Tampa, FL- If there’s such a thing as a bullpen personality, Caleb Frare has it. There’s something off-the-cuff about the way he speaks. He’s a little bit of a character, but there’s a raw honesty and an instant energy about him that has “Reliever” written all over him.
The characteristics of a reliever get caricatured (as that first paragraph may prove), but there’s an undeniable common quality in those guys. You hear them talk about wanting the challenge of those last few outs, or even that one big out; that’ll win it all. Not every pitcher is that guy. There are plenty of starters who go kicking and screaming to the bullpen. But Frare is one of those pitchers who feeds on that high urgent energy, which requires near perfection. Lately, he’s been pretty close to it.
Frare hasn’t allowed a run in his last five appearances for High-A Tampa, and only one in his last ten. He’s kept the walks to a minimum, giving up just two in seven opportunities. As for contact, bats are connecting (more on that later); Frare’s allowed four hits in five games, and 14 overall through ten games, and seventeen innings. In six games in July, he allowed one run over ten innings. Frare has a 0.55 ERA against righties and a 0.94 ERA overall on the season.
Consider where his mind was at when he took the hill in 2015.
“I showed up in Charleston, and I didn’t know how to pitch,” said Frare. “I just had forgotten about it. I got away in Spring Training with blowing guys away, and my pitching coordinators told me I earned the spot in Charleston. I mean, I didn’t pitch that well. Then I showed up there and pitched like crap.”
There were reasons for forgetting. In 2012 the Montana-born lefty underwent Tommy John surgery and spent 2013 recovering. But as he got closer to full health, he was hit by a car in Tampa in 2014.This season, all the pieces are finally coming together, and just in time for September.
“I think he’s been constantly building up to now,” said Tampa manager Patrick Osborn. “He’s going to be a force in the playoffs. He’s pitching with a lot of confidence.”
Frare, the Yankees 11th round pick in 2012, is throwing more strikes with all his pitches, and Osborn pointed out the effective quality of his fastball and slider, what he calls “his two prominent pitches. He throws the changeup but not as much. His stuff has gotten better.”
Earlier in the season, Frare, 23, was briefly sidelined with shoulder soreness, but since then, there’ve been few bumps in the road. Osborn noted that Frare had reached 95 on the radar earlier in the week, a velocity he hadn’t hit all season. He also commended his command, something that Frare zeroed in on, as well as developing his secondary pitches, in his off-season work.
“Last year it was just trying to throw the fastball over the plate. And these guys in this league [High-A Florida State] can hit that. So I went home the last off-season and worked on if I’m going to miss, I’m going to hit corners still. And if I’m going to command a pitch, it’s going to be on the corners; it’s not going to just be right down the middle. I needed a better breaking ball, and I worked on the slider, and now it’s a better pitch for me,” Frare said.
Pitching coach Tim Norton has worked with Frare on developing confidence in all his pitches. Trying to mow hitters down with velocity wasn’t the answer.
“He’s starting to realize he’s capable of a lot more than just doing that,” Norton said.
Norton impressed upon him that he shouldn’t fear hitters, and to trust that he could command his fastball on the inner part of the plate.
“He said, ‘Don’t be afraid of it. If they’re on your fastball, use your slider.’ That helped a lot,” Frare said.
Norton talked about the slider and how Frare’s ease with throwing it has increased. He’s mixing his off-speed stuff in with far more success. Whatever he was tested by in the league, he’s facing hitters with more effective weapons.
“I think parts of last year and this year, he relied heavily on that really good fastball,” said Norton. “Now he’s starting to pitch a little bit and use his stuff. And it’s helping that fastball play up a little bit. He can land that slider in there and use that changeup behind in the count. He’s able to do a lot right now. “
Through the trials, Norton encouraged Frare, helping to guide him out of the pitfalls of overcomplicating the process.
“It was frustrating at times when I felt I don’t know what I’m doing on the mound. He told me just to simplify it,” said Frare.
Frare will cap the 2016 season off with that trip to the Eastern League playoffs after a late promotion to the Trenton Thunder, but upon reflection, he didn’t have some dry answer about his experiences this year.
“I would say I haven’t had an horrendous game, and I haven’t had a spectacular game, I feel I’ve been pretty consistent this year,” he said.
Consistency is the key, of course. But there’s fire in Frare that drives that simple principle.
“I’m ready to go every day. I’m one of the guys when the game’s on the line, and we have base runners on, I want the ball. Even if I’m up or not that day.”
About that bullpen mentality….