SCOTTSDALE — For Giants pitcher Matt Frisbee, the foundation was coming together. He had some spare parts that he was trying to piece together and looking around for outside help. He’s a hard worker and had plenty of time to build.
Oh, you were expecting a baseball metaphor? No, the guy was constructing a gym.
For all the baseball prospects left out of alternate sites last year, growing closer to the big leagues and not shrinking further away became an obsession and a struggle. Weight rooms were closed, access to facilities spotty, coaching often nonexistent. Frisbee, a starting pitcher prospect, was too far away from helping the big-league Giants to be included in Sacramento, and his home base became his native North Carolina.
He lived with his fiancée in her Chapel Hill townhouse, where he first assembled, by hand, a weight room. The couple then moved to a house in Durham that had a bigger garage, and he went all-out.
“I had rubber flooring, I had a platform squat. You name it, I had it,” Frisbee, whose father works in construction, said on a recent phone call. “At the time, they shut down weight rooms and gyms. I had to get my work in somehow, and I didn’t want to be squatting with water cases all day. I found a squat rack on Facebook Marketplace and just went for it.
“It turned out to be just a blessing because I was able to wake up, eat some breakfast then go downstairs to the garage and get a lift in.”
In trying to build himself up, Frisbee first had to just build.
The 24-year-old, who was a 15th-round pick in 2018, was one of the bigger surprises in the Giants’ invitations to major league camp. He has not pitched above High-A, and he was not at the satellite camp. He’s a starter and hopes he can remain a starter, while bullpen arms tend to pass through systems quicker (although who knows with the 2021 pitching realities and the Giants’ rotation questions). But Frisbee found a way to improve at a time when improvement was difficult after impressing the last time he was seen in the minors.
After Frisbee was drafted out of UNC Greensboro, the Giants had him pitch out of relief in 2018 at short-season Salem-Keizer, possibly because of his college workload. He switched back to his preferred starting in ’19, though, at High-A San Jose and improved as the season went on. In his last 10 games, he posted a 1.64 ERA while opponents batted .220 against him. For the season, the ERA was 3.64 with a strikeout:walk ratio the Giants enjoy: 131:22 in 116 1/3 innings.
He said he “started learning who I was as a pitcher.” He’s always had good command, but he started tinkering with his plus slider, discovering when he could throw it for a strike and when to get an out. His third pitch, a changeup, was mostly for show, he said, but he landed it for strikes more often — before shelving it.
Last year, while working with Giants pitching coaches, they saw his struggles with the pitch, which he “couldn’t get on top of it as consistently as I wanted to,” Frisbee said. His arm slot, coaches such as Matt Daniels found, lends itself better to a splitter.
So he had a new pitch that he could work on at a North Carolina facility that he was able to get into and continue getting reps in away from San Francisco and Sacramento. He had a gym and a body to work on, especially focusing on adding more flexibility. He arrived at instructional league last fall and showed he hadn’t slacked.
“Once I saw that work show itself on the field, I was like: I’m really, really glad that I just buckled up and did it,” Frisbee said.
Still, he was not expecting the call that later came from now assistant pitching coordinator Clay Rapada that he would be with the big leaguers in camp.
“Matt’s largely responsible for putting in that type of work and always asking the questions for, ‘How can I get better?’ and commitment to his training; there isn’t any facet that Matt is neglecting in his development,” said pitching coordinator Justin Lehr. “It’s just a lot easier to have the confidence that he’s going to come in and be really prepared, physically and mentally, for the challenge of a major league camp. And so I don’t know that it becomes too hard of a decision [to invite Frisbee] when you consider the totality of everything that Matt’s bringing to the table.”
He brings a strong slider that gets outs, a fastball that can climb to the mid-90s but lives below and a splitter that is coming along with some help. He brings an open mind that has been loving the work with the big-league coaches. The splitter project has been picked up by director of pitching Brian Bannister, about whom Frisbee said, “The dude knows a lot about pitching and pitch design.”
He brings a laid-back, North Carolina sensibility in an organization that has brought in plenty from that state. At camp, Frisbee is living with prospect Will Wilson, who also lives nearby him in Durham.
The Giants will need double-digit starters to survive a season that will be unlike any other. Perhaps they will need Frisbee, who has given them reason to believe he will ensure he’s ready whenever the moment comes.