• Exclusives

    Freddie Freeman: The next McGriff… or just a gap hitter?

    By Kent Covington

    1B Freddie Freeman has 6 homers in his last 18 at-bats

    Prior to the 2011 season, many MLB commentators and Braves bloggers told us what to expect from Freddie Freeman: A Mark Grace-type gap hitter with soft hands at first base. Defensively, they said, infielders will be happy to have him receiving throws at 1B. While, offensively, we should look for 15 homers–or so–per season, at best, with solid “doubles power”.

    They were half right.

    Braves’ infielders are indeed happy to have Freddie pickin’ it at first base. They were correct on that point. But that part about topping out at 15 homers per season… yeah, not so much.

    In his 2011 rookie campaign, the twenty-one year old Freeman belted 21 homeruns for the Braves. He added 77 RBI and 33 doubles, along with a .282 avg and a .346 on-base percentage. Those numbers were the reason he finished second only to teammate, Craig Kimbrel, in the Rookie of the Year balloting.

    But hey… while 21 is a nice homerun total, it’s not exactly like he was challenging Dan Uggla for the team lead in that category, right?

    Right. Hitting 21 round-trippers in your rookie season does not make you Atlanta’s next Fred McGriff.  BUT possessing the strength of an ox, power to all fields and a talent for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball… very well could.

    Prior to last season, while most of the talk surrounding Freeman referred to him as a slick-fielding gap hitter, I was hearing something quite contrary to the popular narrative. Speaking to Braves minor league broadcasters, who saw him play on a regular basis, I was told “No way is this kid just a gap hitter! He’s hit some mammoth shots down here. He is a seriously strong kid, who is going to develop into a power hitter at the big league level“.

    I quickly realized where they were coming from.

    Freeman has a power frame at 6’5”, 225lbs, but being strong, in and of itself, isn’t enough to make you a power threat in MLB. There are a lot of strong hitters in professional baseball who lack the skill to make use of that power. Just as a 95mph fastball is useless if you can’t locate it, homerun power is worthless if you can’t put the fat part of the bat on the baseball. But fortunately for Freeman and the Braves, he does have the skill needed to make use of that power.

    Freddie has put his power on display,  hitting some relatively long homeruns, both at the minor and big league levels. However, it isn’t his total number of homeruns or the distance they travel that makes me think he will be a legit Major League slugger for years to come. It’s his aforementioned power to all fields that has me sold.

    On Wednesday, Freeman went deep against Yankees pitching after back-to-back two-homer games on Sunday and Tuesday. Of the 5 homers he’s cranked in his last 3 games, two were hit to left field, one to left-center, one to center field and one to right field. Here’s a link to the video of Freeman’s second homerun in Wednesday’s game (we’d post the video itself on this page if MLB would let us).

    I can’t think of single 15-homer per year type of hitter who can take the ball out of any part of the ballpark with such ease. Can you?

    Yesterday I spoke via Twitter with a great fellow Braves commentator and all-around good guy, Kevin Norris of the Capital Avenue Club blog about Freeman. He’s not convinced that Freeman will ever be much of a power hitter in the big leagues. He predicts a dropoff in Freeman’s homerun production this year. I, on the other hand, expect Freddie to go yard at least 25 times this season. So we now have a friendly wager: 25 homers or more from the Braves’ first basemen, and Mr. Norris owes me a BBQ sandwich and beverage of choice at The Ted. Anything less than that total, and I’ll picking up the tab.

    My guess… there will soon be a BBQ sandwich with may name on it.

    By the way, we talked with BravesWire scribe, Bud Ellis, about Chipper’s retirement on our most recent Southern Fried Baseball podcast. You can hear it here.

    Also, before you go, check out the Lineup Card on the BravesWire homepage with headlines from over a dozen Braves news/opinion sources.