Name: Nate Freiman
DOB: December 31, 1986
An eighth-round pick by the Padres in 2009, Freiman hit the ground running in his short-season debut with the Eugene Emeralds.
"At Duke, we saw a big, lanky, physical guy that moved well, somewhat similar to Kyle Blanks," former Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He has monster power and if you were around at BP you could see some balls really fly. He does have some holes in his swing that need to be addressed, but (the Padres) are banking on his intelligence and how much he really wants to play the game."
The behemoth first baseman hit .294 with 33 extra-base hits – tops in the circuit – across 72 games in Northwest League play. He scored 36 runs and notched a league leading 68 RBI – 14 more than the closest competitor. The slugging first baseman hit .336 with runners in scoring position and was 7-for-13 with the bases loaded.
"Big time power," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "Didn't show up too much in the game, but in batting practice – I haven't seen anybody hit them over our light stands in Eugene, but he did, but that's batting practice. Maybe 5 or 6 times, I think he ended up with 11 home runs, 5 or 6 times during the season, he hit them into the night. The ball just got smaller and smaller and then went out of sight. You don't see that very often."
Freiman also drew 30 walks compared to 55 strikeouts for a .364 on-base percentage and the walk totals improved as the year progressed.
After a somewhat slow start, Freiman notched 31 RBI during August with 17 extra-base hits, earning Batter of the Week honors for games played between August 17-24. His 11 homers on the season ranked second in the league, as were his 22 doubles. He was fifth in the league in hits.
His 18-game hitting streak from late June through mid-July was the second best mark in the Northwest League, and the first baseman had two on-base streaks that lasted at least 19 games with one reaching 26 contests.
Freiman also placed fourth in the league with 54.4 wRC (weighted Runs Created) and was seventh with a .190 ISO (Isolated Power).
Freiman led Duke University in batting average (.352), home runs (20) and RBI (62) for the third straight year, earning second team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors. He broke the Blue Devils' all-time home run record as a senior and became only the second player in school history to hit 20 home runs in a season.
As with most hitters coming in from the college ranks, Freiman had an aluminum bat swing that he needed to temper. Elongated and suited for power with the forgiving aluminum, the approach does not work well with the wooden bat.
Using mostly hands in a swing that had his arms extended as soon as it began, Freiman worked tirelessly to bring his hands in to allow his elbow to lead his wrists, hands, and bat through the zone. While there remains some length to his swing, dominated by his significant height, Freiman was able to make the swing path shorter. The benefits include a quicker bat, a more consistent swing plane and more time that the stick is actually in the hitting zone on a level plane.
Another area that improved was his hand positioning on his load. Freiman held his hands so high that they were nearly over his head. He dropped his hands roughly six inches so he could be in a more relaxed position – again allowing him to reach the zone quicker.
"I thought Matt (Clark) had better mechanics, but I think Nate picked up on it faster – the mechanics of hitting," former Eugene hitting coach Eric Peyton said. "Just really got into a comfortable stance and he was really starting to hit the ball well. I've never been around a hitter that tall, so to see what he had to work on as far as strike zone, how he was pretty disciplined and he likes to play. He just likes to play. He's going to be fine."
"Nate, his swing has improved, he's dropped his hands a little bit better, he's got some stride, a little bit longer stride, because he's 6-foot-7," roving hitting coordinator Tony Muser said. "That's the difference with Clark. Clark is 6-foot-7, he might be 6-foot-6, but he's a tall guy and doesn't have a lot of length to his stride. He's a shorter athlete when he makes his move to the baseball, where Freiman is a little bit longer. Nate has made great adjustments in his swing, better stride, better separation."
"He doesn't have that stride separation thing down yet," Riddoch said. "He goes in and out of it, but look he led the league in RBI I think. He was upright, hands way high, skip leg at 6-foot-8, couldn't take the low pitch, so he got more flexion in his knees, his hands were dropped down a lot lower, back elbows down instead of way high. The wrap was pretty much gone.
