On Thursday, May 13th, the Richmond Flying Squirrels visited the Harrisburg Senators for the third matchup in a six-game series between the Double-A Northeast foes. Richmond, the SF Giants Double-A affiliate since 2010, was playing for a small piece of minor-league history. After dropping their first game of the season to the Hartford Yard Goats, the Flying Squirrels had pulled out seven straight victories, tying the longest win streak in franchise history.
Matt Frisbee, the 22nd ranked prospect in the Giants system this preseason, was slated to make his second start of the season for Richmond. While a small piece of the record books was on the line, Frisbee’s mind was on a far more standard minor-league dilemma, “I haven’t been on the road for a long time, and we were on the bus until 3 o’clock, so I spent most of the day sitting down,” he explained in a conversation we had last Friday.
SF Giants prospect Matt Frisbee discusses his part in minor-league history.
Without a minor-league season in 2020, players like Frisbee are still readjusting to professional baseball. Those challenges extend beyond reacclimating to play on the field. Frisbee was a member of the Giants’ fall instructional league and big-league spring training rosters in Arizona. Of course, purposefully confined to limit travel, minor leaguers have not dealt with prolonged trips between games for some time. In fact, last Thursday, Frisbee was making his first appearance after a multi-hour bus ride since his penultimate start of the 2019 season against the Stockton Ports.
Still trying to find his road game routine, the 24-year-old right-hander struggled to find his rhythm. He explained, “Honestly, it took me a while to get going, especially when we got to the field. Even in the bullpen, my timing was off. It took me a few extra pitches to actually get going, and when I got back in the dugout, the third out [in the top of the first] was made, and I was like, ‘What? I just finished in the pen.’”
Frisbee’s discomfort did not immediately dissipate on the mound. Washington Nationals shortstop prospect Jackson Cluff led off the game for Harrisburg with an extended seven-pitch plate appearance. “He was fouling everything off, and I thought, ‘This is going to be a long day,’” Frisbee said. After finally striking Cluff out on a fastball, he induced a pop out and a strikeout on just six pitches.
Then, after Richmond was shut down in a 1-2-3 top of the second, Frisbee returned to the mound and quickly retired the Senators on just ten pitches. At that point, he had a realization, “I was like, ‘Okay, these guys are aggressive, I’ll be in good shape if I pound the zone.’” His insight paid dividends.
Frisbee needed just 56 pitches to work through six shutout innings of work, throwing 75% of his pitches for strikes. However, he was not supposed to be on the field for his final inning. With early-season innings limits in place, the University of North Carolina-Greensboro alum was supposed to be pulled after the fifth inning, but something changed the team’s plans. When he stepped off the mound in the fifth, no Senator hitter had reached base.
“To be honest, I didn’t even know it was a no-hitter until the fifth inning,” Frisbee said. “We have tight pitch counts and innings limits. I was only supposed to throw five innings, but I came off the mound in the fifth, and no one shook my hand or said anything to me, so I said to myself, ‘Alright, just pound the zone, stay confident, and work through it.’”
The righty capped off his outing with a perfect game still intact, recording his sixth strikeout in his final inning. However, at that point, even with his pitch count below 60, Flying Squirrels manager José Alguacil turned to the bullpen.
Southpaw Joey Marciano entered and walked Cluff to start the seventh inning, ending the bid for a perfect game, but quickly retired the next three hitters. Back on the rubber in the top of the eighth, Marciano struck out a pair of Senators before he was replaced by righty Matt Seelinger. Seelinger struck out Alex Dunlap, leaving Richmond just three outs away from the first nine-inning no-hitter in franchise history.
Leading just 2-0, Alguacil turned to the most proven arm in the pen, closer Patrick Ruotolo. At that point, Frisbee could only watch and hope his bullpen could finish the job. “Pat pounds the zone. He has good stuff. This is the guy we want in there,” Frisbee explained. He still had some added anxiety, though, “I’ve never been part of a no-hitter before… That last out, that last inning when Pat came in, I was getting a little nervous.”
Ruotolo put one runner aboard when he hit Cluff with a 2-1 fastball, but Harrisburg once again failed to record a hit. After Osvaldo Duarte grounded out to Richmond’s first baseman Frankie Tostado, the Flying Squirrels stormed the field. They had extended the longest win streak and completed the first nine-inning no-hitter in franchise history.
“It was awesome,” Frisbee said. “After the game, I hung out with the team, and it really began to sink in… Just what a great feeling.”
Still, given how well he limited his pitch count, I asked if he tried to push for an opportunity to work deeper into the game, “Yeah,” he admitted. “I wasn’t happy when they pulled me. I understand. It’s my second start. I get it… But the cool part is that multiple guys got to be a part of that, and that was special.”
The final group of Flying Squirrels’ pitchers who made history shared one thing: none were considered top amateur prospects. Marciano was a 36th round selection in 2017 and has just begun a comeback to professional baseball after retiring in the summer of 2019. Seelinger was a 28th round pick by the Pirates in 2017 and was acquired by the SF Giants for cash in 2019 from the Tampa Bay Rays. Ruotolo was a stellar minor-league reliever since he was drafted in the 27th round of the 2016 draft, but a lack of high-end velocity and a UCL tear in 2019 has kept him from receiving significant attention.
At the center of Richmond’s early-season success is SF Giants prospect Matt Frisbee.
Matt Frisbee has been far from a household name since the Giants drafted him in the 15th round of the 2018 draft. However, he’s emerging as arguably the best starting pitching prospect in the system’s upper minors. After winning the California League Pitcher of the Year award in 2019, Frisbee has taken his already effective performances to another level in 2021.
Through two starts for Richmond in 2021, Frisbee has struck out 11 in 11 shutout innings without issuing a walk and surrendering just two hits. Perhaps most impressive of all, he has needed just 111 pitches to do it. Mark W. Sanchez of KNBR detailed some of Frisbee’s development during spring training. After building a gym in his home in North Carolina last year, he worked to refine his changeup and discovered a potentially devastating splitter. A fastball-heavy pitcher with an above-average slider, Frisbee unlocked a third potential big-league pitch.
Pitching coach Steve Kline was not invested in leaving his old changeup behind, though. Frisbee credited him for suggesting reintegrating his old changeup back into his arsenal alongside his new splitter. “He [Kline] said, ‘that changeup is still a good pitch, it may not be a wipeout changeup, but you can get some weak contact and a few swings and misses with it,’” Frisbee said. “Before I would think of so many different things to do with it, I wasn’t really throwing it. It’s helped me a lot to just throw it like my fastball.”
The Giants player development staff hopes Frisbee can become more comfortable with his secondary offerings. In our conversation, he acknowledged his tendency to get fastball heavy, especially in hitter’s counts. To help, coaches have begun his simulated at-bats in the bullpen between outings with 1-0 and 2-0 counts, hoping he will get more comfortable utilizing his whole arsenal in those situations. Thus far in the season, that work has paid dividends.
Top prospects at Double-A, like Heliot Ramos, receive the lion’s share of attention from SF Giants fans looking at the minor leagues. However, less than three weeks into the 2021 season, the Richmond Flying Squirrels have already recorded their longest winning streak and first nine-inning no-hitter in franchise history. It’s quickly becoming clear that this team has plenty of potential big-league talent up and down the roster. At the center of this early-season success is starting pitcher Matt Frisbee.
Matt Frisbee will take the mound for his next scheduled start on Wednesday, May 19th, against the Bowie Baysox at 3:35 pm PST (6.35 pm EST) at The Diamond. Fans can tune in to the game and many others with SF Giants prospects if they have a subscription to Milb TV.