The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Justin De Fratus

Many popular opinions of pitching prospects are formed from general scouting reports. While these reports are invaluable resources, they can’t always be trusted. Hundreds of minor league hurlers are credited with “mid-90′s velocity,” but very few MLB starters actually have that grade of heat, for example. It’s incredibly frustrating to hear about a pitcher with “a mid-90′s heater and plus curve,” only to have him come up to the big leagues and show a fastball that averages 90.5 mph and a slider.

When a pitcher come up to the majors, we can finally get a foolproof reading on what exactly his arsenal is comprised of, thanks to the great Pitch F/X system. In this series, I analyze just that–the “stuff” of recently-promoted MLB pitchers. Now that they’ve achieved their big league dreams and thus factor directly into the MLB picture, it’s high time that we know exactly what these guys are providing.

This time, I’m taking a look at Phillies reliever Justin De Fratus.

Justin De Fratus put up some huge numbers as a minor league closer. He struck out 43 batters in 34 1/3 innings in Double-A this year, and then whiffed 56 in 41 frames in Triple-A. That earned the big 23-year-old a September callup to the Phillies, where he threw four rather uneventful innings, allowing one run while walking three and striking out three.

He threw just 58 pitches, so I’m not going to do any sort of highbrow analysis of his arsenal; attempting one would be pure lunacy. However, De Fratus is exactly the sort of fast-rising prospect (as relief prospects go, anyway) who needs to be put in proper context. After all, there are plenty of ways for relievers to pile up strikeouts in Triple-A; they could be anything from a pure finesse pitcher (a la former Phillie R.J. Swindle) to a huge flamethrower (a la Maikel Cleto).

De Fratus falls in neither camp. His stuff is in fact quite run-of-the-mill for a right-handed reliever, as he throws a 90-94 mph fastball and 80-85 mph slurvy curveball. His usage of the pitches in his brief trial was roughly 2:1 in favor of the fastball, which is again fairly standard.

Both De Fratus’ fastball and curveball have nice movement, with the former having some run and sink and the latter showing late, tight 12-to-6 snap. The curve isn’t a big breaker–Pitch F/X often classifies it as a slider–but it breaks late and hard.

Of course, a low-90’s fastball with solid-average movement and a low-80’s slurvy curveball don’t really comprise the most exciting arsenal out there. It certainly isn’t intuitive that a pitcher with such an ordinary two-pitch mix would blow through the minors with huge strikeout numbers.

I’m not going to pretend I have the answer to that, but it’s worth noting that De Fratus gets some deception in the backside of his delivery, when his arms and legs seem to move in all sorts of different directions. He then collects all the moving parts as he moves forward in a surprisingly clean motion that gives him good leverage to the plate.

For what little it’s worth, De Fratus tended to work up in the zone in his brief MLB stint:

I have to wonder if the combination of deception, movement, and leverage was enough to get De Fratus through the minor leagues, especially with the high-fastball, low-curveball combination. I have some worries on how well that’ll all translate to the majors, and I don’t think we should expect the righthander to necessarily be able to handle a high-leverage role in the near term. With his average stuff, he’s going to need to locate well to be more than just a generic fastball/curve middle reliever.

De Fratus should be a useful arm, and we shouldn’t overlook someone with his track record, but it’s hard to find anything to really love about him from a non-statistical perspective. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments he makes to MLB hitters once he gets a chance to get a few dozen innings in the Philadelphia bullpen.

For more on the Phillies, check out That Balls Outta Here!

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Tags: Justin De Fratus Philadelphia Phillies

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