Over seven weeks this summer, The Times will examine the Braves’ depth at each position from the big-league club in Atlanta through the minors.
June 17: Starting pitching A
June 24: Relief pitching A-
July 1: Catcher A
July 8: First base B+
July 15: Middle infield
July 22: Third base
July 27: Outfield
A little more than half way into his first season as a full-time starter in the big leagues, Freddie Freeman is proving to be as good as advertised.
Ever since he scorched Single-A with a .316 batting average and 18 home runs at just 18 years old, Freeman has been hailed as one of the Braves’ best offensive prospects and the future of the club at first base.
Now, with his batting average on the rise and displaying more power than was expected, Freeman is beginning to deliver on that initial promise.
He struggled early this season, hitting only .217 in April with a .380 slugging percentage. But in the next two months he hit .299 and his slugging rose to .430 in May and up to .489 in June.
He’ll have plenty of time to continue to develop and the Braves are expected to be content to let him do so. As a rookie, he’s locked into to a bargain-rate salary until he becomes eligible for arbitration after the 2013 season. He won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2016 season.
Contract terms: 1 year/$414K; eligible for arbitration after 2013 season
2011 stats: .273, 12 HR, 39 RBIs, .347 OBP, .458 SLG
Notes: Ranked by Baseball America as the No. 17 prospect in all of basebal prior to 2011 season; Was the International League Rookie of the Year in 2010, hitting .319 with 18 home runs and 87 RBIs in 124 games with Gwinnett.
ON THE BENCH
Contract terms: 1 year/$1.45M with club option for 2012 at $1.55M
2011 stats: .263, 8 HR, 21 RBIs in 65 games
Career: .254, 132 HR, 496 RBIs in 10 1/2 seasons
Notes: Hinske isn’t as smooth as Freeman with the glove, but he’s a capable fielder at first base and a solid offensive replacement when needed. Even more at home in the outfield, Hinske’s best traits are his versatility and proven pinch-hitting prowess.
IN THE MINORS
By waiting until the 31st round to select a first baseman in the MLB draft in June, the Braves made a statement about their comfort level at the position. Though none are as highly touted as Freeman, the Braves are getting good offensive production from the position throughout the farm system.
2011: .295, 14 HRs, 50 RBIs at Triple-A Gwinnett
Notes: Has hit well at each stop in minor league career but yet to get a shot in big leagues.
2011: .302, 11 HRs, 49 RBIs at Double-A Mississippi
Notes: Career .281 hitter in minors, but yet to advance beyond Double-A
2011: .267, 12 HRs, 39 RBIs at High-A Lynchburg
Notes: Sixth-round pick last year; hit .302 between Rookie League and Single-A in 2010.
2011: .340, 7 HRs, 30 RBIs at Single-A Rome Notes: Joined team in May after spending last two seasons in independent leagues.
Current staff: B+ | Organizational depth: B+
As long as Freeman continues to develop into the .300 hitter most expert believe he can be, this grade will continue to rise. While the hitters in the minor leagues are nice insurance policies, they won’t be needed if the Braves’ current starter lives up to his potential.