Prior to the 2010 season, the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system was ranked by a few publications “in the know” (including myself) as one of the five worst in all of Major League Baseball. The ranking was based mainly on the poor depth in the system. However, now in early May, the club could argue that it currently has the top rookie pitcher and second-best rookie hitter (Atlanta’s Jason Heyward being No. 1) in the National League. Dave Cameron recently took a look at left-handed starter Jaime Garcia so I’ll focus on third baseman David Freese, whom we ranked as the club’s eighth best prospect entering 2010.
Freese is no ordinary rookie. While most rookies tend to reach the Majors between the ages of 22 and 24, he’s already 27 years old. He’s not even really a late bloomer. The San Diego Padres organization nabbed Freese in the ninth round of the 2006 draft out of the University of South Alabama as a fifth-year senior. With a previous tour through a community college, the infielder was already 23 years old when he entered pro ball.
Here is a pre-draft scouting report on Freese from the draft experts at Baseball America:
…He has big-time raw power and mashes balls to all fields when he gets his arms extended. Freese’s approach is good; his defense at third base is not. He’ll probably have to play first base, though some scouts suggest he could catch. There, however, his arm strength and throwing motion could be problematic.
Freese did continue to hit well in the minors, as per his scouting report. His career minor-league line is .308/.384/.531 in just under 400 games. He even slugged 26 homers in ’08 at triple-A, and posted back-to-back 90 RBI seasons in ’07 and ’08. The third baseman looked poised to secure the third base job in St. Louis at the start of ’09 but his hopes were dashed by an injury.
So far this season, Freese is hitting .360/.404/.547 in 97 at-bats. He’s tied for fourth in the Majors with Andre Ethier of the Dodgers with a .360 average; he’s second in rookies to Austin Jackson‘s .376 average. Like the Tigers prospect, though, Freese has been aided by a very healthy BABIP at .438 (a trend that began in the minors). Unlike Jackson, the Cardinals prospect has a more reasonable strikeout rate at 23.3%, although still high.
Freese has also displayed signs of being a run producer with 19 RBI in 24 games. His power output has been modest to this point with three homers and a .186 ISO, but he does have seven doubles. Much of his power is to the opposite field, with a .429 ISO rate on balls to right field, compared to .130 to center and .186 to left. Freese is absolutely killing southpaws early on with a .500 average (11-for-22). He’s also enjoying his time at home with a wOBA of .568, compared to .271 on the road.
Defensively, Freese is still a work in progress. He’s an average defender at best, based on his historical scouting reports, and the early report from UZR is a respectable rating of 1.2 – although it’s too early to read too much into it.
If we look at Freese’s ZiPS updated projection, it has him producing a line of .294/.351/.460 with a highly-respectable .357 wOBA. By comparison, the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year, Chris Coghlan, had a .372 wOBA. It’s still quite early in the season but I’m willing to admit I may have been a little too cautious in my ranking of Freese. It will be interesting to see how his numbers look at the end of May.