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A primer before Freddie Freeman’s arrival


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Atlanta Braves

A primer before Freddie Freeman's arrival

3:10 pm August 30, 2010, by David O'Brien

3067491975_dba1100ee51.jpg Housemates Freeman and Heyward could become Braves middle-order fixtures.

By now most of you probably know that first baseman Freddie Freeman is the Braves' top position-player prospect (rated No. 20 in Baseball America's midseason prospect list), and that he projects tp be very good hitter.

DSC_2324-212x300.jpg Freddie's smooth stroke should be on display at Turner Field a bit in September, before he takes over 1B in 2011.

You probably know he's had a terrific season at Triple-A Gwinnett — batting .319 with 35 doubles, 18 homers, 87 RBIs, a .379 OBP and a .902 OPS in 123 games — and is going to be one of the Braves' September callups.

He's likely to join the big club on Wednesday, and regardless of his role the rest of the season, he's expected to be the Opening Day first baseman in 2011.

Some of you might also know he's been the youngest player in the International League most of the season, that he lives in Jason Heyward's house now, and that the two close friends roomed together as teammates in the minors in past years.

But how many know that Freeman, who doesn't turn 21 until Sept. 12, is regarded as an exceptional defensive first baseman? In the annual "Best Tools" issue of Baseball America, he was named the best defensive first baseman in the International League.

"It's great as a pitcher, having a guy like him at first base," said Triple-A closer closer Craig Kimbrel, who's had three stints with the major league Braves this season and spent the rest of the year at Gwinnett.

"He's going to make that play, you know? He does everything well [defensively]. And what's good is, he works at it. He tries to keep getting better."

Kimbrel has been teammates with Freeman for parts of the past three seasons in the minors, at Single-A Rome, high-A Myrtle Beach, Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett. He's seen Freeman, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound left-handed hitter/right-handed thrower, make adjustments and thrive at every level.

Kimbrel has no doubts about Freeman's major league future. He believes, as do the Braves, that the guy is going to be big-time player.

"I wouldn't say right off the bat," Kimbrel said. "Like this year, it might take him a minute to adjust. But once he adjusts and gets comfortable, I feel like he's going to take off."

Freeman struggled mightily in May during his first season in Triple-A, then posted a .923 OPS in June and never looked back. He's put up steady, sometimes sensational weeks ever since then, and last week had a 5-for-5 game.

He's patient like his roommate, with whom Freeman talks hitting all the time. They used to have competitions in the minors, to see who could get on base the most, drive in the most runs, etc.

Freeman, a second-round draft pick in 2007 as a California high schooler, hit .316 with 18 homers and an .899 OPS in 130 games in 2008 for Rome in his first full season of minor league work. This was Freeman in the Arizona Fall League in 2009; he'll be back in the AFL this fall.

He was slowed by a hand injury for a big part of the 2009 season and saw his numbers dip to eight homers, 58 RBIs and a .771 OPS in 111 games at Myrtle Beach and Mississippi (while hitting .282).

But any questions about Freeman's power (the Braves said they never had any at all) were answered this year with his big season in Triple-A.

Heyward said he wasn't the least bit surprised by Freeman's power numbers at Gwinnett.

"I've played with him for I don't know how many years, three years as a teammate and I've seen him play before that," Heyward said. "He's always hit home runs."

Has Heyward been excited to see Freeman's performance and ascent up the prospect chart?

"I always want to see my friends do well," said Heyward.

Soon, the roomies will be able to share a ride to the ballpark again.

Prado, Cox also get high marks: The Braves didn't have a lot of representation in the major league portion of BA's "best tools" issue, which perhaps underscores the contention of their players that this isn't a team of stars.

The exceptions were Cox, rated the best manager in the NL; Derrek Lee, rated the third-best defensive first baseman, and Martin Prado, who went from utility player to All-Star second baseman in 12 months, and is now rated the third-best hitter in the NL behind Albert Pujols and Joey Votto. Prado is also rated the third-best hit-and-run artist and second-best defensive second baseman (he's played 3B since returning from DL).

Let me repeat: Prado, according to Baseball America's survey of major league managers, is the third-best overall hitter in the league behind MVP and Triple Crown candidates Pujols and Votto.

This was Prado's response when I informed him on Sunday.

"Oh, really? Good," he said. "That's nice. All the managers vote for that?"

Prado contends that he doesn't see himself in the same light as the superstars of the game, that he's just a blue-collar guy who comes to the ballpark, does his job, and cares only about one stat – wins.

But you could tell that being included in the same sentence with one of his heroes, Pujols, made him feel good.

When I told him, Prado was busy rubbing some sort of oily cream on his right pinkie, which is still swollen and ugly where he broke it a month ago, the top part of the finger points a bit to the outside, sort of like one of those photos you see of old NFL lineman, though not as extreme.

He told me in Colorado, after that tomahawk-style homer he hit on a pitch up near his neck, that the finger didn't hurt much when he hit high pitches, but bit when he hit other pitches.

