Say hello to Phillies pitching prospect Justin De Fratus. Friend him on Facebook. Extend the same courtesy to BJ Rosenberg, while you’re at it.
Our story starts in the hilly, dew-dropped sunshine of Ventura College, formerly situated on the remains of a burnt down middle school (and probably haunted by ghosts from said fire). It is home to the Ventura College Promise, the largest community college grant program in the country.
But in a piece of information that actually moves this along (I’d check out that grant thing, though. It’s kind of incredible what they’re offering), in 2007, it was also the temporary home of one Justin De Fratus. The Phillies snared him 11th in the draft that year, giving giggling acquaintances of his the chance to try out their TV-recording skills.
Upon draftage, he was shipped out to the Gulf Coast League Phillies, where I’m sure he did some things. Those things included striking out 34 and walking three (a wicked 11.33 SO/BB). I’m currently reading a book set in the Gulf Coast and let me tell you, it sounds like a soggy swamp on the outskirts of hell: mosquitoes the size of pterodactyls and cranky people who were alive when there actually were pterodactyls flying around. So to perform amicably in baseball, rather than just merely survive, sounds like Justin deserves a shot in the majors just for showing up. Even he admitted in 2007 that Williamsport was a more enticing option for him, but the GCL Phils were a good spot to develop further before unleashing himself upon the northeast.
Soon enough, he wound up in Williamsport anyway. Phuture Phillies got an interview with him at this point, in which he maturely admits his inability to maintain velocity was due to “poor conditioning and workouts.”
Somewhere, Roy Halladay sat up in bed, immediately furious, but completely unsure why. This happened a lot. He jumped out of bed and sprinted to the nearest stadium to run steps.
As the Phillies mounted a World Series campaign in 2008, Justin fought through the NY-Penn League, ending with a 3.67 ERA–K’ing 74 and walking 25 in 83.1 innings. By September, he was 6-5, and competing for coverage in the Youngstown, Ohio Vindicator with “Dr. Math.”
In 2009, the Lakewood BlueClaws were steamrolling through the SALL, and Justin De Fratus was a part of it. Management decided to fuck with him and shifted him from the rotation to the bullpen. When informed, Justin flew off the handle and went into a childlike rage, spinning in circles and screaming until he passed out, blue in the face, several hours later in a cocktail of bodily fluids.
"“I just like to pitch. If I am pitching, I am happy.”–Justin De Fratus, Ventura County Star"
His pure, organic baseballdom was sprouting, and the Phillies were there with the clippers.
A first half All-Star, he took the mound during an early second half matchup against the Delmarva Shorebirds, as Dallas Green and David Montgomery looked on. The BlueClaws responded to the pressure by crumbling almost entirely. Fortunately, they scored five runs in the ninth. Unfortunately, they still lost, 13-7.
But Justin refused to shift blame, even with the callous, grating eyes of Dallas Green seering a hole in his soul. In fact, he had a twinge of Cliff Lee in him when he said:
"“I don’t get nervous or anything like that.”–Justin Defratus, Asbury Park Press"
By late in the season, his heater was adopting some sinkage and his control was silky smooth, earning him a promotion to Clearwater. He picked up his first save without much trouble, then continued through 15 more in 29 appearances. Instilling hope as one of the possible closers of the future, Justin rolled into Reading at 22 years old with fellow-NRI Harold Garcia, primed to ruin some evenings. By the time Justin dropped his bags in Baseballtown, he hadn’t allowed a run the last seven times they let him out of the ‘pen with his 1.79 ERA. And Garcia was hitting .355, but no one cared.
And now, finally, the Phillies, after moving him, shaking him, and completely failing at breaking him, have welcomed him into the fold of the 40-man.
Through his three-pronged name and triad of pitches (fastball, slider, change up), he is a fork, prepared to feverishly stab and jab at opponents until they demand someone switch places with them at the table.
There. Now the headline makes sense.