Ready, Freddie? Freeman has more upside than risk for his price

      December 12, 2012 @ 14:39:24 PDT

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Atlanta Braves 1B Freddie Freeman
Fly high, Freeman

The first base class, when you get to the borderline-starter tiers, carries its annual volatility, and few draft picks will have a bigger impact on their 2013 fantasy baseball owners than Freddie Freeman.

A big part of me argues he's a middle-class Joey Votto who has a chance to vault his owners this year. Some point to his splits versus left-handed pitchers and often long swing to discredit that thought.

And that's valid, as shown in my recent discussion with Outliar Baseball. (Follow @OutliarBaseball. And yes, civil Tweet-offs happen. You just have to look hard.)

This article expresses the two aforementioned concerns as well as pointing to splits regarding his batting order place and performance against "power" pitchers.

Again, reasonable issues to have with a young hitter, but I contend things run deeper with the lefty masher to explain his erratic '12.

In June, when he was hit by a Jose Reyes throw during a slide into second base, Freeman incurred a swollen knuckle and suffered soreness on his left hand. It likely bothered him for much of the season; he'll rest it and get some cortisone shots in the offseason.

A mauled top mano will jeopardize anyone's power potential (especially with his home park) and ability to hurl a bat around. I won't deny Freeman has some pre-existing swing issues both mechanically and physically (the latter may have resulted, at least partially, from an adjustment to increased bulk last year). Still, he shows plenty of thump when he does connect. An interrupted path to the strike zone, of course, renders that moot.

And if I have to explain how bouts with poor vision affect at-bats, well....

Will he follow Brian McCann's path down the LASIK road? McCann has had on-and-off post-op issues that have hurt his stick game. As David O'Brien notes, Freeman had trouble seeing during a trip to Colorado and said it bothered him until early October, as he frequently was changing contact lenses. Freeman couldn't get comfortable locating the ball much of the year.

You don't want a hitter to be doing that much guesswork.

Though his sight was obscured, his final batting-eye ratio jumped to 0.50, including a gain of two percent in his walk rate - maybe from hoping he'll be pitched around, but nonetheless a promising trend for a young lumber wielder. Imagine the level of his pitch recognition if and when his peepers start working again and how his increased lineup protection (welcome, B.J. Upton) will help his game.

(By the way, I don't weigh that lineup-spot kafuffle as heavily for young players, especially those whose skills aren't far-fetched for the spot they're hoping to grow into.)

Atlanta Braves OF Jason Heyward
Heyward one of nice RBI options

As for when he did make contact, it became a liner 26 percent of the time. So much for concerns about squaring up. And with a healthier left hand, more lift should come, which would in turn bring his infield-fly percentage back to normal.

Even with all his issues, his ISO jumped 30 points to .196 - not an ideal figure for a fantasy CI, but still decent at Billy Butler levels and hinting at plenty more where that came from.

He turned 23 in September and has 1,279 MLB at-bats under his robust belt. In a full 2013, he'll smash through that alluring - if not at least slightly imaginary - breakthrough, or at least identity-setting, line of 1,500 at-bats.

Undoubtedly, much of Freeman's 2012 persona was dictated by his 91 RBIs; he'll be a stout base cleaner over his career, even if his power remains stagnant.

Luckily, that total looks plausible for a repeat with his new atop-the-lineup weapon. Freddie's .295 BABIP and ridiculous liner rate didn't jive; the .259 BA is an anomaly.

Although recovering from his hand and eye issues adds to the risk, they're not yet palatable enough to ditch him come March after a normal recovery. He'll probably fall into the midrange 1B starters, with Ryan Howard, Paul Goldschmidt, Ike Davis - sounds familiar, right?

Last year, I considered him the riskiest of these options. Now, I'll say he has the highest profit allure outside of a Howard rebound and Eric Hosmer recovery, which are also heavy possibilities. Hopefully Freeman's BA will allow him to fall down the board in your room.

As long as his body obliges, Freddie's ready. He will rock you if you pass him up and he's 100 percent next spring.

If he has a clean check-up, don't stop him now. He's a rocket ship, traveling at the speed of light, on his way to Mars ... or, at least, top-5 upside at his position.

Here's hoping he can see the ball during the trip.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in the prestigious LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

He appears frequently, including every Sunday, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio, as well as every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.

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