Undersized and overlooked in his younger days on the diamond, Tyler Friis eventually blossomed into the type of player pro scouts could not ignore.
Gifted with the glove and quick with the bat, Friis’ hard work and persistence paid off. The former Auburn Mountainview High School standout, who shone brightly in his three-year stay with the Sycamores at Indiana State University, has been given a shot to play in the minor leagues.
The Cleveland Indians selected the 5-foot-10, 180-pound infielder with the 642nd overall pick, the 21st round, of the Major League Draft on June 14.
Excited at first, the even-keeled Friis took the news – and the deal – in stride.
“I wasn’t shocked I was taken … I wasn’t super excited or super thrilled,” he said. “It was like, ‘All right, it’s time to play more baseball’ and just try to keep it in perspective.”
Friis flew to Cleveland to sign a contract on Sunday before reporting later in the week to the Indians’ Short-Season A affiliate, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, a minor league club based in Niles, Ohio, about 1½ hours outside Cleveland. The Scrappers opened New York-Penn League play this week. The regular season ends Sept. 7.
Friis, primarily a shortstop and second baseman, knows he has much to learn but is up for the task.
“It’s about versatility,” he said. “Hopefully, I can play everywhere.”
Friis, a three-year-starter for the Sycamores of Terre Haute, hit .322 with 11 doubles, two triples and a home run and scored 30 runs in 45 starts as a junior this past season. The Sycamores finished 29-26.
After talking to coaches and players, past and present, Friis opted to join the Indians and give up his senior season. School can wait, he said, something he can resume. He is two semesters shy of a degree in exercise science.
“I just felt like the Indians were the right fit. They liked me all year long,” Friis said of his decision. “A lot of people … thought this would be a good year for me to go (pro).”
The decision, Friis said, was entirely his – supported by his parents, Carl and Stephanie, other family and friends. But it was a difficult choice, given that Friis wanted to join his Indiana State teammates for one last shot at an elusive Missouri Valley Conference title and NCAA Regional berth.
“It was not an easy decision at all,” he said. “It was really tough. The toughest part was definitely leaving my teammates back there … I really wanted to go to regionals.”
Friis was part of Auburn Mountainview’s 3A state championship team in 2013. Friis hit .343 batting average in 55 varsity games, compiling 46 hits, with 24 RBIs, seven doubles and a triple during his career with the Lions.
At Indiana State, Friis made an immediate impact. He rounded out his first season with the Sycamores by going 2-7 with 2 RBI in three MVC tournament games. Friis ended the season with a .264 average, 5 doubles and 21 RBI. As a sophomore, Friis played exceptionally well in 53 starts, hitting .293, while slugging .323 with an on-base percentage of .341. He committed only nine errors, finishing with a .965 fielding percentage.
Friis said the MVC is underrated, blessed with plenty of speed and skill to match bigger, higher-profile conferences. Twenty-four MVC players went in last week’s draft.
Getting a shot to play at the next level is a dream realized for Friis, made possible by the work ethic and confidence his parents instilled in him as a boy.
“(They) taught me that when I was really young … that’s the big reason why I am here today,” he said.
“It kind of seemed unattainable after awhile. Obviously, it wasn’t,” Friis said of his chance to play in the minors. “Just keep your head down, keep working hard and good things will happen.”