Having the worst record in the MLB has its “perks”. The Astros get to draft #1 overall in the June draft, they have first priority in waiver claims, and the fans are spared from hearing ESPN announcers for Astros games (though at this rate I would take ESPN over nothing). Another “perk” for the Astros was drafting #1 in the Rule 5 draft. This year the Astros nabbed 27-year-old RP Josh Fields in the 1st round, and 26-year-old 1B Nate Freiman in the 2nd.
The Astros already have a few former Rule 5 draftees on their roster. “Veteran” Wesley Wright was a Rule 5 pick in 2007, and Rhiner Cruz was taken last year. This year, the Astros will hope both players can make positive contributions to the team. However, the Astros may not have room for one of their picks. Josh Fields is likely to stay on the team due to his 2.01 ERA over 58.1 innings last year in Boston’s farm system. The Astros bullpen has spots available, and Fields gives the Astros a good option late in the game. The problem concerns Nate Freiman.
Nate Freiman has been improving every year in the Minors. In his first full season at Fort Wayne, Freiman hit 14 homeruns as well as 43 doubles. Freiman’s .829 OPS showed his ability to both get on base, as well as his strong bat. Two years later in San Antonio he hit 24 homeruns and raised his OPS to an impressive .872. Freiman was a first baseman in the Padres system his whole career, and had a nifty .992 fielding percentage. The problem for Freiman is the logjam that is currently at first base and DH.
After the Astros took Freiman, it looked like he would be backing up Brett Wallace at first base, and he figured to get many at-bats at DH. However, the Astros have since made several other moves that leave Freiman’s role a bit foggy. The Astros signed veteran Carlos Pena, and they also traded for the big bat of Chris Carter. Between Wallace, Pena, Carter, and Freiman, the Astros will have plenty of options at first base and DH. The good news is that Wallace and Carter can play other positions on the field, though not as well as they can do at their natural position.
The Astros will have a tough choice this spring when it comes to Freiman. Will they hold onto the promising bat of Freiman, and hope to find him enough at bats between first and DH, or will they have to send him back to the Padres, and use that spot for a different position? That is one of the many questions that both Bo Porter and Jeff Luhnow will have to decide come opening day.