Max Fried: Atlanta Braves’ Future Ace?


The San Diego Padres traded their former first-round pick Max Fried in a deal that landed Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves.

The San Diego Padres selected Max Fried as the seventh overall pick in the 2012 MLB Amateur Draft, making him the first pitcher selected in the draft. Max Fried and Lucas Giolito were teammates at Harvard-Westlake High School in California. The Washington Nationals selected Giolito with the 16th overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft. However, Giolito suffered an injury in his senior year of high school, allowing Fried the chance to take over the spotlight, likely resulting in Fried becoming the first pitcher selected.

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While in high school, Max Fried drew comparisons to Clayton Kershaw, probably because of his 6′ 4” frame and three above-average pitches (fastball, curveball, and change-up). After signing with the Padres in 2012, the team assigned Fried to the AZL (Arizona League) Padres for the remainder of the 2012 season. That season, he made 10 appearances (nine starts) but only accumulated 17.2 innings pitched. At 18 years old, Fried posted a 3.57 ERA, 4.38 FIP, and a 1.13 WHIP. Also, Fried struck out nearly a batter an inning, finishing the season with an 8.7 strikeout rate (K/9). 

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Following his 2012 season, the Padres promoted Max Fried to Single-A Fort Wayne, where he spent the entire season. Fried pitched 118.2 innings across 23 starts and won six games in 2013. Fried improved his ERA and FIP in 2013, cutting his ERA from 3.57 in 2012 to 3.49 in 2013. Also, his FIP shrunk from 4.38 to 4.04. However, the good comes with the bad; Fried’s strikeout rate decreased from 8.7 to 7.6, and his walk rate increased from 3.1 to 4.3. In 2013, at Single-A Fort Wayne, Fried was nearly three years younger than the competition, so his struggles likely transpired due to the age gap.

The Padres started out Max Fried with the AZL Padres in 2014; however, after three games started and only five innings pitched, the Padres bumped him back up to Single-A Fort Wayne. Fried made two appearances for Fort Wayne before injury struck the hard-throwing lefty. Fried suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery (UCL), forcing him to miss the remainder of the 2014 season.

In the 2014-2015 offseason, A.J. Preller decided to overhaul the Padres and bring in big names at the expense of his young talent. Thus, the Justin Upton trade between the Padres and Braves transpired, landing Max Fried in Atlanta. Although Fried was still rehabbing from UCL surgery, the Braves were willing to take the former first round pick in the trade for Upton. Fried missed all of 2015 rehabbing his injury, so Braves’ fans will get their first look at the main asset received in the Justin Upton trade in 2016.

Braves’ management and fans need to temper expectations in Max Fried’s first season back from Tommy John surgery, and the Braves will most certainly have a strict innings limit on the highly-touted prospect. Likely, Fried starts the season with Low-A Rome in his first season back, but the GCL Braves are another option on the table. At only 21 years of age, Fried has time on his side, and it would not be surprising to see him hit the ground running upon his return.

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Max Fried projects to be a top-of-the-rotation arm with a high floor and high ceiling. The Braves hope Fried stays true to his projections and pans out as an ace of the future. By being the main asset in return for Justin Upton, expectations are high for the tall lefty, but if he can return to form like Lucas Giolito, the Braves received a franchise arm in the making. With three above average pitches, Fried possesses the tools to quickly move through the minor league ranks and onto the Braves’ roster in a couple years. Look for a strong 2016 out of Fried, but be patient with his development.

Next: John Gant: Top-Tier Prospect for Atlanta Braves?

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