Reds' Friedl hard to ignore in pro debut

Overlooked as Draft-eligible, outfielder homers twice for Mustangs

T.J. Friedl scored 68 runs and drove in 35 RBIs in 58 games as a redshirt sophomore at Nevada-Reno. (nevadawolfpack.com)

By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com | August 6, 2016 2:25 AM

It's no surprise T.J. Friedl had a serious case of butterflies before his professional debut on Friday -- he didn't expect to be making it until next year.

In any case, he was feeling much better by the end of the night.

"I'm pretty much on cloud nine," he said. "Standing out there for the anthem, my nerves set in. The butterflies were going pretty hard. I wanted to get my first pro hit out of the way, that was the big thing. After I hit that home run, I was able to calm down a little bit."

He didn't stop there.

Friedl went yard in each of his first official at-bats as a pro en route to a 3-for-3 night as Rookie-level Billings edged visiting Ogden, 4-3.

After being widely mistaken as ineligible for this year's Draft, Friedl -- a redshirt sophomore at the University of Nevada, Reno -- didn't apply. However, Draft rules stipulate that college students may be selected after three academic years and, after Friedl put on an impressive show at the trials for the U.S. National Collegiate Team in late June, several organizations, including the Red Sox and Blue Jays, realized they'd missed out on a speedy outfielder who hit .400/494/.563.

"There actually was one person that called me that really let me know that I was eligible," Friedl said. "I had no idea, but I didn't really think much of it. I thought I would wait until my junior year and have a good year and then get drafted.

"It was weird. I'd never really imagined it. I went down to do the trials for Team USA, thinking, 'Hey, scouts will be there. I'll be able to improve my stock for next year's Draft.' That's what I was looking forward to, but after everything got blown up at the Team USA trials, I knew I was ready. I was physically ready, mentally ready, and I talked with my parents and we decided this was the best option for me."

The California native joined Team USA for a four-country tour that ended on July 27, and the Reds announced his signing on Thursday. Friedl agreed to a reported $735,000 bonus, which is the largest for a non-drafted free agent and in the range for a typical third-rounder.

"All that traveling took a toll," he said. "Thankfully, the Reds gave me time to go to Reno and move. Four or five days off was all that I needed for my body to be back in shape. I felt ready to go. Today, I was actually anxious to play. The manager came up and asked me when my last game was. I told him it was July 27 and he said, 'Oh, so you haven't sat that long.' I said, 'No, I'm ready to go today.'"

The 20-year-old outfielder checks in as the Reds' 12th-ranked prospect, according to MLB.com, which rates all of his five skills at 50 or above on the 20-80 scouting scale. His speed merited a 70.

Facing Raptors right-hander Nolan Long in the first inning, the left-handed-hitting Friedl swatted a homer that cleared the right field fence and traveled an estimated 374 feet.

"Once I saw it clear the fence, I was like, 'No way. No way that just happened,'" he said.

Plunked above the knee by a curveball from Long in the third inning, Friedl welcomed Chris Mathewson to the game with a sixth-inning dinger that traveled 385 feet to right-center.

"It was the same thing. The first one was fantastic, but on the second one, I thought, 'This is a dream. This isn't really happening,'" he said.

"One of the guys on the team came over to me after the first home run and said, 'It can only go downhill from here, so good job.' Then I hit the second one and he came over and said, 'Guess not.' All of them were really excited, and I can tell this is going to be a really fun group of guys to play with."

Facing another righty, Johan Diaz, with a runner on first and one out in the ninth, Friedl dropped a bunt for a single.

"We had the one-run lead, a runner on. I figured it was a good time to drop one down," he said. "The third baseman was playing back and off the line. Whenever I see a third baseman off the line, it clicks in my head that it might be a good time to bunt. I tried it earlier, in the at-bat when I was hit by the pitch, but I didn't get it down."

With help from Friedl, Zac Correll (4-0) got the win, striking out five over 2 1/3 innings of perfect relief.

Dodgers fourth-round pick D.J. Peters hit a two-run jack for Ogden. He's tied for second in the Pioneer League with eight homers.

Josh Jackson is a contributor to Mi.LB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @JoshJacksonMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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