Vito Frabizio is a guy who left high school during his senior year, almost never pitched as a youngster and was not drafted by any Major League team.
So how did this right-hander from West Islip, New York wind up on the mound, pitching well for the Bluefield Orioles last summer?
He went 4-4, 2.96 in 12 starts and was third in the Appalachian League in innings and strikeouts and sixth in ERA. In 70 innings, the 20-year-old gave up 57 hits with 16 walks and fanned 64.
He’s emerged as someone pitching his way toward prospect status, which is pretty remarkable for a guy who almost never pitched through his high school years.
The 6’3”, 175-pounder won’t say much about why he left high school in 2007.
“There were some incidents when I was younger. I don’t really want to get into it. I never officially graduated high school, but I never dropped out either.”
He later earned his diploma through a special program in the New York area, but he didn’t play at all during what would have been his senior season.
It seemed teams and scouts around MLB lost track of him and he was not drafted in 2007.
By January of 2008 he had moved to Florida and was working out at Florida Atlantic University. Some coaches there called O’s scout Nick Presto and he saw Frabizio play during a high school showcase game that month.
When his team ran short of pitchers, Frabizio, who was playing center field, took the mound.
“He was like 84 to 87 maybe with velocity, but he spun his curveball real well with a natural delivery and I thought he’s a little tired, so let’s give him a shot in another week,” Presto said.
Frabizio eventually threw for Presto, O’s minor league pitching coordinater Dave Schmidt and scouting director Joe Jordan in Sarasota at the Orioles complex. Even though he was sick that day, he threw well.
“He thought he was a center fielder, I think,” Presto said. “I was really surprised he hadn’t pitched. But he had a natural delivery. That’s what we like. We don’t like the mechanical kids. You have to have it come natural.”
Presto and Frabizio quickly became friends and the O’s signed Vito to a deal worth a reported $100,000 that includes money for college later if he chooses to attend.
“We thought if he had been at a high school in Florida and had played all year he would have been an 8th to a 10th-round pick,” Presto said.
It was off to the Gulf Coast League in 2008 for Frabizio, who went 3-4, 5.93 in 10 games during his first pro season.
Frabizio’s velocity sits between 88 and 92 with his fastball; he also throws a curve and changeup and has a nice sinking two-seam fastball.
“My changeup is the pitch I throw when I really need a big pitch in a big situation. I learned that pitch from my Gulf Coast League coach, Calvin Maduro.”
But in March of 2009, that kid who left high school early, missed curfew several times during spring training in Sarasota and the O’s brass eventually made him leave camp, sending him home to Long Island.
“Basically being young, you get ahead of yourself sometimes. I needed a little time to just grow up a little bit.
“You put things in perspective. You can either fulfill your dream or just go on and never know what you could have done. I realized I was lucky and should not have taken advantage of anything. I’ve matured a lot.
“That’s not going to happen ever again.”
Frabizio took that renewed attitude to Bluefield where he allowed two earned runs or less in eight of 12 starts and pitched to an ERA of 1.50 over his last three starts. He held righty batters to a .208 average while lefties hit .250 off him.
“Halfway through the year, I said to my pitching coach Troy Mattes, ‘I think I can really do this.’ This isn’t just a dream anymore, I see what I can do and I believe in myself now.
“I appreciate getting my chance every day I walk out on that field with a uniform on. Baseball is my life, my dream.”
Presto said Frabizio has matured and he’s not worried about the pitcher’s character at all.
“He’s a really good kid. He’s someone that always checks in with me. That’s nice when a player does that. He’s not a choir boy, I know that. He’s been through some stuff. But now he better understands pro baseball and our staff has done a great job with him.”
Presto saw Frabizio pitch last fall in an instructional league game in Florida and said that day he was reminded of Frabizio’s hunger for and dedication to becoming a better pitcher.
“He gave up an unearned run in the first and then threw a couple of solid innings. After he came out I said ‘Vito, when did you start throwing a slider?’ He said ‘I taught it to myself in the bullpen today because I didn’t have my curve ball.’
“I said ‘what.’ He had just started throwing it that day. This kid has a natural ability to throw strikes. That’s pretty special.
“He’s got some hunger in him and that means a lot. He’s a tough kid that likes to win. He’s really a competitor.”
Now if Frabizio can just get his teammates to stop giving him a hard time about that tattoo.
“I have Hollywood tattooed across my back. When I was nine my coach called me Hollywood. I’d come to the field with the most expensive bats and gloves my mom got me.
“Guys were still calling me that at 15 and when I was 17 I got the tattoo on my back. I just went out and did it.
“Guys in the clubhouse give me a lot of stuff about that. But there’s no cockiness about me. The guys know that. I don’t walk around cocky at all.”
Frabizio has been putting a lot of time into his workouts this winter, sometimes working out with fellow New Yorker Pedro Beato, another O’s minor league pitcher. He should have an excellent chance to be in Delmarva’s rotation when the 2010 season starts in April.