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Swing Away: Alabama State’s Josh Froneberger
PIKESVILLE, Md. – When Larry Watkins was recruiting Josh Froneberger to Alabama State, he thought he was getting his shortstop of the future.
But that arm!!!
Froneberger’s arm was so impressive, that Watkins knew immediately he needed to have him on the mound. As good a shortstop as Froneberger was, Watkins believed he’d make an even better pitcher.
“When Josh came to us, he was a hot-headed shortstop,” said Watkins, who just completed his 25th season as Alabama State’s head coach. “Once we saw the strong arm, we just started working him and we got the shortstop out of his head.”
“I like dual players, but as talented as he was, we didn’t want to take a chance on playing him at a position.”
Because he liked to be in the middle of the action all the time, Froneberger was apprehensive about the change at first. But with a fastball that touched the low 90s, he left the coaching staff with little choice.
“I just wanted to help the team, and I just wanted to win,” said Froneberger, fresh off his junior season. “If I had to pitch, I had to pitch.”
The choice turned out to be a good one.
A native of the Atlanta area, Froneberger has become one of the most feared pitchers in the SWAC. This season, he went 5-4 with one save, a 5.12 ERA and a conference-leading 81 strikeouts.
It was the second straight season that he led the SWAC in strikeouts. As a sophomore, he fanned 119 batters, but a strained back muscle caused him to miss four games early this season and likely cost him another 30 to 40 strikeouts.
He did, however, raise his strikeouts-per-nine-innings total from 9.9 (42nd in the nation) as a sophomore to 10.1 (33rd) this season.
Watkins calls Froneberger “the hottest thing in the SWAC right now,” and is genuinely fearful of losing his star hurler in the Major League Baseball first-year player draft, which begins June 7.
Froneberger’s evolution as a pitcher has been steady.
In 42 innings as a raw freshman, he went 2-1 with a 5.91 ERA with only 32 strikeouts and 35 walks. Last season, despite his team-leading six wins and 119 strikeouts, his ERA rose to 6.31, and he walked 70 batters.
Watkins finally convinced Froneberger that he’d never make it by simply trying to fire fastballs past hitters all the time. Watkins said that, while the fastball is still his bread and butter, Froneberger’s hard slider is the pitch that really stands out.
Additionally, Froneberger has learned how to change his arm angle and now has the option to throw more sidearm to keep hitters off balance. “Last year, I just tried to throw my fastball,” said Froneberger, a B student in social work and a first-team all-SWAC performer in 2006 and 2007.
“Over the off-season, I just tried to learn to pitch for real. I have developed four pitches (fastball, slider, curve, change). I just try to outthink a hitter now. I try to come inside more and throw my off-speed pitches more.”
“Really,” said Watkins, “he’s a finesse pitcher. He doesn’t like to show his fastball. He’s learned how to pitch, and he doesn’t back down from anyone. H e thinks he should be out there every day. And he’s zoned in when he gets that ball.”
As a result, Froneberger’s ERA dropped by more than a run from last season, and his walks decreased considerably; in 72 innings, he issued just 34 free passes.
An area Froneberger continues to work on is his size. When he came to the Hornets two years ago, his 6-foot-2 frame held only 170 pounds. Now, he’s listed at 190, but he’s still trying to put on weight and get stronger.
He has been told by physicians that he has an extremely active metabolism, which comes as no surprise to Watkins. “ It’s hard to have him on the bench with me because he just won’t sit down,” said the coach. “He’s always moving, always talking to his teammates.”
“I can’t sit down,” admitted Froneberger. “I’m used to playing every day. It’s hard to convert and play only once a week.”
Froneberger’s exploits have drawn the attention of major-league scouts. He and Watkins have had contact with a couple, and Froneberger said he was invited to a pre-draft showcase that will take place later this month.
Froneberger said he came into this season knowing that this was the year he could be drafted. And he makes no secret about his desire to play at the next level.
If this was to be his last season in college, he made sure to end it with perhaps his best game ever. On May 5, he pitched his first complete game and beat SWAC tournament-bound Mississippi Valley State on a two-hit shutout. He struck out six and walked none.
“He’s the best pitcher in the SWAC,” said Delta Devils coach Doug Shanks with no shortage of amazement in his voice. “The first year we faced him, we got to him in about the fifth inning. Last year maybe the seventh. This year, we couldn’t get to him at all.”
“He’s a great kid. Very competitive, very poised. He’s a legitimate pro prospect.”
“I told myself that it was probably going to be my last game,” said Froneberger. “I told myself that I really had to leave it all out on the field.”
“Last year, (scouts) just found out who I was. This year, I showed that I am for real. I just think this is the year. It (being drafted) is always in the back of my mind. If I have a chance, I’m going to take it.”