David Freese Prospect Retro
David Freese, hero of 2011 World Series Game Six, is a great topic for a Prospect Retrospective. Here is a look at his career and how he developed as a prospect.
Freese was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the ninth round in 2006, from the University of South Alabama. He was very successful as a college hitter, hitting .414/.503/.661 with 12 homers, 34 walks, and just 27 strikeouts in 239 at-bats that year. However, he was a senior and an old one at that, already 23 years old, so his draft stock was less than it might otherwise have been. Scouts were also unimpressed with his defense at third base and projected that he would need a new position, first base or possibly catcher.
The Padres began him with Eugene in the Northwest League, but he was so effective (.379/.465/.776) that he was promoted to the Midwest League after just 18 games. He continued to hit well for Fort Wayne, with a .299/.374/.510 mark in 53 games. Scouting reports about his bat were positive, but his defense at third base was considered substandard. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2007 Baseball Prospect Book, writing that "I really like his bat" but that it remained to be seen how he would fit on rosters at higher levels.
Freese spent all of 2007 with Lake Elsinore in the High-A California League, hitting .302/.400/.489 with 17 homers, 66 walks, and 99 strikeouts in 503 at-bats. Scouts remained impressed with his bat, noting above average power and good plate discipline. They also indicated he had a strong throwing arm, but continued doubts about his range and hands made some scouts project a move to first base. Additionally, he was a bit old for the California League at age 24. The Padres traded him to the Cardinals in December for Jim Edmonds. I gave him a Grade C+ again, writing that "if he hits in Double-A, the Cardinals will find a spot for him."
An excellent spring training in 2008 resulted in an assignment to Triple-A Memphis, skipping the Double-A level. He didn't have many problems adjusting, hitting .306/.361/.550 with 26 homers. His plate discipline slipped, with 39 walks and 111 strikeouts, and he had a few problems with breaking pitches and a swing that got long at times, but overall it was a fine season. Although some scouts continued to gripe about his defensive tools, he played very well with the glove, making just 10 errors while showing above average range statistically. The main problem was that he was now 26 years old. I gave him a Grade C+ again entering 2009 and wrote that he needed to get his plate discipline back to hit for average in the majors.
Freese hurt his ankle in 2009 and was limited to just 56 games in Triple-A. He hit well again, .300/.369/.525, and continued to show underrated defense, but was now 27 years old. Again, I gave him a Grade C+, projecting him as a .260-.270 hitter with 20 homer potential and a solid glove. I wrote "he's not going to be an exceptional player, but he should be a good one and under the right circumstances he can be a Rookie of the Year candidate."
Hampered by additional ankle problems and a hand injury, Freese has been limited to 70 games in the majors in 2010 and 97 in 2011, but he's performed well. In 184 major league games, he's hit .298/.354/.429 with 15 homers, 47 walks, and 141 strikeouts in 667 plate appearances, slightly over one season of play. He's shown less home run power than I expected, but a higher batting average and OBP, although everything is within the range you would expect from his minor league numbers. His career OPS+ is 116.
He has a career 4.4 WAR thus far in 184 games, which comes out to 3.9 WAR pro-rated over 162 games, and he's been an above-average defender at third base, the botched pop-up in Game Six aside.
Freese's Game Six heroics ensure him a place in baseball history, but he's been a valuable player during the regular season. His main problem as a prospect was age-relative-to-league, and it took awhile for his defensive reputation to catch up with the fact that his performance with the glove was quite good statistically.