[Interview] Caleb Frare’s Journey Back From Tommy John Surgery To Dominance

Caleb Frare, now of the Tampa Yankees, has gone through just about everything one could imagine as he tries to climb the ranks in the New York Yankees farm system. Frare missed the 2013 season with Tommy John surgery and the 2014 season after being hit by a car in Tampa. Despite all the set backs, it hasn’t slowed him up since returning at full health. In 2015 he split time between Charleston and Tampa combining for a 2.91 ERA in 55 2/3 innings of work. In Tampa  he specifically gave up six earned runs in his 9 2/3 innings, but this season he’s been shutting down nearly anyone who comes to the plate.

To this point Frare is still sporting an ERA of zero after 18 2/3 innings. He’s given up six hits, struck out 23, and the only knock would be his 10 walks. Of course everyone will give up an earned run at some point, but pitching a collective of two games worth of innings without giving one up is no small accomplishment. I talked to the Montana native about his journey from Tommy John, to his dominance now and how he’s been able to stay positive throughout the process.

What were some thoughts when you found out you needed Tommy John surgery? What were you feeling? Was there anyone who had Tommy John previously to help you prepare for the surgery or during the recovery process?

“Pretty depressed, you know I’m 19 year-old and didn’t quite know what to expect, first year of pro-ball and I never dealt with an injury like that. Danny Burawa (now with the Braves organization) helped me, he talked me through a lot. Other than that not many guys I talked to have had it.”

What was the process in returning from Tommy John? How long was it until you could even start to workout or throw a ball again? Were there any bumps along the way? When did impatience start to put a toll on you?

“First off after surgery it’s four months with no throwing period. Then you go through a three-month throwing progression until you get on the mound and every time during those three months I kept getting shut down, I had extra tightness, nerve pain, I just kept having pain for those three months and continued about six cycles of that. It was tough. There were talks about going back and cutting it open again trying to fix it, but it’s all good now. As far as impatience about Spring Training 2013. You know seeing my buddies that I jsut got drafted with being able to play and I’m sitting there not being able to play.”

Was it harder to come back from the surgery mentally or physically?

“Mentally. When I finally got to play last year in 2015 I’d almost forgotten how to pitch. My first month I pitched terrible, walked everybody, got hit, and Norty (Tim Norton) was the pitching coach there in Charleston. He told me just throw your fastball, they’re not going to hit it. So that really helped me turn it around.”

Up to this season now, what do you think is your strongest asset? What’s something you’re also working on? 

“On the mound I feel like I want it more than the hitter wants it and I’m not going to give up to the hitter no matter who it is. Whoever I face I’m not afraid of them. Command with everything. Finding the changeup, finding the slider, fastball command. They believe I have three quality pitches and just working on command with all three, being able to throw all three in any count to any hitter. Pitching behind, off-speed, pitching ahead with my fastball. Just everything with command.”

I don’t know if you’re aware, but you haven’t allowed an earned run this year. Is it something you think about when you take the mound? Is it something you try to continue to challenge yourself?

“I think it’s every pitcher’s goal to go out on the mound and not give up a run. I’ve just been fortunate and blessed to not be able and give up one. It’s going to come eventually, I’m just going out and focusing on making my pitches.”

What are your goals for the rest of the season? Is Double-A in your mind at all?

“That’s out of my control. I can control how quality my outings are, but I can’t control where I go where I am. I can just control how quality my pitches are and hopefully the Yankees value that.”

Frare has been a nightmare for hitters this season and after the interview I finally understand why. The thing that stuck out to me was his aggression on the mound. This season he’s shown his aggression, but also hasn’t tried to force anything and that speaks volumes. To have a younger guy that can balance those two things out on the mound is exactly what the Yankees want.

For more on Frare I talked to Tim Norton, the Tampa Yankees pitching coach who as stated before was also Frare’s pitching coach in Charleston.

What’s something you’ve seen Frare improve this season? What still needs improvement from your perspective?

“He’s always had that good fastball from the left side, he tends to get on guys pretty well. Think he’s done a great job of developing his off-speed, they’re a little more quality this year and he’s throwing for strikes more consistently. I think that’s what has really put him over the edge this year, how consistent he’s been. Better strike thrower and good fastball. Just fine tuning that delivery a little bit, making it a little more powerful and a little more repeatable. His delivery is strong, but there’s some flaws in there that I think we can touch up a little bit and I think he’s done a great job adjusting to them. I think it’s just being a little more efficient and he’s getting there.”

He stated you were his coach down in Charleston when he was down there himself. Did you see the talent he’s shown now even after everything he’s been through in the past.

“Oh yeah, he’s a guy we drafted because we knew he was a strong lefty. It’s not hard to see the talent there, there’s definitely something we can improve on, but we saw it right away.”