Nate Freiman has power. That much cannot be debated. Last season in 581 plate appearances for the Padres in AA, Freiman hit 24 HR after hitting 22 in 2011 at High-A ball. However it would be unfair to the 6’8, 220 pound 26-year old to merely pigeon-hole him as a hulking power hitter.
Minute Maid Park. (Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports)
Last season Freiman batted .298 after hitting .294 and .288 in 2010 and 2011 respectively. With a strikeout rate of 16.4% last season, there are not too many concerns there for Freiman. His batting average also appears to be stable, and he does not have a problem driving in runs as he had 105 RBI last season. Statistically, Freiman’s 2012 campaign was a good one, but there has to be some cause for concern.
The Padres did not have a problem leaving him exposed in the Rule 5 draft, and although it raises some questions, it is hard to only protect 40 players and it is understandable how a 26-year old would not make the cut. Also you are allowed to be a little troubled by the fact that Freiman made it through the entire draft without another team picking him up. I am just going to chalk this up to the fact that the Rule 5 draft is tough because you have to commit to keeping the player on your team for the entire season. That is a luxury not every team can afford and they rather take a flier on an all or nothing player instead of someone like Freiman who might be nothing more than just a solid player.
After last season Freiman also took part in the Arizona Fall League which is a league where the competition is difficult and it is tough for some young players as they do not get much rest after their minor league season. In 79 at bats he only hit 1 HR, but he did drive in 14 runs and batted .266 which is not terrible. What is a good sign is that Freiman only struck out 12 times and walked 9 times so he still maintained a level of comfort at the plate.
Since the Astros kept a Rule 5 position player last season, Marwin Gonzalez, I am under the assumption that Freiman will be given every opportunity to win a job this spring. Obviously there is no risk involved to having drafted Freiman, as the Astros could sure use a right handed power bat as Brett Wallace and Carlos Pena are both left handed batters. It is telling of the Astros plan for Freiman that they have not, to this point, brought in a right handed hitting first base option. All signs are pointing to Freiman having a spot in Houston if he shows enough in Spring Training. To lend more credence to that point General Manager Jeff Lunhow recently told Brian McTaggart of Astros.com that “…if he hits the way we hope he will, he’ll work his way on the team.”
Jonathan Singleton starting the year suspended for 50 games certainly helps Freiman, as does the question marks surrounding current corner infielders Matt Dominquez and Wallace/Pena (Wallace can also play 3B and Pena will likely be the DH). That certainly leaves some at-bats for Freiman, and if he produces and someone else falters, those at-bats will likely be his for the taking. So that leaves one last question: What exactly can you expect from Freiman this season?
Unless something unexpected happens, I do not expect to see Freiman get more than about 400-450 at bats. You must keep in mind that with the Astros now in the American League, there will be a lot less pinch hitting opportunities than in years past. Also, I would expect there to be more of a learning curve for Freiman as the jump from AA to the major leagues is not something to take lightly. A .270 batting average with about 12-15 HR from the rookie seems reasonable to me. While a little more is possible, you must temper your expectations regardless of some flashes he might show. There is certainly some potential here and Freiman could become a pretty good major league player, but he does not seem to be a difference maker to me. Of course there is the possibility here that I am wrong, and that would be fine with me.