Padres Prospect Interview: Nate Freiman

San Diego Padres prospect Nate Freiman led the Northwest League in RBI despite undergoing significant changes to his swing. He is still adapting to those changes and expects to be even better in 2010.

There have been some changes to your swing since you entered the system. One of the things that you have done is drop your hands five or six inches in your setup. How difficult is something like that to change?

Nate Freiman: The whole idea is to go from a metal bat swing to a wood bat swing. It has been a process. I was lucky to be in instructs with six different coaches that were experts on hitting. There were all kinds of constructive ideas and drills. It is starting to feel a lot more comfortable.

That six inches – what does that gain for you?

Nate Freiman: It just makes you quicker to the baseball, allows you to stay inside the ball and keep your body under control a little bit more. That is the first thing (manager Greg Riddoch) Rid told me in Eugene. It has been a whole process since then.

How tough is that to truly change when you have been doing something perhaps your whole life?

Nate Freiman: It is just something that you have to get comfortable with. I was hitting with my hands high during college for three years. You can't expect it to happen in a couple of weeks, but I trust what they are telling me. I am looking forward to getting better at it.

You led the Northwest League in RBI. What did that mean to you?

Nate Freiman: That was an interesting situation. I spent the whole summer hitting behind some of the best hitters in the league. I spent the whole year hitting behind Edinson Rincon and (Vince) Belnome – two of the best hitter's in the league. Everytime I came up, there was someone on second or third, bases loaded, or something. I have never hit with so many people on base before. It was a great situation. It was a function of the guys ahead of me.

We talked about dropping your hands. I know one of the things that Riddoch is not a proponent of is twirling the bat around before the pitch because your bat is in a different spot each time before the swing begins. Is that something you had to cut out as well?

Nate Freiman: That is another thing that I am trying to get rid of. I am cutting down the variables. Hitting is like a math problem – have the fewest amount of variables possible. That is one we are trying to get rid of.

Can you even tell when you are doing these things? Or is it like, ‘Really, I am still doing that?'

Nate Freiman: It is real interesting to watch video sometimes. "Wow, I can't believe I am doing that.' When the pitch is coming at you, you are not thinking about what your body is doing. You are thinking about what the ball is doing. Sometimes, when you see yourself on video, it is a real shock.

You had two streaks where you were on base in 19 games or more. That is a pretty impressive feat for a power hitter.

Nate Freiman: The walk really wasn't a part of my game until recently. It is a pitch selection thing. Not only is it pitch selection, it is about being confident that you can protect the plate. I didn't do a very good job of it in college. It is an important thing for the Padres to be able to take a walk. It is another thing I have been working on.

How do you redefine your own strike zone. You see a pitch that has been something you considered good before and now you have to revise that plan?

Nate Freiman: You just have to have the confidence to know that if you don't swing at a pitch there will be another pitch in that at-bat. Everyone talks about Bobby Abreu who has no problem taking a pitch right down the middle because he is confident that he can control the barrel and get another pitch to hit. A lot of times, people swing at bad pitches, including myself, because it is a confidence issue. You don't want to strikeout. You want to swing. You are not confident that you will get another pitch later in the at-bat. That is a big thing I am working on.

Has there been an adjustment to the fastballs inside. Sometimes you stride a little bit into the plate and that can handcuff you.

Nate Freiman: Everyone loves pitching taller guys inside because you have long arms, and it is tougher to get to that pitch. You have to be ready for it.

If you are not ready for it, don't swing at it. If you swing at it, you break your bat and you are out. They can paint a pitch inside but you will get a better one later in the at-bat.

It is tough to cover both sides of the plate at the same time. You want to look for a pitch – as you get deeper in the at-bat, you start covering more of the plate. The first, second pitch of the at-bat, you are looking for one pitch to drive. If it is not there, that is part of professional baseball. You learn to take it.

You stole two bases this past season. Are we going to make that a bigger part of the game?

Nate Freiman: In an effort for full disclosure, on one of them, the pitcher was in the full windup when I was on base. I figured that would be an opportune time to steal. The other time was when the first baseman decided to play behind me. I did get two.

It was personal pride. My feelings were hurt a little bit that they decided not to hold me on so I decided to steal second to show them. I was lucky enough that the catcher made a bad throw and I made it.

You were better against right-handed pitching than left-handers this year.

Nate Freiman: That is kind of a statistical anomaly. There are all kinds of reason for that. I really don't know how to put it. For a left-handed pitcher to be able to pitch in professional baseball, he really has to command. We faced some good pitchers. I am confident I will do better next year against left-handed pitchers than I did this year.

Besides the hitting, what else did you work on while you were out at instructs?

Nate Freiman: I was working on my defense. First base is a position that gets overlooked defensively. The focus is on hitting and hitting for power – production. Look at the best first basemen in the league – Mark Texeria, Albert Pujols – they are also some of the best defensive first basemen. It is becoming an important part of the game. Pujols set a record for assists this year. People don't want who makes errors over there. I worked with (Gary Jones) Jonesy and (Tony) Muser really hard everyday. I want to be the best first baseman I can be.

You did a lot of execution style drills during instructs. How important was it for you to run through those drills?

Nate Freiman: Especially being in a National League organization, situational hitting is a big part of coming up through an organization. In the American League, it has a rep of someone looking for a three-run homer. In the National League, it has a feel of small ball, getting people over, sacrificing. For the Padres, it is a very important part. Guys who are up in the big leagues, like David Eckstein, are up there because they are very good at situational hitting. They can move the guy over, hit situationally. You get 500 at-bats a year – maybe 50 of them you will have a specific job. You have to be ready to do it in those at-bats.

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