When the first Cubs batter steps up to the plate tonight, he won’t be leaning in against the regularly-scheduled right-hander Mike Soroka, because Soroka just hit the 10-day disabled list:
The #Braves have placed RHP Mike Soroka on the 10-day DL (retroactive to May 14) due to a right shoulder strain. LHP Max Fried has been recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett and will start tonight’s game against the Cubs.
— Atlanta Braves (@Braves) May 17, 2018
In his place, the seventh overall pick from the 2012 MLB draft – one spot behind Albert Almora and four spots ahead of Addison Russell – will take his place.
Lefty Max Fried, 24 and a former top-50 prospect, debuted in the big leagues for the Braves last season (jumping straight from Double-A to the show), and made four starts and five relief appearances across 26.0 IP (one was five good innings against the Cubs). Although the peripherals weren’t super strong for Fried in his brief debut (4.81 FIP), the results were pretty good (3.81 ERA) and the pedigree/youth is/was still there.
Fried didn’t break camp with the Braves this season – in fact he started back out at Double-A – but he moved up quickly. After one start with the Mississippi Braves (AA), the team bumped him up to Triple-A, where he made three starts before being called up to the big leagues once again.
In his time with the Braves this season, Fried has worked exclusively out of the bullpen, but has twice gone multiple innings, including a 3.0 IP and 2.0 IP appearance. He has been able to strike out plenty of batters in his short time up this season (26.9%) while keeping his walks somewhat under control (11.5%), but plenty of hard contact (50%), very few ground balls (33.3%), and a sky-high HR/FB ratio (42.9%) have prevented him from finding success (6.00 ERA, 8.81 FIP).
But that doesn’t mean he can’t figure it out against the Cubs.
For one, Fried is a talented young pitcher who was very recently a top prospect (#72 to Baseball America this offseason). For another, while he’s struggled to get ground balls in the Majors this season, he’s been an absolute beast (like, really good) at inducing grounders in the Minor Leagues – so remember that later tonight if the Cubs run into some double plays. And for yet another angle, Fried is going to give the Cubs a very different look than what they were expecting.
Not only is he a southpaw – the Cubs were planning on facing a righty – they also have a different pitch mix. Whereas Soroka was primarily sinker (44.5%), four-seam (28.7%), slider (21.3%) type, Fried is a four-seam (60.6%), curveball (24.5%), change-up (12.8%) guy. And, again, that’s coming from the other side of the mound.
You can change the lineup with ease if necessary, but if guys were preparing to face a certain type of pitcher, a last minute curveball can throw off the game plan a bit. At least many of these Cubs have seen Fried once before.
Still, it’s also not like this is the worst thing in the world. Michael Soroka, 20, has sorta killed it through three starts this year (3.68 ERA, 2.80 FIP), so I wasn’t particularly thrilled to see the Cubs face him either. And it’s not like Fried has been preparing for this start, so he might not be on top of his game. All in all, this could wind up being a net positive for the Cubs, but it’s not like you’re ever itching for a last-minute pitching change to face one of the better pitching prospects in baseball.