Padres prospect Freiman looks to raise his game
First baseman enjoys the competition in World Classic, Arizona Fall League
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Finding comfort on a baseball field has never been a problem for Padres first-base prospect Nate Freiman, who has proved his worth by clubbing 71 home runs in his first four professional seasons.
But stick a golf bag on his broad shoulders and raise the stakes considerably -- like when he caddies for his fiancee, LPGA golfer, Amanda Blumenherst -- and Freiman's prospects for feeling out of sorts begin to soar considerably.
"I'm probably more nervous than she is," said Freiman, who has caddied for Blumenherst seven times during LPGA play. "I don't choose the clubs, but I have to give her the yardage. I'm adding up all of the numbers and I better be right. It's nerve-wracking, but a lot of fun.
"And she says I'm pretty good at it."
Not good enough, though, to force the 25-year-old Freiman to change careers, especially after a 2012 season that saw him hit 24 home runs and knock in 105 runs in the pitcher-friendly Texas League, the second time in as many seasons that he's topped 20 home runs and 100 RBIs.
It was a big season following by a busy offseason for Freiman, who was the Padres' eighth-round Draft pick in 2009 out of Duke.
Freiman played for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifier. He then headed back to Arizona, where he lives with Blumenherst, to prepare for a stint in the Arizona Fall League, where he's hitting .257 with one home run and five RBIs in nine games for the Peoria Javelinas.
"This is an opportunity to face some of the best guys in the Minor Leagues and in some cases, guys who have pitched in the Major Leagues," Freiman said. "It's my goal to move up and face better competition. This is a time to get used to facing really good pitchers every single night."
There's always something to work on, said Freiman, who will turn 26 in December. He's spent the last year trying to improve his defense. The offense -- he's produced a pro slash line of .294/.364/.482 over his first four seasons -- has consistently been good. But that's just one part of the equation, he said.
"Going into 2012, I really wanted to improve defensively. I got a lot of extra work in back in February. I had a much better season defensively. I had almost 20 errors (16) in the Cal League (in 2011), which I think is unacceptable for a first baseman," Freiman said.
"I cut that down to four errors this year. But it's really tough to know you cost your teammates a run. ... I've got to be out there to stop runs, coming off the bag, making tags, getting balls in the dirt. I know I can have a 0-for-4 day but still have a good day by playing good defense."
That said, Freiman's calling card has always involved his bat more than his glove. He hit 20 home runs during his senior season at Duke in 2009 and followed it with seasons of 11, 14, 22 and 24 home runs playing in the Padres' organization.
"This is a guy who hits the ball as hard as anyone," said Randy Smith, the Padres' vice president of player development and international scouting. "He's had three good years in the Minor Leagues. He's a great kid with a good work ethic."
Freiman followed up his big season with San Antonio with a standout performance for Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic qualifier in September. Of his five hits, four were home runs, though Israel lost to Spain in extra innings, thus missing out on a spot in the WBC next spring.
"That meant a lot to me and everyone who competed," he said. "That was the most devastated locker room I've ever been in after we lost to Spain. But other than that, it was an outstanding experience."
Freiman had high praise for Team Israel manager Brad Ausmus, a special assistant for the Padres, who recently interviewed for the Red Sox managerial opening.
"He's going to be a great manager sooner or later," Freiman said. "He is great for that role, he knows baseball, knows players and knows what it's like to be on our end. It was great getting to play for him. There's just something about him. He's very comfortable in that role."
As for Freiman's future, he's blocked by Yonder Alonso at the big league level. He will also need to be protected on the 40-man roster before the Rule 5 Draft in December. If so, he'll begin next season at Triple-A Tucson, where another 20-plus home runs are likely.