Report on David Freese
David Freese opens spring training as the favorite to win the third base job in St. Louis. He hasn't received much attention as a prospect on a national basis, but I get questions about him and he could sneak up on people who aren't paying close attention this year. Let's take a look at the background and prospect status of this intriguing rookie.
David Freese was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round in 2006, from the University of South Alabama. He was very successful in college, but was already 23 on draft day, which hurt his stock with scouts. He hit .379/.465/.776 in 18 games for Eugene in the Northwest League after signing, earning a promotion to full-season Class A Fort Wayne quickly, where he hit .299/.374/.510 in 53 games. Promoted to Lake Elsinore in the California League for '07, Freese continued to hit well with a .302/.400/.489 mark. He was traded to the Cardinals in the Jim Edmonds deal, and St. Louis (noting his age) skipped him past Double-A for '08, sending him to Triple-A Memphis. He responded with a robust .306/.361/.550 mark. Freese made the major league roster last spring, but got off to a slow start (3-for-19) and was sent back to Triple-A at the end of April. He continued to bash the ball down there (.300/.369/.525), but was limited to just 64 games by an ankle injury. He returned to the majors in September, and finished the year hot (7-for-12), giving him a .323/.353/.484 line in 17 games overall.
TRADITIONAL SCOUTING REPORT
Freese is a right-handed hitter and thrower, listed at 6-2, 220 pounds, born April 28, 1983. His best physical tool is power, and he can show it to all fields. Although he's not a huge walk machine, he usually shows a decent feel for the strike zone. He has some weakness against curveballs and changeups, but usually handles fastballs and sliders well. He's shown a knack for hitting for average, keeping his batting averages right around .300 at every level, and is less pull-oriented than many sluggers with is body type. His running speed is below average, but he shows decent instincts on the bases and is fundamentally sound.
On defense, he features a strong throwing arm. His range at third base is solid but not spectacular, but in the minors at least his defense has been better than scouts expected when he was drafted. I think he'll be able to remain at third base defensively. His makeup was well-regarded in the past, though a DUI arrest this past winter has led to some questions about his maturity. The Cardinals seem pleased with his progress in regards to his personal life this spring and don't seem to regard the DUI as a long-term issue.
Freese's MLEs the last two years at Memphis mark him as approximately a .260/.330/.440 hitter. This is in line with the numbers shown by various projection systems (CHONE .269/.335/.442, Marcel .280/.347/.440, ZIPS .265/.326/.429). Given Freese's age (27), it is unlikely that he has a lot of growth potential left in his bat. However, a third baseman with a solid glove who can hit between .260 and .280 with 15-20 homers has value, both in the fantasy context and in real life baseball. If he lives up to this potential and other, more-heralded rookies falter, Freese will receive Rookie of the Year considerationl. To me, the main risk is a slow start. The Cardinals weren't very patient with him last April, and if he gets off to another sluggish beginning in '10 they might look at other options.
FANTASY INVESTMENT VALUE
Freese has nothing left to prove in the minors and barring injury or a massive spring disaster, he's the favorite to open up at the hot corner for St. Louis. He's a bit under-the-radar as prospects go, but he's attractive as a cheap fantasy play for third base. Although his age limits his long-term upside, I think there's a decent chance he'll be an effective player for the next few years.
Article first appeared 3/12/10