An Emerging Pitcher, an Unlikely Advisor
By Ken Rosenthal, April 20, 2019
The breakout of Braves left-hander Max Fried, 25, stems in part from the influence of a surprising mentor – former Red Sox, Cardinals and Dodgers outfielder Reggie Smith, who recently turned 74.
Fried first met Smith as a young boy playing in the Encino (Ca.) Little League. Smith, who runs an academy and camps at the Encino field, became close with Fried’s father, Jonathan.
Growing up, Fried played mostly first base and outfield, but Smith continued to advise him even after he became more of a pitcher at Harvard-Westlake H.S. in Los Angeles, leading to his selection by the Padres with the seventh pick of the 2012 draft.
“He’s someone I can throw ideas off of,” Fried says. “Obviously, he’s extremely knowledgeable. It’s a really, really nice relationship.”
Smith could not teach Fried how to pitch, but he understood throwing mechanics, and how hitters attacked pitchers. The two continue to talk about once a week, and this spring – at the suggestion of Braves director of pitching Dave Wallace, who is good friends with Smith from their time working as instructors in the Dodgers’ minor-league system – the Braves invited Smith to spring training.
Wallace organized a meeting that included himself, Braves pitching coach Rick Kranitz and farm director Dom Chiti, along with Smith and Fried. The group spoke for about 30 minutes, with Wallace emphasizing, “This is to let you know we are all on board for you.”
The gathering made a powerful impression on Fried.
Said Wallace: “Max finishes up by saying – I don’t know the exact words – but it was like, ‘Oh my God, this is the first time in my career I feel everybody is in my corner. And therefore, it’s the first time mentally, I feel like I’m a big-league pitcher and I’m ready for this.’”
Fried, whom the Braves acquired in the Justin Upton trade in December 2014, missed the entire ‘15 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. But at long last, he appears ready to fulfill his potential, producing a 0.92 ERA in 19 2/3 innings.
“I told him that sports does not determine your character, it reveals it,” Smith says, recalling Fried’s surgery. “So, it’s how you deal with adversity. What do you want to do about it?
“He wanted to come back. He wanted to play. That bumpy road, that’s the road you needed to take to get where you are today. That’s how he looks at it. ‘I’m here today. I want to pitch. Give me the ball.’ That’s his attitude.”