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Free Freddie Freeman

“Freddie Freeman looks stiff. Freddie Freeman looks uncoordinated. Freedie Freeman looks awkward. Freddie Freeman can still hit.” Jason Grey, ESPN.com

It seems that there are few reasons to poo-poo Freddie Freeman‘s minor league record. He usually walked at an average rate (7.6% overall), never struck out in as many as 20% of his at-bats, and the only time he hit below .300 above rookie ball he had a terrible BABIP, especially for the minor leagues (.263). As a bonus, Freeman was always young for his league. That .896 OPS he just hung on Triple-A? He was 20.

But watch him play, and some doubt creeps in. The word stiff does come to mind. Then you look at his isolated power as he progressed through the minor leagues (.112, .206, .145, .094, .200 in order), and you wonder a little how much boom his stick will have – especially given his position. Last but now least, you might realize that the Braves just traded for another infielder, and counting Freeman now have five. You might get a little nervous.

In the end, his 2009 season may teach us more about Freeman than his excellent 2010 season at Triple-A. At 19 years old, he showed he could handle High-A, and his .145 ISO, paired with a 16.1% strikeout rate, was good enough to promote him to Double-A. There, the average age was 24.4, and perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Freeman struggled some against players five years older. Sure, his slugging plummeted to middle infielder levels, but the league-wide slugging percentage in the Southern league that year was .380, so it wasn’t the most slugger-friendly of leagues. Bryan Smith rated it as perhaps a touch pitcher-friendly when he showed that the league-wide ISO was .127.

2010 did happen. He put up a .200 ISO in a league where the average was .147, and Justin Inaz at The Hardball Times did not have the International League as a particularly hitter-friendly. What we can see is that there’s a chance that Freeman struggles at first when he gets to the majors next year, as he struggled when he first got to Double-A. He’ll be seven-and-a-half years younger than average when he joins the Braves, and the leap from the minors to the majors is similar to the leap from High-A to Double-A.

Eventually, he should get it right. That’s what he’s always done, and no matter how stiff and uncoordinated he looks, he can hit. But fantasy owners looking for a 2011 sleeper in a re-draft league may want to hold on to some of their skepticism. It may not happen right away, and the Braves do have a beefy glove-second second baseman with first-baseman-type power now. They have options and they may have to use them before the year is through.