One storyline I’ll be watching closely in Spring Training and throughout the 2009 is how former Wizard infielder, David Freese, develops and when/if he cracks the St. Louis Cardinals lineup.
He was originally drafted in the ninth round of the 2006 amateur entry draft by San Diego with the 273rd overall pick. He went right to work, hitting .379 with five home runs and 26 runs batted in over 58 at-bats at Eugene before joining the Wizards 53 games in 2006. During that stint, Freese hit .299 with eight home runs and 43 runs batted in and drawing 21 walks in 204 at-bats. The following season, he produced similar numbers over the full season at High-A Lake Elsinore, and even inched his on base percentage up over .400.
Then, in December 2007, the Padres traded Freese to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for Jim Edmonds. As Edmonds floundered with the Padres, was released and ultimately put in a solid year with the Chicago Cubs, the Cards put Freese at Triple-A Memphis, where he started turning heads with his outstanding production – especially considering he had never played about A ball before the season began.
In 2008, with the Memphis Redbirds, Freese hit .306 with a .361 OBP. He also clubbed 26 home runs while driving in 91 and walking 39 times over 464 at-bats in 131 games. Not too shabby.
Given that production, the question on many observers’ minds is not whether Freese will play with the parent club in 2009, but it he will be on the Opening Day roster. Obviously, how he performs at Spring Training will have a lot to do with the answer to that, but there are other variables that we must consider. For one, Troy Glaus is already the incumbent third baseman and probably still has a lock on the spot for now – although he is injured and will miss some time to begin the season.
But the second wrinkle is the fact that Freese has some stiff competition. He’s not the only hot prospect at the corner. He’s not even one of two; he’s one of three!
The Cardinals have three third-base prospects in the upper levels of the Minor Leagues: David Freese, Brett Wallace and Allen Craig. They’re all pushing hard, and it’s extremely difficult to envision a 2010 Cardinals club that doesn’t include at least one of them. That’s especially true if it’s the difference between, say, Wallace at the Major League minimum and Glaus at eight figures per year [mlb.com].
Odd are, Freese will get some playing time at another position, maybe first, while the Wallace and Craig may also get tryouts in other spots too. Either way, Glaus’s injury can’t be good news for him with these three breathing down his neck.
In fact, the reason I write this post now is more in response to Glaus’s injury than Freese’s emergence. I think most observers have been quietly monitoring this situation. However, when news of Glaus’s surgery and the fact that he’ll miss 12 weeks came out, Freese’s name started popping up with a much greater frequency than it had been.
A sample of what many are saying shows a mixed opinion on who will get the nod:
- I think Freese will be a very good MLB third basemen, but he’s not quite my pick. ~ The Bid Dead Sidebar
- David Freese, 26, might get an extended audition a year early as a result of Glaus’ surgery… ~ OCregister
- David Freese, who hit well at AAA last season, will be given all the chances to show he can replace Glaus. ~ Reilly Mcshane @ BuzzNewsRoom
- David Freese has the inside track on the job (for all you, NL-only guys), but top prospect Brett Wallace is the guy to watch ~ Fantasy Ball Junkie
- David Freese seems like a much better option as he showed great skills in AAA last year with 26 homers, 5 steals and a .306 batting average. ~ Roto Savants
The St. Louis Register seems to be on board with Freese too:
Well, David Freese figures to get the first shot to fill the void. It seems that it’s his turn. Freese isn’t a baby. He’s 26. He’s more mature than other prospects. The Cardinals coveted him when the traded Edmonds to San Diego last winter; they agreed to pay $1 million more of Jimmy Baseball’s salary so they could get Freese instead of another, lesser prospect being dangled by the Padres. And Freese, the hometowner, responded to his move to the Cardinals organization by making the jump from high Class A to Class AAA and batting .306 with 26 homers and 91 RBIs for Memphis. He made only 10 errors at 3B and impressed the Cardinals with his defense. If Freese isn’t given the opportunity to run with this job until Glaus returns, then I must ask: what was the point of the trade?
What more would Mister Freese have to do to earn a shot? If he has an awful spring, then that’s a different matter. But what if he goes to Jupiter and hits well, and fields crisply? He deserves the chance. The Cardinals have made a priority of player development, and they have pitched the concept aggressively to their fan base. If they leave Freese standing on the side now, when there is a clear need for his skill set at the major-league level, then this PR campaign over player development will be exposed for what it is. Mostly talk. I don’t care where the Cardinals’ farm system is ranked by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus or ESPN. If a player who has put up those kind of numbers in his first AAA season can’t get a shot when the big-league club has an emergency, then the joke is on us. Which reminds me: I complained at the time, and I will repeat it now: Freese should have been called up to STL last September. The experience would have been valuable to him. Think of the jump-start he would have gotten by playing some games in the bigs late in 2008. Freese has work to do. He must improve his plate discipline and ratchet up his walk rate to have a fighting chance for quick big-league success. I wish him well.
You might also find this synopsis of one of Freese’s interviews interesting.
What do you think? Will Freese break the starting lineup out of Spring Training? Comment on this post!