LaFromboise Closing in on Big Leagues

Jan. 14, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – When former University of New Mexico pitcher Bobby LaFromboise was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 14th round following his junior year in 2007, he was coming off a season in which he earned All-Mountain West First Team and All-Mountain West Tournament Team honors. He couldn't come to terms with the team, however, so he returned for his senior season at UNM. After another solid season on the mound for the Lobos he was drafted in the eighth round by the Seattle Mariners.

Since then LaFromboise has steadily climbed Seattle’s minor league system, reaching as high as Triple-A Tacoma last season. Then, on Nov. 20 last year, the Mariners added him to their 40-man roster, ensuring another team couldn’t take him in the Rule 5 Draft. It also guaranteed him a spot at Seattle’s big league training camp, which begins Feb. 12.

“That felt pretty good,” he said. “Knowing that there are other left-handers that they have above me right now and even though they have those guys, they still feel like I can produce. It always makes you feel good when people think you can produce.”

LaFromboise has proven he can produce in the minors, especially since moving to the bullpen. He was a starter in college and began his professional career in the same role. In his first three seasons, all at different Single-A levels, he appeared in 79 games and started 43 of them.

Late in the 2010 season, though, he made the full-time switch to reliever when he was with the High Desert Mavericks in the California League. He finished that season with a 10-5 record and 92 strikeouts in 113.2 innings. His ERA, however, was 4.51, which is the highest in his minor league career.

“It was very hard that first half-year mostly because I didn’t want to,” he said about making the switch. “I liked being a starter. I liked having control of the game. I felt like I was doing well enough to get by as a starter so I kind of didn’t buy into the whole reliever role that first half of a (season). But once I bought into it, it was an easy transition, and now looking back I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love being a reliever.”

It’s a good thing he loves it so much because he has truly excelled in his new role. The last two seasons, split between Double-A and Triple-A, he has made 96 relief appearances with zero starts. He has a 2.19 ERA, 123 strikeouts in 127.1 innings, and a record of 9-6 with six saves. That includes his 27 games with Tacoma last season in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League where he had a 5-2 record, four saves, 38 strikeouts in 39.2 innings, and an almost-unfathomable 1.59 ERA.

Now it is on to training camp and trying to make the Mariners’ active 25-man roster.

“I don’t really know what to expect since it’s my first big league camp,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect, what’s going to happen, or how any of this works.”

Despite his success and busy schedule, LaFromboise has done his best to keep track of the Lobos’ accomplishments over the last few years, but he hasn’t been able to watch them as much as he would have liked.

“I’ve seen they’ve made it to a couple of Regionals, which is very exciting for the University,” he said. “There have been times they’ve been out here on the West Coast but I’ve just missed seeing them. I’ve definitely wanted to see more.”

Reflecting on his time with the Lobos he said he enjoyed the practices more than anything else.

“That’s the only time all the guys are together, hanging out, having a good time,” he said. “In particular I liked the Cherry-Silver Series (at the end of fall practice). You get to face off against all your friends. There’s rivalry and friendship. And the cool thing for me, my senior year I got to pick my team for the Cherry-Silver Series, and my two roommates were the captains on the other team so we got to go back and forth.”

And who were his roommates and opposing captains? One was fellow left-handed pitcher Jake Norton. The other? None other than current Lobo volunteer assistant coach Matt Hibbitts.

“I’m pretty sure his team beat me,” Hibbitts said with a little smile.

Asked if he remembered the outcome of the Series LaFromboise laughed and said, “Of course I remember. We beat them four games to one. They won the first game and we took the next four.”

Hibbitts, though, thinks his former roommate is even better at pitching than he is at picking teams.

“He was one of the best guys on the team,” he said. “He always knew how to get people out. He was great at changing speeds. I don’t think he ever threw the same pitch at the same speed twice. We knew that every time he was pitching we had a real good chance to win the ballgame. It was really fun to play behind him.”

Hopefully that success follows LaFromboise to his first big league camp as he works towards his main goal for the 2013 season.

“Obviously I’d love to be in the big leagues on Opening Day,” he said, “but there are other guys also fighting for that job and some of them have been there before. I want to go in there and prove that I belong.”