-seam. My four-seam will be the higher-velo ones. The sinker, I kind of take something off at times to get more of the sink, more of the movement because I try to just get ground balls and try to keep my pitch count down. That’s kind of the big thing for me. Just force contact, force weak contact from the hitters.”
A high school teammate helped Fraze develop his slider.
“In my junior year of high school or senior year, I didn’t really have like the slider yet. I remember I was trying to throw the curveball or whatever it was. Some kid on my team was like, ‘No, just move your thumb down on this seam.’ And that’s what I did. Ever since then, that’s been my money-maker. That’s been my best pitch.”
As far as mechanics and pitching delivery, Fraze tries to keep it simple.
“I’m really pretty just kind of basic. I feel like I was just kind of like a position player that just kind of like transferred into a pitcher. I really don’t think about mechanics too much. I kind of just let it rip. Just let my ball move and that’s how it just kind of works for me.”
Pitchers are put on strict pitch counts when they enter professional baseball and that was something Fraze had to adjust to.
“It’s definitely different because I’m used to just going out there and just seeing how long I can go in a game. My mentality now is just to go out there and every inning, just focus on doing different stuff because usually when I would start, I would try to go through the lineup the first time just straight fastballs, sinkers. Since I’m only going three innings, I just try to attack them with everything I have, just throw it out all there. I think it’s been working for me really well.”
The first part of the season saw Fraze team up with Alex Nolan as a pitching tandem before joining up with Luis Quinones towards the end of the season.
“It’s great because the first time, I had Alex Nolan so I’d get out there (after) three innings and then he’d come in and throw five or six scoreless which is awesome. And then now I got Luis (Quinones). I’ll have a good outing and then Luis would go out there and just having an amazing outing. He’s been completely killing it so it’s been really cool.
I’ve learned a lot from those guys. Luis, I play catch with him now and he’s been teaching me a lot that he knows. It’s kind of nice getting to this level because there’s so many different people you can like bounce off just new information. It’s really good learning. I enjoy it a lot.”
After nine abbreviated starts, Fraze made his first professional relief appearance after nine starts and picked up his first victory with three shutout innings against Boise August 19.
“It felt good. I just remember Luis goes out there and throws four scoreless so it’s going to be pretty easy but I go out there and I just remember we had a long inning. It was good. We scored some runs and then I just went out there and did I was supposed to do and it worked out good for me.”
Learning how to establish a routine was the biggest lesson learned for Fraze in 2019.
“I never really had like an established throwing program before this. So before, I would just kind of be like, ‘Oh, my arm feels this way. I’m going to throw this much today.’ But now I have like a day-by-day plan and I think that’s been huge for me this summer just because everyday I had the same plan of what I’m going to do.”
Having a throwing program in place is something that Fraze believes is paying off.
“I used to throw a lot more in college like everyday and now I kind of don’t throw as much. I think that’s what makes my arm feel way better now. I think that’s one big thing for me that’s really important is just kind of like how doing a throwing program that relates to my arm that’s going to work for me. I think the throwing program that I’m on now is really, really good for me.”
Having just turned 22 years old back on October 24, Fraze looks to continue his baseball journey with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2020.
Thanks a million again to Nick Fraze for participating in this episode of C’s Chat. You can follow him on Twitter @nicholasfraze1.
Also thanks again to C’s Media Relations Assistant Jordy Cunningham for setting up the interview.