Ask BA: Where Would Friedl Rank On Reds’ List?

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Q:Does T.J. Friedl crack the Reds’ Top 10?

Andrew Diekmann

Friedl just set a record for the largest signing bonus given to an undrafted free agent. Because he was not drafted, he was eligible to sign after the draft signing deadline of July 15. Under the current draft rules, teams signing undrafted free agents have to fit those signings within their draft pool as well. It’s treated the same as signing a player in the 11th round or later. The first $100,000 of a bonus does not apply, but any bonus for more than that amount counts from the team’s pool allotment.

That gave the Reds an advantage. Cincinnati had money left to spend after the draft signing deadline, which allowed them to outbid the Rays to sign Friedl to a $735,000 bonus—effectively third-round money. Friedl’s bonus was more than the Reds spent on fourth-rounder Scott Moss or anyone else they drafted and signed after the third round.

So if you look just at the bonus, Friedl appears to be valued as a third-round pick. Scouts who have seen him this summer saw him as a third- to fifth-round talent.

Friedl was one of the stars of USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. He was expected to be the team’s fourth outfielder but played his way into an everyday role. He hit .290/.362/.452 with a home run and four steals in five attempts. He impressed scouts and coaches with his speed (rated as 60 to 70 on the 20-to-80 scouting scale), his hitting ability and his defense. He slid out of center field for Team USA in deference to Vanderbilt’s Jeren Kendall, but he is a true center fielder whom scouts project as a potentially above-average defender. Scouts were impressed with his energy and feel for the game as well.

Friedl’s production this summer wasn’t out of line with what he did this spring for Nevada, where he hit .401/.494/.563 season with 13 steals. Friedl’s batting average was 11th best in Division I this year. He was 17th in on-base percentage and second in the country in triples. 

Friedl has had a great start to his pro career. He homered twice in his pro debut and he’s hit .500 with five extra-base hits in his first three games for Rookie-level Billings.

A lot of teams are digging into just how Friedl slipped through the draft. The shorthand version is that a significant number of teams were unaware that Friedl was eligible as a redshirt sophomore. Others had evaluated him and knew he was eligible but did not see him as being worth an early enough pick to buy him out of his remaining two years of college as a sophomore with lots of leverage. Baseball America ranked him the 10th-best draft prospect in Nevada.

It makes Friedl a great story, but it also is a cautionary tale. Friedl came to Nevada as an invited walk-on. He  hit .216/.237/.243 as a freshman. He redshirted the next year because Nevada had a number of talented upperclassman outfielders and he needed to get stronger.  He gained 15 pounds during the redshirt year. But college baseball teams don’t redshirt healthy players they expect to see drafted. Friedl’s rise this year was unexpected, but it also means there is much less track record than there is for almost any other significant college signee from this year’s draft class.

So where would Friedl rate on the Reds’ list? The big question revolves around Friedl’s hit tool. As an undersized center fielder who has a chance to be an everyday regular in the big leagues is based on being a plus hitter with plus defense. A best-case scenario for Friedl is he ends up being a Brett Gardner-type center fielder. That’s a best-case scenario. A more realistic outcome is someone with a Sam Fuld-type career—an undersized center fielder whose defense makes him a big leaguer for years, but one who is more of a role player than an everyday player.

Looking at Reds’ outfielders in the minor leagues, Friedl ranks behind Jesse Winker, Taylor Trammell, Aristides Aquino and Scott Schebler (who will graduate shortly).

This could change as we gather more info, but for now, Friedl’s likely BA Grade is a 45 medium, which is the same grade that shortstop Blake Trahan, the Reds’ 2015 third-rounder, outfielder Kyle Waldrop and shortstop Calten Daal had last year when they ranked from the late teens and early 20s on the Reds’ Top 30. Expect to see Friedl somewhere in that range on the Reds list in next year’s Prospect Handbook.

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