When Spring Training began, the Atlanta Braves knew they had a tough decision to make on Freddie Freeman
A second-round pick in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft, Freeman entered this season having played only 41 games above the Double-A level. And he wasn't a standout for Mississippi in the Southern League, batting just .248 with two home runs and 24 RBIs.
Yet the Braves decided the 20-year-old Freeman would not return to Mississippi, but would start this year in Triple-A.
"I didn't think I would come [to Gwinnett] to start the season, because I was hurt a lot last year, and I played only 41 games in Double-A," Freeman admitted. "Then I got hurt in the Arizona Fall League.
"My thought was that I would start the season in Double-A. But I did well enough in Spring Training that they decided to start me here."
And Freeman hasn't disappointed, batting .285 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in his first 73 games with Gwinnett.
"He's a very talented young hitter, and equally good at first base," said his manager at Gwinnett, Dave Brundage. "The organization felt strongly that we could push him, see what he could do and accelerate his progress.
"Down the road, he has the opportunity to be the starting first baseman of the Atlanta Braves. This challenge is something that I think this organization will benefit from down the road."
Freeman started slowly in Gwinnett, batting just .176 with no homers and two RBIs in his first 13 games. But he hit three home runs in two days, April 21-22, and hasn't stopped hitting since, batting .318 in June.
"The difference between Double-A and Triple-A is that in Triple-A, there are a lot of experienced pitchers who know how to get young hitters out," Freeman said. "At the beginning of the year I struggled a little bit; I was really aggressive, especially early in the count, and pitchers feasted on that, throwing me off-speed pitches.
"But I was told to be patient and take my walks, so I do that. And everything is starting to get a lot easier for me."
Freeman has collected 22 doubles, tied for fifth-best in the IL, along with a pair of triples to give him 34 extra-base hits. His 24 walks add to a .347 on-base percentage.
"He's gotten better from the start of the season, and I'm not just talking about his batting average," Brundage said. "I'm talking about his approach at the plate, and understanding about what pitchers are trying to do. I'm even talking about running the bases, and how he prepares himself."
The best news, at least for Braves fans, is that Freeman knows he can get better.
"Right now I'm trying to work on some things at first base, trying to limit the throwing errors of the other guys, trying to give myself more range and trying to be quicker around the base," he said.
Brundage said the decision to place Freeman at Triple-A shows the Braves know he can mature and reach the next level.
"He's still working on patience, and getting a good understanding of the strike zone," Brundage said. "He can still drive the ball out of the ballpark with two strikes, but he's working himself into better hitter's counts, and not offering at the pitcher's pitch.
"Those kinds of things will make him a better hitter."
Dazzling debuts: LHP Mike Minor was impressive in his first Triple-A start for Gwinnett on July 1, allowing just one run on three hits in 7 2/3 innings to pitch the Braves to a 4-2 win over Toledo. Minor, one of Atlanta's top pitching prospects, struck out nine. Two days later, LHP Zach Britton was just as sharp in his Triple-A debut with Norfolk, giving up just three hits in six shutout innings against Charlotte. Britton, one of Baltimore's top prospects, didn't walk a batter and struck out four.
Do I know you?: Pawtucket LHP Rich Hill made his debut for the Red Sox on July 1. When he got to the mound, PawSox manager Torey Lovullo introduced Hill to his catcher, Dan Butler, who also was playing in his first game for Pawtucket. Lovullo is getting used to this type of player movement. Last week, the PawSox made 12 player moves in five days. "I think it's a sign of what's happening up in Boston," Lovullo told the Providence Journal. "We're supplying the guys there, and it's just a ripple effect on the whole organization. That's the nature of this level, and everybody understands it. We understand it and rally around one another and say, 'Let's get this job done,' because we can't do it any other way."
He said it: "I know I can do it. I know I'm a No. 4 hitter. That's the approach I'm going to have. And I'll always have that. I know I can hit. I know when there is a runner on, I'm there to produce. I'm there to get the run in, for sure." -- Bats IF Todd Frazier to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Frazier, who entered the season as one of Cincinnati's top prospects, has hit just .219 with 12 homers and 33 RBIs in 73 games this year.