I asked him Sunday if that were still the case.

"I don't know," he said. "Sometimes it feels warm, sometimes it stings. That's the way it's going to be until [the offseason]."

BRAVES LINEUP for Monday vs. Mets

1. Infante 2B

2. Heyward RF

3. Prado 3B

4. Lee 1B

5. McCann C

6. Diaz LF

7. Gonzalez SS

8. Cabrera CF

9. Jurrjens RH

The comeback kids: After staging their improbable 7-6 comeback win on Sunday, capped by Brian McCann's game-ending homer (on a call reversed after umps consulted the TV replay), the Braves are 23-12 in games decided in final at-bat.

They were 19-18 in such games in 2009. (No other team has more than 20 fina at-bat wins this season.)

Atlanta is 29-34 when the opponent scores first, after going 22-49 in those situations a year ago.

The Braves have won six games when trailing after eight innings, one more than they won in the 2009 season.

"I don't know," manager Bobby Cox said, when asked about the Braves' late-innings magic, particularly in home games.

"The bullpen keeps you close in the game, to make those comebacks. That's one of the reasons," he said. "And we have a strong bench. You've got to remember, [Omar] Infante started on the bench, as well as [Eric] Hinske. They've been key players for us."

Four days after their epic meltdown in Colorado, where they blew a 10-1 lead and lost 12-10, the Braves showed Sunday that their late-innings mojo hasn't run out, especially at Turner Field.

"That's the way we've been doing all year," McCann said. "We don't quit. We just don't. It shows you what kind of guys we have in this clubhouse."

Keep in mind, the Braves have the best home record in the majors (46-18), and the National League has home-field advantage in the World Series. Whichever NL team wins the pennant, they can thank McCann for that home-field advantage.

He earned it for the NL representative by delivering his game-winning three-run double in the All-Star Game, which also earned him the game's MVP award.

August reversal: The Braves are 4-6 with a 5.55 ERA, .266 team batting average, 63 runs and 15 homers in their past 10 games. This after going 12-5 with a 1.93 ERA, .248 BA and 77 R in their first 17 August games.

Meanwhile, the power-laden Phillies are 5-6 with a 2.56 ERA and just a .195 team BA in past 11 games, during which they've scored 28 runs. They outscored the Padres 11-4 over the weekend to win three consecutive games in San Diego.

As for that power-laden lineup, the Phillies hit two homers Sunday for their first multi-homer game since Aug. 18. That's astounding to me, even with the injuries they've had.

And then there are the Mets, who arrive tonight for a three-game series with the Bravos at Turner Field.

The Mets are 24-25 with a .234 team batting average and solid 3.56 ERA over their past 59 games, and here's the stat that I found hard to believe: They have won back-to-backi games just once in that 59-game stretch since June 24.

The Phillies (2.93) and Braves (3.23) have the best ERAs in the NL in August, and the Mets (3.24) are third.

Heyward has accounted for nearly half of the homers by Braves outfielders, who rank second-to-last in the NL in that category.

Low HRs in OF, high at PH and C: Among NL teams, only Mets outfielders (30) have hit fewer homers than Braves outfielders (33), and only Padres outfielders have hit for a lower average and lower slugging percentage than Braves OFs (.248/.391).

Nearly half of the Braves' total has come from rookie Jason Heyward, who went a long time without one while his thumb was aching. Heyward has 15 homers, while Matt Diaz is the only other Brave with more than four homers as an outfielder.

Diaz has six homers in 153 at-bats as an outfielder, and hit a very big two-run homer in the ninth inning Sunday as a pinch-hitter.

The Braves are tied with the Reds for the NL lead with eight homers from pinch-hitters, including three from Brooks Conrad, who has 12 of the Braves' league-leading 37 RBIs from pinch-hitters.

Meanwhile, McCann and David Ross have given the Braves' league-leading production from the catching position, where Atlanta has a league-highs of .383 OBP and .457 slugging, and its 18 homers trail only Colorado's 19 from catchers.

♣ OK, gotta get to the ballpark. For those interested, here's a link to our long-form interview done last night with the knowledgeable fellas at Atlanta Baseball Talk: http://www.atlantaba...talk.com/?p=284

If you're an Americana/rootsy/country-rock fan, check out the soon-to-be-released Justin Townes Earle album Harlem River Blues, right here.

Oh, and I picked up excellent new CDs by the Eels and Chrissie Hynde, the Pretenders' head lady whose new album Fidelity is with a new band and Welsh singer-songwriter JP Jones. It's a great album. If you like Chrissie, get it.

Let's close with this tune that I keep coming back to, the most perfect, melancholy song I've heard in some time, "If You Ever Get Famous" by The Duke and The King. Man, after I hear this I find myself singing it in my head

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It's also great that Freeman also kills lefties too. For most young left-handed batters it takes a few years before they become big time power threats against lefties. Freeman seems to be ahead of the game there.

I wouldn't say he kills lefties. For a guy his age he's got good numbers against them, but far from killing them.

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