Unlike fellow first base sleeper Mitch Moreland, Freddie Freeman has been a guy scouts raved about his whole minor league career. In 2007, the Braves thought so highly of the kid they drafted him out of high school with their 2nd round pick. Heading into the 2009 season, Freeman made an appearance on Baseball America's top prospects list, coming in at 87, and by 2010 he had improved his stock to the point of being ranked the 32nd prospect in baseball. The Braves are excited about what the 21-year old can contribute, and with seemingly no other viable options they are handing him the keys, so to speak, and giving him the green light to start at first base.
Freeman, a 6-foot-5 lefty, has done a lot in his short minor league career to contribute to the hype. In 2008, his first full season of professional ball with the Class-A Rome Braves, Freeman batted .316/.378/.521 with 18 homers, and followed this up in '09 with the High-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans by blasting 6 round trippers with a .302 batting average in 255 at-bats, earning him a promotion to AA. Freeman struggled at AA as a 19-year old, but nonetheless the Braves were willing to give him the promotion to AAA last year and everything worked out.
In 124 games, Freeman hit .319/.378/.521 (almost exactly identical to his '08 line and in line with his overall numbers to this point) with 18 home runs and 35 doubles for AAA Gwinnett. After his strong showing at AAA at just 20 years old and following the departure of Troy Glaus, the Braves made Freeman their starting first baseman to see what he contribute at the big league level. With a lineup full of studs like Jason Heyward, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla, and Martin Prado, it looks like Freeman will have a better than adequate supporting cast to not only protect him in the lineup but to boost his production.
As a September call-up last year, Freeman struggled to the tune of a .167 batting average with a single home run in 24 at-bats. His plate discipline showed need of improvement as well, as he managed no walks to 8 strikeouts. At his young age, it is important to remember that Freeman is still by all means a work in progress, and like any developing player he will go through his growing pains. Still, his upside is worth the risk with an ADP of 228, and he makes for an excellent bargain in NL-only leagues. Because he is a raw product and showed trouble making contact with big league pitching last year, I would advise holding off from drafting him in mixed-leagues until he shows real production as there are safer and equally cheap options out there (James Loney: ADP 217, Ike Davis: ADP 212). Still, as a very late draft pickup or an in-season waiver wire add, there is real potential here for Freeman to establish himself as one of the very good up-and-coming players in the league.
2011 projected stats: .277 AVG, 15 HR, 78 RBI, 66 runs