LAWRENCEVILLE — To this point in his career, Freddie Freeman’s journey to the Major Leagues has been a smooth and steady one.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound left-handed slugging first baseman has climbed the minor league ranks to triple-A Gwinnett after three years, and in his first season with the G-Braves, he finds himself hitting .286 with 10 home runs and a team-leading 47 RBIs.
On Tuesday against the Norfolk Tides, Freeman was 1-for-5 in a Gwinnett 9-4 win, with pitching prospect and recent call-up Mike Minor getting his second Triple-A win in as many starts for the G-Braves.
Minor struck out six and allowed one run on five hits and two walks.
Freeman is fully aware that if he can continue to progress at the level he has so far, an opportunity to win the starting first base job at Atlanta awaits him next season. Current Atlanta Braves first baseman Troy Glaus – who has had an All-Star caliber season – will be a free agent at the end of the season and may not be resigned. But Freeman may not even have to wait until next year.
If Glaus, who has never played a full season in his 12-plus years of service, succumbs to an injury, it just might be Freeman who gets the call to fill in for him.
But for right now, Freeman is only focused on fine-tuning his skills at Gwinnett.
“Everyone knows (the opportunity to eventually be the Braves’ first baseman) is there,” Freeman said. “I just try not to put any more pressure on myself. I just come in here everyday, play and get my work in and whatever happens, happens. I can’t really control that, I can only control what I can do here and whatever they decide is the best decision.
“So I’ll just be here waiting.”
After spending last season with Rome (A) and Mississippi (AA), Freeman came into this season wanting to improve his patience at the plate. He considered himself a first-pitch swinger and knew he needed to work the count to get on base more.
So far, he’s been able to better work the count. Despite jumping from Double-A to Triple-A, Freeman has managed increase his on-base percentage from last season at Mississippi by 41 points. His current OBP is .349.
“I think he’s made some nice strides since the start of the season” G-Braves manager Dave Brundage said. “I’ve seen a more patient, confident hitter and getting his feet wet down here in Triple-A is going to be beneficial to him down the road.
Certainly I think some of the things he’s needed to address have been his patience at the plate and not swinging early in the count at pitcher’s pitches and he’s really done a nice job in the last month. He has really come on. He’s hitting the ball hard and utilizing the entire field and he’s receptive to making changes. He just needs to keep learning.”
It was a slow start to the season for Freeman, who hit .257 through the first two months. Initially, he struggled to shake his swing-first habit. But since June, he’s hitting .330.
“I’ve had an up-and-down season,” Freeman said. “Right now, it’s up, so I feel good. I’m hitting the ball hard and that’s all you can ask for. When you go back down – everyone does – you try to be as consistent as you can, do your best and swing hard, just in case you hit it.”
Heading into Tuesday, Freeman was tied for sixth among International League hitters with 47 RBIs and tied for ninth with 10 home runs. Unfortunately, his slow start to the season may have cost him a spot in next Wednesday’s International League All-Star Game, but Brundage feels Freeman was worthy of making the team.
“He’s an outstanding first baseman and a much better defensive player than I anticipated, which is going to help him,” Brundage said. “I think offensively, he’s learning every day. Whether he’s an All-Star in someone’s mind or not, in my mind he is, but that’s Triple-A and I’m more concerned he’s learning the game every day because he has a lot on his plate. He’s going to make mistakes and revert back to the 20-year-old he is, but he’s going to have a season of Triple-A under his belt and that’s only going to help.”