Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Freddie Freeman -- More Junk for Your Trunk

While Jason Heyward got all the fanfare and the big fancy contract in 2007, Freddie Freeman put up some ho-hum stats in rookie ball, including a .671 OPS and 6 home runs in 232 plate appearances. Fast forward to 2008 and suddenly the 18 year old Freeman is holding his own with some of the best hitters in the SAL League, including Heyward, Michael Burgess, and a handful of guys in their mid-20's. I wasn't high on Freeman, but he's slowly changing my mind, and if he can continue to post the type of numbers we've seen from him in '08, Braves fans could soon be looking forward to the best pair of slugging prospects since Andruw and Chipper Jones.

I don't like to put too much thought into rookie ball numbers since they can be so erratic, but here's a quick look at some of the high and low points from Freeman's time in rookie ball last year.

232 PA/ 7 BB/ 33 SO/ .293 OBP/ .378 SLG

Like I said, not very impressive. But, as any good former Aflac All-American would do, Freddie put the past behind him, and moved up to A ball with a vengeance. The power and contact rates previously projected by scouts have begun to show up in almost every game, and Freeman's 6' 5", 220 pound frame is beginning to put up some very nice power numbers. In 356 plate appearances, Freddie has 12 home runs, 23 doubles, 4 triples, and a .300 average, while also posting a very appealing 13.2% K%. To give you an idea of how those numbers stack up against the A ball stats of some recent highly rated prospects, here's a helpful chart.

As a side note, Bruce and Rasmus were 19 years old during A ball, and Upton was 18. I threw in Heyward-- who is also 18 -- just as a side by side comparison.

If we expand Freeman's numbers out to 500 plate appearances, we end up with 17 home runs, and 37 doubles and triples. That puts his power numbers above Rasmus, Upton, and Heyward, and his K% places him at the top of the list. His BABIP isn't as high as I would like it to be, but he suffered from a .238 BABIP in June that has since bounced back up to .500 in July, so I'm not really concerned about that. In case some of you are out there thinking that perhaps Freeman is just another Cody Johnson, first consider that Johnson is 20 years old in A ball and has yet to post a K% lower than 27%.

If Freeman continues to put up numbers comparable to Bruce and Upton, he easily projects as a .270-.290 hitter early in his career, with 25-30 home runs, and a .300+ hitter in his prime with 35-40 home runs. As odd as it sounds, his offensive numbers compare very well to Cal Ripken Jr., and his ceiling could be almost as high as Justin Upton's.

As a word of warning, there is a chance that Freeman may at some point regress closer to his rookie ball numbers. I don't think it's likely, but it could happen. Also, while Freeman has hit .327 against righties, he has struggled against lefties, hitting only .197 with a .628 OPS. It's not uncommon for young hitters to post such lop-sided splits, but if he can't improve against lefties, he may be destined for platoon duties in the majors. If that happens, his likelihood of achieving superstar status drops dramatically, and he projects as an above average power hitter. Just by putting his high end and low end numbers together, I'd say he'll be a .275 hitter in his early 20's with 20-30 home runs, and a .290-.300 hitter in his prime with 35-40 home runs. Those are nice numbers, but we'll check back in a year or so and see how those lefty splits are looking.

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