Brian Friday came to the Bucs in 2007, as the third round pick of the draft from Rice. He fit the mold of Littlefield-era shortstops, speedy, good glove, and contact hitter.
The 23 year-old (he'll be 24 next month) was born in Houston, Texas, where he was a stalwart of the Episcopal High squad, graduating with a .420 batting average.
It was off to the Owls, where he started 36 games as a true freshman.
In 2006 he was named All-America by Baseball America (first team), the College Baseball Foundation and Rosenblatt Report (second team), and Collegiate Baseball (third team), beside being All Conference USA. Friday hit .353, and was part of 40 of Rice's 60 DPs that season.
He was strong again in his junior year of 2007, as he compiled a .336 batting average with a .418 OBP in 280 at-bats, and left for the pro ranks after earning trips to the College World Series twice in his three seasons.
Friday signed early enough (in mid-July for $355K) to get some quality time at State College, where he hit .295 in 156 at-bats with the Spikes. In 2008, he advanced to High A Lynchburg, where he batted .287 in 80 games, missing much of the latter part of the season with a cranky back.
But he did make the All-Star team, and Baseball America named him as the Pirates #14 minor-league prospect.
The suits kept him on a fast track, moving him along to AA Altoona, where they hoped he'd eventually bloom into Jack Wilson's replacement.
He started off afire, but an inner ear infection laid him low in the early part of the year. It took him a couple of months after his return to get back into the swing of things, but from July on, he hit at a .275 clip, more in line with his career numbers. Friday was an All-Star again in 2009 for the Curve.
After the season, the Bucs sent him to get him some work in the Arizona Fall League, where he was among five shortstops on Scottsdale's roster. They were hoping to get him some reps at second, but a slow start at the dish relegated him to part-time duty. He only got 49 at-bats, and hit .245 for the Scorpions while watching Chase d'Arnaud burst onto the scene.
Friday, who is 5-11, 180 pounds, won't ever be a middle-of-the-order guy. He projects like most Pirate middle infielders, either at the top or bottom of the line up.
He has the ability to be a two hitter. He's patient, got an OK eye, works a count, put together a .362 OBP, makes contact, and has 9% walk rate in the minors. Friday also has decent wheels, but that's never translated into stolen bases. He's just 29-49 in three seasons, a 59% success rate.
In the field, Friday has an above average arm and has major league range, particularly on balls hit up the middle. His biggest knock is that he's not aggressive enough attacking balls; he sometimes lays back and gets eaten up by the extra hop. As a result, he booted 25 balls and had a .948 fielding average, certainly not MLB caliber play. That may be why they're auditioning him at second.
One other problem that he has is self-inflicted. Friday gets down on himself after a bad play or game, sometimes carrying it with him instead of letting it go. As he matures, hopefully he'll turn his quest for perfection into an asset rather than a reason to beat himself up.
We expect to see Friday at Indy this year, especially with the posse of young Turk infielders ticketed for Altoona. He'll spend a lot of his time there flopping infield positions, alternating with Argenis Diaz at short and Luis Cruz at second. Brian Bixler, unless he makes the big club or gets pink-slipped, probably will be groomed as a utility guy/oufielder at Indy. It'll be a crowd.
Friday has his work cut out for him, with some players with MLB time ahead of him and a pack of puppies nipping at his heels at the lower levels.
He needs to put together a healthy season. When Friday's right, he offers a potential .270-.275 MLB bat that can move guys up, and can cover enough ground in the infield. A good season at Indy can give him some breathing room in the race to Pittsburgh, and allow the Pirates to let the pups get some innings without the rushing them to the show.
His progress has been steady and fairly consistent, and though he's still young, it's time for him to step up. The competition is closing in on him.
(Next - #15 Neil Walker)