Long ago, before their winding paths brought them to the same major league organization, Erick Fedde and Bryce Harper grew up playing tee ball, football and then basketball together in middle school before becoming baseball teammates at Las Vegas High.
“We grew up in the same area,” Fedde said. Now, after the Nationals selected Fedde with the 18th overall selection on Thursday in the MLB first-year player draft, the two Las Vegas kids are in the same organizations, both overjoyed.
“It’s really cool, especially for our family and friends that are close with their family,” said Fedde on a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon. “Now to be a part of the same organization is pretty cool. Now our families can share the experience together now.”
The Nationals picked the 21-year-old Fedde despite his injury — he had Tommy John elbow ligament replace surgery on Tuesday — because they so coveted his frame, right arm, mid-90s fastball, wicked slider and overall stuff that they believed it was worth the risk. And with success in rehabbing pitchers with injured elbows, the Nationals felt confident in their ability to do the same with Fedde.
Fedde said he hurt his elbow six weeks ago while pitching for the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. Facing New Mexico, he knew something was wrong in the seventh inning and still completed the inning. He exited with his pitch count at 119. He didn’t believe anything was wrong with him because he passed initial strength tests. He took two weeks off, had an MRI and then learned that his right ulnar collateral ligament was torn.
“It was definitely a shock,” he said “It hit me pretty hard. I was pretty upset about it. A lot of people are telling me it’s been a very common procedure lately and the percentage of guys coming back is so high it’ll be okay if I just worked hard in rehab. In terms of the draft, I knew I was probably going to take a hit in how high I was going to go. I’m just ecstatic that the Nationals took me 18th and just excited to be a part of the organization.”
Fedde’s college coach, Tim Chambers, who also coached Harper at the College of Southern Nevada, said the right-hander was shocked to be drafted by the Nationals because he hadn’t talked to them during the pre-draft process. Chambers said Fedde may have actually gotten hurt as early as the Cape Cod League, where he pitched the summer before his junior year and posted a 2.34 ERA. According to Chambers, Fedde still went on to pitch for the USA Baseball National Collegiate Team later that summer because he wanted to represent his country.
Chambers said the Rebels were cautious with Fedde in the fall, restricted him from throwing and then limited him to 90 pitches in the winter. It was in that game against New Mexico that Fedde, a competitor who fights to stay in games, finally asked to come out. Until then, Chambers said they didn’t think Fedde was hurt because he always felt better in time for his Friday starts.
“He was sore Saturday, Sunday and Monday but always was better by Wednesday,” Chambers said. “But this time he wasn’t better by Wednesday.”
Although Fedde’s season was cut short by injury and eventual surgery, he still posted a 8-2 record and 1.76 ERA, and struck out 82 in 762 / 3 innings this season over 11 starts. He was named a second-team All-American by Louisville Slugger and was recognized as the Mountain West pitcher of the year, an honor that once went to Stephen Strasburg.
Fedde said he hasn’t followed the Nationals organization closely enough to know about their success with pitchers who have undergone Tommy John surgery, but he knew of 2012 first-round pick Lucas Giolito and his surgery. “I’m just worried about getting healthy myself and just going from there,” he said.
The Nationals rated Fedde’s fastball and slider both as “plus-plus” pitches. Harper has called the slider the best he has ever seen. Chambers called it filthy. One Nationals talent evaluator said Fedde’s slider was top-three among the draft prospects. But Fedde believes his developing change-up was the key.
“The change-up was a difference-maker this year and probably the big difference from my freshman and sophomore year,” he said. “It was a big focus going into the fall and the spring and was able to get a lot of work in on it. Before the injury, I felt very comfortable with it. I think it can be a weapon here in the near future.”
Fedde classified himself as an athletic pitcher who attacks batters and is ultra competitive. Chambers believes that’s an understatement.
“Nobody works harder than this guy,” Chambers said. “He’s very motivated. He’s very competitive. I don’t think I ever took him out of a game without him ever getting pissed off at me. From the time he got there, lifting weights to conditioning, I never told him what to do and neither did my pitching coach. He had his routine and we knew that if he pitched on Friday, or Saturday his freshman year, that he was going to run on Sunday and throw on Monday and then on Tuesday. And then run, run, run.”
Fedde is an athletic — albeit lanky — 6 feet 4, 180 pounds. He was a star soccer player in high school, helped lead Las Vegas High to a 2009 state title and was named a state athlete of the year. Chambers said Fedde was the second or third-fastest player on the team despite being a pitcher. He also used to run from foul pole to pole at the baseball stadium dribbling a baseball in the air like a soccer ball between his feet.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Chambers said. “He fields his position better than anybody I’ve ever coached.”
Fedde said he hopes be back on the mound in about a year. Next week, he will have the cast and stitches taken out of his right elbow by Neal ElAttache, the surgeon who performed the surgery. He said he hopes to add muscle while he away from the mound. In three years at UNLV, he added 25 pounds of mass to his skinny frame, jumping from 155 to 180 pounds.
“I’m going to take full advantage of the year I have and try to get in the best, top physical shape I can,” he said. “If the weight comes – it’s not a huge priority of mine – but I’m sure I’ll put on a little bit as time goes on.”
The Nationals have until July 18 to sign Fedde, who is represented by Scott Boras. He is likely to command the full $2,145,600 signing bonus allotted for the No. 18 pick. Once he is signed, the Nationals can take over his rehab process. Until then, it will be handled by Boras.
“I’m not really too worried about the business process,” he said. “I know it’ll work itself out. I’m just worried about getting healthy and going from there.”