Goss: New swings lead Brett Frantini to Orioles
By Dick Goss email@example.com August 29, 2012 9:16PM
Catcher Brett Frantini (Minooka). | Supplied photo
Updated: October 1, 2012 3:59PM
After Brett Frantini exhausted his eligibility at Northern Illinois University in the spring, he was hoping to pursue a career in professional baseball.
The Minooka graduate’s arm strength and defensive talents approach major-league caliber. He was on the Johnny Bench Award watch list for the best collegiate catcher while at NIU.
The problem? His offensive output was inconsistent at best. He hit below .200 as a senior.
Sometimes, in order to further your dreams, you need a little help. It came Frantini’s way, and the result is the shot he wanted. He recently signed with the Baltimore Orioles organization and played in a few games and had a few at-bats as the Gulf Coast Rookie League Orioles concluded their season last week.
Frantini’s dad, Tom, is a first cousin of former major leaguer Ed Spiezio and Spiezio’s brother, Gary, who is living in Tennessee. Gary’s sons Brian and Shawn were college baseball players.
“My cousin Brian called me this summer and asked if I might be interested in going to Venice, Fla., to work with this guy named Dave Kraft,” Brett Frantini said. “He said he is a really good friend of his, and he and his dad run a prestigious hitting academy. I was happy to give it a try.”
Tom Frantini, a good ballplayer in his day, said the transformation bordered on miraculous.
“Within two days, this guy turned it around for Brett,” Tom said. “Gary Spiezio called me and said, ‘You won’t believe it.’ I went down there for four days and just watched, and Brett got better and better. His swing is so short and compact now.”
Brett Frantini, who is 22 and was the catcher at Minooka for 2012 White Sox draft pick Tony Bucciferro, said he hit under Kraft’s tutelage for four to five hours each day for six weeks.
“He transformed my swing into a major league swing,” the right-handed-hitting Frantini said. “He simplified the swing, simplified everything. I’m hitting balls 450 feet now. I’m hitting it on the barrel and not getting jammed. It was a 180-degree change. I’m short to the ball with better power.”
The Orioles were the first major league organization to notice.
“The Orioles said they wanted to see me, and I went in and did great,” Frantini said. “They wanted to see me again four to five days later. Then a third time in with the Orioles I did really well.”
But another week went by, and when Frantini did not hear back he began thinking it may not happen. Other organizations were beginning to call. But then representatives of the Orioles’ front office in Maryland called and “they asked for a bunch of personal information,” Frantini said. “That was a good sign.
“They called the next day and asked more personal questions. Later that same day, they called and asked if I had any plans the next day. I mentioned the Tampa Rays were coming to see me. And they said, ‘We want to sign you and want you to come in for your physical. Congratulations, and welcome to the Baltimore Orioles.’ So, I signed.”
Frantini will spend most of the offseason working out and giving catching lessons to kids at the Dave Kraft Hit Factory in Venice. The Orioles’ training camp is located in nearby Sarasota.
Next season, Frantini said he will go to spring training with the Orioles’ minor leaguers and see where that leads.
“I’ve always been good defensively and have a good arm,” he said. “Catching was the dominant part of my game. I’m on a throwing program (he is NIU’s all-time career leader with 41 runners caught stealing) and am continuing to work on blocking (low pitches). I want to make sure I keep the defensive side of the game where it needs to be as well.
“The hitting part, though, is incredible. I’ll definitely keep working on that. I can’t say enough about how much better Dave has made my swing. He has me excited about the opportunity to make my dream come true.”
Local NFL update
On the eve of NFL teams trimming their rosters to 53, numerous local products are in good position to be contributors this season.
For example, tight end Coby Fleener (Joliet Catholic), who signed a four-year contract reportedly worth more than $5 million, is No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end for the Indianapolis Colts. On the receiving end of passes from Stanford teammate Andrew Luck, Fleener has four catches for 38 yards in the preseason.
Rookies Dave Molk (Lemont/Michigan) and Adam Gettis (Lincoln-Way East/Iowa) are listed No. 2 on the depth chart, Molk at center for the San Francisco 49ers and Gettis at right guard for the Washington Redskins. Byron Stingily (Romeoville/Joliet Junior College/Louisville) is No. 2 at right tackle for the Tennessee Titans.
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich (Lincoln-Way Central/Joliet Junior College/Purdue) is entering his third season as a starter and fifth season overall with New England. He has made 26 starts the past two years, including 16 last season, and has 136 total tackles in that span with 48 solo, 101/2 sacks, four interceptions and six fumble recoveries.
Clay Harbor (Dwight/Missouri State) continues as Philadelphia’s No. 2 tight end behind Bret Celek. Kyle Williams (Plainfield Central through sophomore year, Arizona State) is a No. 2 wide receiver for San Francisco.
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden (Joliet Junior College) is bidding for playing time with the Bears. Offensive tackle Perry Dorrestein (Plainfield Central/Michigan) previously was assigned to the Bears practice squad.
Veteran offensive guard Eric Steinbach (Providence/Iowa) signed earlier this summer with Miami but has decided to retire.
Coach Mike Zimmer (Lockport) is entering his fifth season as the Cincinnati Bengals’ defensive coordinator.