The special nature of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman begins with his name: Freddie. How many good players in history have been named Freddie? Shortstop Freddie Patek, second baseman Freddy Sanchez and third baseman Freddie Lindstrom? Pitchers Freddy Garcia and Freddie Fitzsimmons? Freddie Freeman. Now that's a name to remember.
And then there's Freeman's age: 21. "I was drafted when I was 21," said Braves outfielder Eric Hinske. Said Braves pitcher Eric O'Flaherty: "When I was 21, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn't know how to make adjustments. But with Freddie, if you get him out the first time, he figures it out, and the next time, he hits a double to the gap." Said Braves pitcher Derek Lowe: "I can't believe how good these players are when they're that age. I wasn't like that when I got to the big leagues at 23. There is no awe in Freddie. What he's doing is no big deal to him. To him, this is what he's supposed to be doing."
What Freeman is doing is making a run at the National League Rookie of the Year, while hitting in the middle of the order for a team that is on its way to the playoffs. He's hitting .283 with 15 home runs, 51 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .470 and an on-base percentage of .357. Those numbers aren't quite as impressive as those of Freeman's rookie teammate, reliever Craig Kimbrel, but the Braves wouldn't be where they are without both of them. Freeman filled a huge hole at first base, and after starting the season as the No. 8 hitter in the batting order, injuries to teammates and his production have moved him up in the order.
"Every time he moves up one notch," said Braves outfielder Nate McLouth, "he gets better."
I knew Freeman was headed for big things when, in 2010, he hit his first major league home run, a blast off Roy Halladay. And then I asked Chipper Jones about him this spring. Chipper is as honest a guy as there is in the game, as well as a great talent evaluator. When asked about Freeman in February, Chipper said simply, "Whoa." Then he paused and said, "He has a great idea of the strike zone; he swings at strikes. He hits the ball from pole to pole. People say he'll be a 25-homer guy. I think he'll hit more than that."