Name: David Freese
DOB: April 28, 1983
The third baseman came into the system with little fanfare – a ninth round pick out of South Alabama. Yes, they have a baseball team.
"Freese has got power and he has always hit," Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development, said.
"Great pickup," Padres' minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk began. "Great job by the scouting there."
"That is a steal," 2006 Fort Wayne hitting coach Max Venable said. "Big time – the ninth round, are you kidding me? A steal."
He was shipped to the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League and lasted just three weeks before getting promoted.
In eight of his 18 games with the Emeralds, Freese collected two or more RBIs. He collected 13 extra base hits and hit .478 with runners in scoring position. He reached base safely in all but two games – and one of those came as a pinch hitter.
A nine-game hitting streak to open his career in the Midwest League gave him a 17-game hitting streak over two leagues, and he would reach base in 22 straight before a July 23 road game ended his stretch. The next game was the first of 10 straight games with a hit, a span that included 16 RBIs tallied with at least one RBI in nine of the 10 games.
He batted .324 with runners in scoring position for the Fort Wayne Wizards and hammered lefties at a .368 clip.
He ended his 53-game stretch with the Wizards hitting .299 and collected 37 extra base hits and 70 RBIs over 71 games in two leagues.
"David came in and was a big, big spark in the middle of our lineup, especially to protect Venable in that three-hole," 2006 Fort Wayne manager Randy Ready said. "He came up and had 40 RBIs in the 50 games he played. A mature kid and I think he definitely needed to be promoted out of the Northwest League. He played consistent baseball and contributed daily for us and played a nice third base. This kid – everyone is looking at this kid from every club and scouts are saying, ‘this kid is a prospect.'"
Quite the professional debut for a player that was an afterthought when the Padres selected third baseman Matt Antonelli in the first round.
Freese outshined nearly everyone in the system with his formidable bat.
"I don't want to go crazy about a first year guy – I like him," added Bryk. "He has a chance to be better than Headley but I am not going to say that yet. We will see. I think he is probably the same age as Headley, or close to it. Headley has played a little higher but with Freese you like what you see. He is the guy really a Jeff King old, gap hitter who hits the ball hard with power to the gaps. He is very steady defensive player who can also catch.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder has explosive hands and distributes his weight evenly through his at bat, coming forward with precision and generating tremendous power.
He has a low, crouching stance that allows him to keep his body aligned and his bat head through the hitting zone.
He is an aggressive hitter that didn't waste time in the box, swinging if he believed he could tattoo the ball. It led to more strikeouts and less walks but also an increase in production with men on base – confident in knowing the pitchers had to give him something to hit for fear of a big inning.
He went to the Padres' Instructional League with an "eye" on seeing more pitches. He ended up with 4.2 pitches per plate appearance but also went first pitch swinging nine times. It is, in essence, a part of his game that is tough to tame and no one wants to take away – but the increased walk totals would be a boon for a player with his power potential.
He has pull power and a nice balance of loft in his swing that won't get him in too much trouble. He will shoot outside pitches to right field but has a tendency to try and do too much with the ball, resulting in ground ball outs to shortstop.
"Initially he came in and swung the bat very well," said Venable. "He got in a little rut the latter part but still hanging in there. He started seeing a few more off-speed pitches and got frustrated but still hung in there well. You look at this kid and just say, 'he can play.' At third base, he picked it. A very confident player and very durable. You just throw him out there and let him play. I like him a lot."
While he won't ever be considered quick, Freese has good baserunning instincts and will take the extra base when it is warranted.
Originally diagnosed as a sub par fielder, Freese proved quite adept at the hot corner. While he does not have a cannon arm, he moves around the bag well, is sure footed and displays a nice combination of balance to get the ball off. He has softer hands than given credit for and picks the tough hops off the turf before setting himself for the throw.
"We liked David a lot," said Venable. "The guy is definitely a gamer in my mind. He played the heck out of third base."
All in all, the year was a tremendous success for Freese and he is seen as a player on the rise with unlimited potential.
"The thing that will separate him from Headley is his power," Bryk explained. "I think he has a chance to hit as good as Headley and he has a little more raw power. If he becomes more proficient with it he could pass him up."
ETA: Freese can benefit from the lack of a third baseman directly ahead of him on the depth chart, ending up in Lake Elsinore to begin 2007 while Chase Headley moves to Double-A San Antonio. His projectable power is the difference maker and could make him a valuable commodity by 2009.