Wiedmer: Freeman could be next great Brave

Wiedmer: Freeman could be next great Brave

August 24th, 2009 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

Most well-informed Atlanta Braves fans know that Mississippi Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman bashed his first Class AA home run two weeks after being called up from Class A Myrtle Beach.

They know that Baseball America ranks him the 11th best prospect in the minors. All the minors, from Triple A down.

They probably also know he's still only 19, so that slender 220 pounds he carries on his 6-5 frame is probably going to muscle up a bit.

What they won't want to know is this:

"Freddie's probably going on the DL tomorrow," said Mississippi manager Phillip Wellman on Sunday afternoon, just after the Chattanooga Lookouts beat Wellman's Braves 2-1 at AT&T Field.

"He's been playing in pain for the last couple of weeks with a bad hand. It's probably time to shut him down."

Said Freeman as he exited the visitors clubhouse, "It's really frustrating. I didn't want to end the season like this."

Freeman grew up in the OC -- which means Orange County, California for those of you over 30 years old.

Only 17 when he signed with Atlanta, he spent his first full season in Rome, Ga., where he fairly quickly adjusted to the slower pace of the real South, rather than life in southern California.

"The people have all been so nice," said Freeman. "You can get some angry people in California, people who think they know everything. It's not like that here."

Instead, Freeman has willingly played second banana to super outfield prospect Jason Heyward, Baseball America's No. 1 minor league prospect.

"Jason's one of a kind," said Freeman. "He's already one of the greats."

Wellman, who once managed the Lookouts, believes both men could have great careers. He's even nicknamed them Salt (Freeman) and Pepper.

He has also said, "You rarely see one without the other. They remind me of when (Brian) McCann and Frenchy (Jeff Francoeur) were here."

But only off the field.

"They're probably more like McCann than Frenchy," Wellman said. "They have very advanced approaches and strike zones for their ages."

Until Freeman's left hand began bothering him about three weeks ago, the numbers strongly supported Wellman's assessment.

A year ago at Rome he had batted .316 with 18 home runs and 95 RBI, arguably the best numbers of any Braves farmhand in 2008. Then came hit time at Myrtle Beach earlier this spring, where Freeman hit .302 with six homers and 34 RBI.

Finally, he arrived in Mississippi on the Fourth of July and began igniting fireworks by driving home a run and scoring a run during his first night with the team. But by the start of August, his left hand began to hurt more with each swing of the bat.

"I'm not really sure when it happened," Freeman said. "It just started bothering me more and more at the plate."

So he'll likely sit out the rest of the season, forced to watch his teammates carry on without him. Just don't expect to see him take in a real Braves game at Turner Field in the foreseeable future.

"I haven't gone one time," said Freeman, when asked about visits to Turner Field this summer. "It just makes me upset. I can watch it on TV when I'm at home. But I can't make myself go to the game."

This isn't to say Freeman has anything approaching a bad attitude.

"They're both real good kids," said Wellman. "Jason is very mature for his age. Freddie is a super nice kid. He's also a little more of a free spirit. He has a childlike approach to things sometimes. He really has fun playing the game."

Freeman also still has fun sometimes by watching the infamous video of Wellman flopping across the AT&T infield like a seal.

"Oh, it's hilarious," he said. "But I don't bring it up to him."

Wellman just hopes to keep bringing Freeman enough information to get him to the big leagues as soon as possible.

"It's very exciting," said Wellman. "It gives you a reason to get up and go to work every day."

Even when the 11th best prospect in the minor leagues won't be working any more this season.