It took a couple of seasons, but Seth Frankoff has found his comfort zone in professional baseball. A starting pitcher for the first two-plus years of his pro career, Frankoff made the transition to the bullpen a few months into the 2012 season and it has been a boon for his career. In 2013, Frankoff pitched exclusively in relief and he put together an outstanding season with the High-A Stockton Ports.
Despite pitching in a hitter-friendly league, Frankoff posted a 2.78 ERA and held opposing batters to a .208 average in 74.1 innings with Stockton. Frankoff struck-out 93, leaving him with one of the highest K/9 rates (11.3) of any pitcher in the A's organization. He also walked less than three batters per nine innings (2.8) and allowed just six homeruns (0.7 per nine innings). All of those numbers represented significant improvements for Frankoff over his previous pro seasons.
The AFL season began two weeks ago and Frankoff has appeared in two games for the Mesa Solar Sox. He has tossed 2.1 scoreless innings with one strike-out and one walk. He has yet to allow a hit. The Solar Sox played to a tie in their first game, but they have won all six games since that time (through Wednesday) and are carrying an early 4.5 game lead in the Eastern division.
We spoke with Frankoff from Phoenix about his 2013 season, his AFL experience thus far and more…
OaklandClubhouse: How has the Arizona Fall League experience been so far? Is it what you expected?
Seth Frankoff: The Fall League has been great. It's certainly been a joy to play with a couple of my teammates that I played with [in Stockton] this year. I'm getting to work with John Wasdin, who was my pitching coach last year [in Burlington] again. It's also fun to meet other players from other teams and get to know those organizations. It has been as advertised. If you look at our roster and other rosters, it's basically a who's who of teams' top prospects. It's pretty unreal some of the guys who are on the teams.
OC: Is John Wasdin the official Mesa Solar Sox's pitching coach, or is he there just to help the A's pitchers out?
SF: Basically I believe the way it works is that they encourage organizations that have coaches with a certain amount of big league time to send them there to be available to the players. So he is our second pitching coach [on Mesa]. I think the guy who is the ‘head' pitching coach is Mike Maroth from the Tigers. They work together. It's not like there is a pitching coach A and a pitching coach B. They work together to help the pitchers.
OC: Are there things that you are specifically hoping to work on during the Fall League? Any pitches that you are tinkering with or anything like that?
SF: First and foremost, commanding the strike-zone with all four pitches is the most important thing. I think that the one thing Scott Emerson [A's minor league pitching coordinator] has impressed on me is using my fastball and commanding it down and away to the gloveside/to a right-hander. Also, working on first-pitch breaking balls and getting those over for strikes. As you move up, you have to be able to use all four pitches at any time. That is going to be a very important thing for me as I make that next step up next year.
OC: You've pitched in Arizona in the spring a few times. I've heard that it can be difficult to throw your breaking pitches in Arizona because of the way the air is and the hot, dry weather. Is that a challenge when you are working on your pitches, knowing that maybe the ball would move differently in, for example, Stockton or Midland?
SF: I can't really tell a big difference. The balls are a little drier, so they really have to rub them up to get a little moisture in them, but really I can't tell a huge difference. I think both Midland and Stockton are probably pretty similar to Arizona in that there is a lack of humidity. It's pretty dry in both of those places. So I haven't really felt a difference.
Video of Seth Frankoff pitching in the AFL, courtesy of Kimberly Contreras
OC: You made the transition about a third of the way through last year from the starting rotation to the bullpen and it seems like the change has really suited you. What's been the big difference for you in the different roles?
SF: In the bullpen, I don't think as much. I didn't really start pitching until my senior year of high school. Until then, I was always a position player guy. I like playing every day. I think that aspect of being in the bullpen and having the opportunity to pitch more often has been great for me. Also, I think when you are in the bullpen, if I have a bad outing one day, I can get right back out there and make up for it the next day. Whereas with starting, if you have a good outing, the next five days are fun. You are in the stands and you are feeling good about yourself. But if you have a bad outing, you have to sit there and think about it for the next four or five days.
I think I amped myself up too much, trying to make up for [a bad outing] in my next outing instead of really just controlling what I could control and doing what I needed to do. I was kind of my own worst enemy in the starting rotation in that I over-thought things and in the bullpen, I can go back out there and not think about it. If they beat me, I can get back out there fast and there is not that time where I can stew and think about it. It's get-up and go for me. I think that has been a lot better for me this year.
OC: You were part of a Stockton bullpen that was really lights-out, especially during the second half of the year. What was that group like and did you feed off of each other as a unit?
SF: They were a great group of guys. We really had a lot of fun in the bullpen. That's one of the biggest things about being in the bullpen is trying to keep it loose. You want to be aware of what is going on in the game, but at the same time, you can't be so serious to where you are over-doing it. I think we had a good mix to where we were paying attention to the game, while also having a good time down there. That way guys knew what they needed to do when they came into the game, but they also were loose at the same time.
It was competitive. No one ever wants to give up a run, but we kind of feed off of each other, like you said. If one guy went in there and did his job, then the next guy who came in after felt confident that he could do the same thing. We did a good job for a good part of the year of helping the team out.
OC: You have been a strike-out pitcher since you turned pro, but you were especially good at striking out hitters this season, with well more than a batter an inning. Is that something you are trying to do from the outset of an at-bat, or do strike-outs just materialize as an at-bat develops?
SF: Everybody likes to strike people out. I'd be lying to you if I said otherwise. But the biggest thing I focus on is getting ahead in the count. When you do get ahead in the count, you will have opportunities to put guys away. Emo [Scott Emerson] has impressed on us countless times the importance of getting to 0-1, 0-2. That's what I really am trying to do. Obviously forcing weak contact can make you more efficient with your pitches, but at the same time, if you are getting ahead of guys early in the count, you can put them away.
I would say that it is not my main focus, but obviously if you are doing what you need to do, the strike-outs are going to happen.
OC: Is there a pitch that you go to when you have two-strikes that is your top swing-and-miss pitch?
SF: I really think I use all four equally. The situation will obviously dictate what happens in the at-bat, but I try to work with my catcher to read the hitter's swings. I can use my fastball, change-up, cutter or breaking ball. It really just depends pitch-to-pitch and hitter-to-hitter as to what we go with. I feel comfortable using all of my pitches as an out-pitch.
OC: Did you have all four of those pitches when you came into pro ball, or have you added any since joining the A's?
SF: I had all four. I did not use my cutter. My cutter wasn't as much of a go-to pitch for me when I first came into professional baseball as it is now. I feel like I have gotten a lot more consistent with my other pitches – the fastball, change-up and breaking ball. I think the biggest thing that helped me this year was being more consistent in the strike-zone and throwing more strikes. That's helped me out tremendously.
OC: One of the challenges of the Fall League, especially for pitchers, is fatigue after pitching a full season. How are you feeling at this point? Are you feeling the wear-and-tear of the full year or do you feel like you are in midseason form in terms of your arm strength?
SF: I feel pretty good. I had a pretty good workload this season, but at the same time, we were able to get a couple of weeks off at the end of the season until now. The first week was an adjustment period to get back into the swing of things because no matter how much you workout at home, it's always going to be different working out at home than it is going to the field every day with everything that goes into that – whether you are pitching everyday or not.
To answer your question, physically I feel fine. I don't feel like I'm fatigued. I feel pretty much like I did midseason. We aren't throwing quite as much as we did midseason, so we definitely aren't getting over-used here. Everybody should be fresh.