"His whole thing, being as smart as he is, his learning style is he has to go through things and get that intrinsic feel, and as he gets it, then he starts to improve. He just can't take something and do it immediately. That's why it was a gradual progression as the season went on he got better and better."
The Duke alumnus has been pull-happy at times and would benefit from using the whole field. With his powerful swing, he has a chance to sit back and allow the ball to travel deep before firing forward with explosion. Where this will aid him is in his overall pitch selection. He has massive reach and will swing at balls outside of his comfort zone. Allowing the rock to travel deep will enhance his pitch recognition and likely up his walk totals. Someone with his kind of power should draw more free passes.
Freiman has a nice loft to his swing and creates backspin by hitting the top of the ball and following through. This gives the ball greater distance. He has monstrous power and can hit it out of any park at any time.
"He drove in runs," Peyton said. "He got more aggressive. He got tougher and started to actually recognize pitches, and he was driving them. I was impressed with him. I thought he did well for his size."
A station-to-station runner, Freiman used his smarts to steal two bases this past season – both coming when he wasn't held by the first baseman. He is not going to be a threat to take an extra bag but will take advantage of sleeping fielders. The 13 times he grounded into double plays is more indicative of his lack of speed.
Freiman led all first basemen in the Northwest League with a .994 fielding percentage. He was also tops in total chances, putouts, double plays, and assists.
This was a surprise in many ways, as Freiman is more of a fall-down defender that lacks lateral range. Very adept at scooping up balls in the dirt, he proved to be an asset in turning double plays and catching lead runners. He has to work on his agility coming off the bag to field bunts and to improve his overall range but made strides in many defensive areas from the start of the season till the end.
"He picked balls in the dirt where if it was in the beginning in the dirt it was passed him," Riddoch said. "We had the drills everyday. We did firing balls from different angles, and he got better and better defensively, and defensively is where he really has to improve a lot more. The offensive came very good, but the defensive part is where he's going to have to get a lot more flexible to be able to dive for ground balls instead of doing it from 6-foot-8. He needs to do it from 5-foot-6, where he's down in a good position and can lay out and anticipate and read the ball off the bat off the hitter's hand. But that will happen the more chances he gets to do it."
Intelligent to a fault, Freiman will overanalyze situations and outthink himself. Understanding why something happens or what benefits a change will have allows him to apply it faster. If he does not see the benefit overtly, it will take him longer to adapt. A quiet persona, Freiman will need to ensure he can quickly make adjustments without suffering the mental pitfalls that can be associated with such change. Freiman would also benefit from taking more of a leadership role but his personality may preclude that from happening.
"I love him because he's RBI hungry," Muser said. "He has a knack of driving in runs, and with runners in scoring positions it's tougher to hit than when you're leading off an inning. It's a tougher situation. Pitchers work harder to get you out, especially with a guy in RBI situation and there's a base open. They have more freedom to throw changeups, more freedom to throw you breaking balls, and that's just a credit without seeing a lot of Nate of his ability to lead that league in RBI. He's a competitor."
"A personality that just becomes magnetic because of his sense of humor or lack of sense of humor," Riddoch said. "You know what I mean? He's a genius mentally, academically. Sometimes because he's got such good mental capabilities they get in the way because you become analytical and you analyze all your stuff too much. You look for what went wrong in it instead of what went right in it. So we had a lot of fun with that boy. He's as good a person as I've met in the game in a long, long time. He's a genuinely great human being. That's not putting anyone else down, but he's really naïve. I used to tell him all the time, ‘You were raised in the closet son.' I have two daughter-in-laws the same way, raised in the closet. They hit the real world and hey, I need to get back in that closet. He's a sweetie pie that guy."
Conclusion: Freiman has light-tower power that can send balls into the next hemisphere. He also proved to be a clutch performer. Pitch selection will be essential to his future, as will incorporating change while keeping the mental anguish at bay. If he can gain consistency in his swing and draw more walks, the sky is the limit for the 6-foot-8 behemoth. He is a heart of the order hitter that will annually produce a high RBI tally.
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