Memphis Redbirds Player of the Year: 2008

Third baseman David Freese is our Scout.com Player of the Year for the 2008 Memphis Redbirds of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.

I don't have to, but to be true to myself, I am going to admit it right up front. Reinforced by several Birdhouse staffers, I was all set to name someone other than third baseman David Freese as our Memphis Redbirds Player of the Year for 2008 when sitting down to my keyboard to start this article.

 

After all, outfielder Nick Stavinoha had a tremendous season. The right-handed hitter was the club's sole representative on the Pacific Coast League All-Star Team, both at mid-season and afterward. He had three different stints in the major leagues.

 

The 25-year-old finished fifth in the PCL in batting average (.337), yet he didn't rank in the top 20 in slugging (.518) nor in the top 35 in on-base percentage (.366). In aggregate, his on-base-plus slugging percentage of .884 didn't register in the top 25 in the PCL.

 

In the process, I kept noticing another name, ahead of Stavi on every one of those lists except batting average. Though he totaled 37 more at-bats at the level compared to Nick, this hitter also collected six more doubles, ten more home runs and 17 more RBI.

 

David Freese hit 26 home runs and drove in 91, both second in the entire Cardinals system after teammate Josh Phelps. In summer heat of the second-half of the season, Freese really warmed up, hitting .351 with 13 home runs after July 1. He finished 2008 with a line of .306/.361/.550 (BA/OBP/SLG). His OPS of .911 was second-best in the Cardinals organization.

 

With adequate time to rectify my almost-error, I hereby name Freese as our Scout.com Memphis Redbirds Player of the Year for 2008.

 

For me, this should have been a natural, as against considerable opposition, I hopped onto the Freese bandwagon immediately upon his addition to the Cardinals organization last December 15.

 

Blocked in the San Diego Padres organization by Kevin Kouzmanoff and Chase Headley, Freese was freed in the trade for Jim Edmonds. Yet, there were questions about a then-24-year-old that had excelled – but only at the A-Advanced level.

 

These questions were not only about his abilities, but why he should be considered ahead of incumbent organizational third baseman Allen Craig, who already had a bit of Double-A experience.

 

Here is what I said back on Christmas Eve, 2007 as I was the only one of our four voters to place Freese substantially ahead of Craig in our 2008 Top Cardinals Prospects List (#11a vs. #18 in my personal ranking).

 

"Since Craig hasn't yet appeared in this countdown, all I will say now is that I am in the minority among our four voters. Through Craig is a year younger, he and Freese were taken just 17 picks apart in the eighth and ninth rounds of the 2006 draft. Freese's defense (according to coaches, the best at his position in the California League last season) puts him ahead of Craig on my list.

 

"Offensively, Freese drove in 96 runs last season (in 2007), which would have led the entire Cardinals minor league system by six RBIs. He scored 103 times, ten more than any other Cardinals farmhand, including Colby Rasmus. Some discount Freese's figures because of the reputation of the California League as a hitters' haven.

 

"I don't buy it, as Freese posted a .510 SLG in the Midwest League in 2006. The same year in the same league against the same pitching staffs, Rasmus slugged .512 and was pretty much everyone's player of the year in the Cardinals system. Colby is much younger and is a special talent, but it is clear that Freese can hit," I asserted at the time.

 

I think that still looks pretty darned accurate today. The only difference is that many more are agreeing with me now after seeing a year of Freese on the field.

 

Originally selected in the ninth round of the 2006 MLB Draft from the University of South Alabama, Freese still found himself stuck behind others in the pecking order at the end of Memphis' season. He was not added to the Cardinals' 40-man roster and not brought up to St. Louis in September despite his Triple-A contributions.

 

Instead of his year ending, Freese seemed an ideal candidate for winter ball. Yet because 2008 first-rounder Brett Wallace was sent to the premier prospect showcase, the Arizona Fall League, there was no room there for another Cardinals third baseman. As a result, just this past week, Freese began play in the Venezuelan Winter League.

 

With St. Louis' incumbent third baseman Troy Glaus eligible for free agency after the 2009 campaign, it will be very interesting to see if David Freese continues to be underestimated or will further step forward next season despite the presence of these other solid third basemen-competitors in Craig and Wallace.

 

I am liking Freese's chances.

 

The Birdhouse, stlcardinals.scout.com, congratulates David Freese on his selection as Memphis Redbirds Player of the Year for 2008.

 

 

Other top Memphis hitting performances

 

As noted above, first baseman Josh Phelps paced the Redbirds offense this season in doubles (31, tied with Jarrett Hoffpauir), home runs (31), RBI (97), and was second in both slugging (.568) and OPS (.941). Though the 30-year-old is not the prospect Freese is, he was still rewarded with a September call-up. Phelps was removed from the 40-man roster after the season and will likely become a free agent.

 

First baseman-outfielder Joe Mather seemed on his way to making a decent impact in the majors before a season-ending wrist injury. With Memphis, he paced the strong-hitting club in both slugging (.583) and OPS (1.041).

 

The keystone combination of Hoffpauir and Brian Barden batted .273 and .285, respectively. Barden snagged an invitation to Team USA and returned to the major leagues in September, where he went 2-for-9 (.222) in very limited action.

 

Top catching prospect Bryan Anderson was in a comparable place as Freese. Not yet required to be placed on the 40-man meant his season ended with Memphis'. Promoted from Springfield at the end of April after hitting .388 there to start the year, Anderson made the Futures Game roster, but spent too much time on the pines in Triple-A behind 33-year-old journeyman Mark Johnson to my liking. The 21-year-old hit .281 in 235 Memphis at-bats. With no future in St. Louis, Johnson and Phelps still received the September call-ups that I would like to have seen go to legitimate prospects Freese and Anderson instead.

 

 

Master article with all 2008 Scout.com Cardinals Minor League Players of the Year and the schedule for daily announcements: link. (This link is also permanently located at the lower left of The Birdhouse home page.)

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net

 

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