Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman is having a great spring. Yet this is only the opening act for what will be a breakout year for the four year veteran.
Drafted out of El Modena High School (in Orange County, California) in the 2nd round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft, Freeman was a highly-regarded prospect. During his rookie campaign of 2011 he finished second in Rookie of the Year voting; the award went to teammate Craig Kimbrel. That year, Freeman hit .282 and had a wOBA of .342–very good for a rookie and well above league average.
Freeman had some minor struggles defensively having six errors in 146 games at first; a ‘feat’ he doubled in 2012 despite playing nearly 100 innings less.
Defense wasn’t the only aspect of Freeman’s game that dropped last season. His batting average slipped to a pedestrian .259 and there was a slight dip in his wOBA. On the flip side, Freeman did raise his ISO from .166 to .196 with just 15 fewer plate appearances.
As of March 23rd, Freeman is leading the way offensively for the Braves. Having the most at-bats on the team, he’s hitting .348 and leads the Braves in runs, home runs, and OPS. Looking closer at the type of pitching he’s faced, he is seeing pitching fairly lower than the level of he’ll see on a daily basis once the season starts.
Obviously that means Freeman’s performance will ultimately regress, but I’m willing to bet it won’t fall far.
Freeman has the sophomore slump out of his system. His O-Swing percentage is trending downwards, and he’s taking more cuts on pitches in the strike zone all the while lowering his K rate. He’s displaying more patience during his at-bats–resulting in better pitches to hit–as well as making better contact. That patience should help lower his swinging strike (or whiff) rate which has set at roughly 11.5% the past two seasons.
Look for Freeman to hit above .300, approach 30 home runs, and I expect his OPS to be near .900. Depending on where Freeman hits in the lineup, the type of at-bats I’m betting he’ll provide could help Atlanta become the most potent offense in the league.
And they’ll need that type of offense if they hope to overtake the defending National League East champion Washington Nationals.