Hot-hitting freshman Jake Fraley and the Tigers gear up for series with Ole Miss
OXFORD, Miss. — The video footage was hard to watch.
Images were grainy. The picture was shaky.
“It was tough,” said LSU hitting coach Javi Sanchez. “I think it was a camera phone video.”
Sanchez saw enough from the footage of Jake Fraley to help correct the outfielder’s swing over the phone during Christmas break.
Sanchez downloaded the video of Fraley swinging, watched it and called Fraley with tips while the freshman practiced at his Delaware home.
“He had me feeling comfortable,” Fraley said. “I knew when I got back here everything was going to start clicking.”
Following a struggling fall season — the worst hitting skid of his life — Fraley’s bat has heated up.
His playing time continues to increase as LSU (28-9-1, 8-6-1 Southeastern Conference) prepares to face Ole Miss (29-9, 9-6) in a three-game series starting with Thursday’s ESPNU-televised clash.
Fraley has started five of LSU’s last nine games, has driven in 14 runs in 44 at-bats and has five extra-base hits. He’s quickly easing into the starting group with his reliable bat, speed on the bases and solid defense.
“It’s a lot of fun, especially after going through the fall,” Fraley said. “Had such trouble.”
Coach Paul Mainieri expected Fraley to contribute the most this season among his group of freshman position players. That was before fall ball began and Fraley fell into his nasty slump.
A swing that had been so solid as a high school outfielder for Caravel Academy in Middletown, Del., turned sour.
He arrived at LSU in the fall with a more bulky frame. It affected his swing, Sanchez said.
His bat was no longer gliding smoothly through the hitting zone as it did when Sanchez spotted him at a Perfect Game showcase in Florida in 2011.
Fraley’s swing stabbed through the zone in a ‘V’ motion. His hands weren’t still enough at the top, and his footwork was off, too.
Meanwhile, he was facing pitchers like Aaron Nola.
“I sat down with coach Javi and I said, ‘Look, coach, I’m having a lot of trouble. We need to figure something out. Can’t keep doing this,’ ” Fraley said. “Felt like I was just digging myself in a deeper hole.”
Sanchez said: “Every arm he was facing in the fall was the best he’d seen in his career.”
The mechanics of his swing were fixed in December in the Middletown Sports Complex, a new facility in Fraley’s hometown.
While snowy and 20 degrees outside, Fraley practiced inside the facility, his father recording his son’s swing and then emailing it to Sanchez.
Had a freshman ever done that with Sanchez? The coach doesn’t remember one doing so.
“I think the most important thing, the fact the kid was willing to go home over Christmas and put in the work and stay in touch with me,” Sanchez said. “That was the key thing, not so much mechanical.”
Fraley trimmed down, and the mechanics were fixed.
He’s come through with a few clutch hits and has worked his way into the 10-11 position players who Mainieri rotates in his starting group.
“He’s got a bright future,” Mainieri has said of Fraley.
The coach has suggested that Fraley could be a replacement for guys like Sean McMullen, a senior, or Mark Laird, a draft-eligible sophomore.
What’s Fraley think about the future?
“Only God knows that,” he said. ??I’m trying to do my best to get better every single day. Trying to keep it the same game I played when I was 12 and a pitcher.”
A pitcher? Yes, Fraley was a big left-hander in his Little League days before he moved to first base and then the outfield.
He played center field through high school and caught the eyes of scouts before sending them away. He wanted to go to college.
Fraley and his parents sent an email to interested teams explaining his intentions to attend college.
He chose LSU over offers from North Carolina and Miami. Sanchez recruited him hard since that summer of 2011 when he spotted him at a showcase.
His eyes drew to Fraley. He fit LSU’s changing recruiting philosophy.
The new bats, instituted in 2011, changed the staff’s recruiting: They wanted more lefty batters and speedy base runners.
Mark Laird and Andrew Stevenson, sophomores, were the first signees who fit the new strategy. They’ve panned out.
Fraley? He’s on his way.