Right-handed pitcher Justin De Fratus has been a fast mover up the Phillies prospect rankings over the past couple of years, thanks to a deep determination and a goal-oriented outlook.
As a player in his youth, Justin wanted to be the best pitcher he could be, so he worked countless hours under the watchful eye of his father, Terry. The focus was always on throwing strikes, which helped De Fratus stand out and continue pitching beyond high school.
While pitching for Ventura College, De Fratus set his sights on becoming a professional pitcher. He signed his first pro contract after being drafted by the Phillies in the 11th round of the 2007 amateur draft.
As he spent the 2008 season with the Williamsport Crosscutters, De Fratus set out to reach Class A ball in 2009 and did so by helping the Lakewood BlueClaws lock down their first of two consecutive South Atlantic League championships.
In 2010, De Fratus focused on three more potential accomplishments to strive for. Certainly, every minor leaguer’s goal each season is to reach the big leagues, but with more sensible targets in mind, such as reaching Double A, successfully pitching in the Arizona Fall League and representing the United States in the Pan-Am qualifiers, De Fratus’ list of objectives for this year were attainable.
“I accomplish every goal that I set out for myself…and then more. Outside of going the the big leagues, this season was really just a dream come true,” De Fratus said in an exclusive interview.
After beginning the 2010 regular season with High-A level Clearwater and posting a 2-0 record with 15 saves and a 1.79 ERA in 29 games, De Fratus was promoted to Double A Reading in July. Over the last two months of the season, he went 1-0 with 6 saves and a 2.19 ERA in 20 games. Other impressive stats collected by De Fratus during the regular season included his strike out total of 71, compared to his walk total of 16 in 65 innings pitched, between the two levels of the minors.
De Fratus, a 6’5″ 215-pounder, followed up his exceptional regular season campaign by pitching for Team USA in the Pan American qualifying tournament held in Puerto Rico. De Fratus pitched well in relief and helped the Americans clinch a tie for third place (9-1 overall record) and earn a spot in next year’s Pan American games in Mexico.
“After I saw (former teammate of De Fratus in Lakewood, BJ Rosenberg) do it last year, I thought it would be really cool to pitch for my country like that,” De Fratus said of his aspirations of pitching for Team USA. “That’s really the best word to describe it. Other than speaking about how proud you are to put on that USA uniform, the one word to describe (the experience) is just ‘cool’. I’m grateful that I am one of the few who got to do that.”
Following the time representing his country, De Fratus ventured to the Arizona Fall League, where he was not scored upon in 7 appearances and held opponents to a .125 batting average.
As a member of the AFL’s Mesa Solar Sox, De Fratus set out to improve his slider, which he felt he had lost the feel for this year. Former Major League hurler Ricky Bones worked closely with De Fratus to help with the adjustments. “He changed the grip by literally a quarter of an inch and it made a world of difference,” De Fratus stated.
De Fratus’ pitching repertoire also includes a change up as well as a mid-90′s fastball.
Aside from building bonds with his Autumn teammates, De Fratus feels the advantages that he will take away from pitching with two extra teams for an additional two months, following the minor league regular season wrapping up, will be his strength. “My season lasted longer than the big league season does. I know I have the stamina to go start to finish in a full season,” De Fratus said.
Moving toward 2011, De Fratus has a single goal in mind: to reach the Major Leagues. This month, the Phillies added De Fratus, who spent a couple games with the big league team in spring training in 2010, to their Major League 40-man roster, in order to protect him from the MLB Rule 5 draft.
“I’m really excited, with being put on the 40-man. I’m excited to get to show what I can do (this coming spring) in front of Charlie Manuel and Rich Dubee. Whether I make it to the big leagues or not, it’s just an exciting opportunity to get to pitch in front of them.
“I know in my heart and I feel that I have a good shot at, hopefully, making the team out of spring training. That’s all I’m concerned about right now, is putting myself in the best possible position to make the Major League club, and if I don’t, I want to be the first person they call,” De Fratus said.
The commitment that De Fratus possesses will undoubtedly lead to a call up to the big club, and if his track record is any indication, that should happen as soon as De Fratus wants it to.
Jay Floyd is PhilliesNation’s minor league contributor. You can read more from Jay by visiting his site, PhoulBallz.com.