Somewhere in the world of mock drafts and pundits who like projections, after the overwhelming favorite Nick Gordon and the runner-up Aaron Nola, comes Evansville left-hander Kyle Freeland. Let's find out what's so appealing about the 21-year old collegiate junior.
School & Player History
Freeland is the classic example of the player whose stock shoots up the charts based off of what he's done in the past year. In spite of being decent as a freshman and a sophomore, it wasn't until last summer's Cape Cod league performance that he became a blip on the radar. True enough, he was one of college baseball's pitchers to watch this season and finished with 128 strikeouts in 99.2 innings over 14 starts. He walked 12 batters all season. If you think that was impressive he didn't give up a single home run.
In 2011, Freeland was selected by the Phillies in the 35th round; he chose not to sign in spite of being offered "top-ten round money." You can't blame Philadelphia for trying, because Freeland had earned all-state and all-district honors as a junior and a senior. He was a prep arm worth taking a shot on. Still, that's not bad for Freeland - going from the 35th round to a potential top five pick three years later.
Freeland's arsenal is categorized as four pitches, but in reality he's been throwing something like five or six. The fastball can touch 96 but cruises a couple of miles per hour lower as a four-seamer, and he's also been said to throw a two-seamer with a touch less velocity. Both fastballs are considered good pitches and have qualified as "plus" by numerous reports. He's added velocity since he was a freshman (when he was hitting 85-86), leaving some reports to question whether he might actually be able to consistently throw it at 94 or 95 once he matures a bit more. As a general rule, however, velocity, command, and "stuff" are all plus when it comes to Freeland's fastball.
The slider also comes in two variations. One is faster, in the mid-80s, that Freeland uses like a cutter that he can place on either side of the plate. He considers it his out pitch. There's also a slower slider which is less effective, and will be abandoned as he goes into pro ball. His secondary breaking ball is his curve. He's been working on it all season and it's gotten better. Most scouts call it an average pitch, and a minority believe it could turn into a plus offering.
Finally there's the change. One or two reports seem to think it's a real pitch, a couple call it "inconsistent," but mostly it sounds like a "show me" offering that will need a lot of development if it's ever going to be anything better. Looking at the 20-80 scale, the fastball, slider, and command generally all sit right around 60. The changeup is a bit lower.
What makes him an intriguing prospect, other than the fact that he's rocketed up the draft charts in the last 12 months, is the impeccable command he's displayed in the same period. He was okay, but not great, his first two seasons with Evansville. But since the Cape it's been absolutely impeccable, possibly the best in the draft class. When you match that with his ability to throw strikes (also possibly top in the class), and with multiple plus pitches, and with the fact that he induces ground balls like they're going out of style, it's easy to see why scouts have shown him more and more love as the year has gone on.
Unlike Nola, Freeland throws from a legitimate three-quarter slot. He repeats well but has perhaps a greater tendency than normal to twirl towards the third base side. Watching the videos it actually reminded me of Francisco Liriano - the aggression at the end of the throwing motion, and the recovery that the bottom half of the body has to make in order to adjust and maintain balance. But he gets some good deception out of his delivery, and doesn't appear to tip anything by repeating his release.
There are fewer remarks about the potential for injury as there were with Liriano and his delivery, but scouts have shown a bit of concern about Freeman over-throwing. This is still in a minority of reports, but it's certainly worth mentioning.
Freeland has added muscle in each of his seasons in college, which has helped him to add velocity to his fastball. His "V-shaped" torso leads to a slim waist which, in turn, leads to slim legs. That's something that pro teams will focus on, asking him to add weight to his trunk to help him bear the load of years of pitching. As things sit, scouts think the body is (sigh) projectable, but they'll continue to wonder about his durability until he either shows he can add to his core or else shows that he's otherwise durable enough anyway.
I want to take a minute to talk about Law's scouting report on Freeman. I find it interesting that he seems to be a minority case when it comes to specific areas. When we spoke about Nola, Law dissented with the majority opinion on Nola's command. With Freeman, he not only believes the changeup will show up, he thinks it will be a good pitch. Not above average, but good. He gives it a future rating of 60, which was the highest I'd seen anywhere. Conversely, he gives Freeland's current command a 45 and his future rating a 55. All this in spite of knowing that Law saw him last summer and called him the prospect of the day.
I'm not saying that Law is wrong, or that he should adjust his reports to jive with what almost everyone else is saying, or even that everyone else is wrong. But it's certainly an intriguing artifact of all the reading I've been doing on the upcoming draft class. It's certainly feasible that Law doesn't rate command at the collegiate level, knowing how rare 60+ command in the Majors is, or that he prefers looking at Freeland's full collegiate history for command rather than just the last 12 months. It could be that simple. But if he believes in sample size, then he must also see something unique in that changeup.
It's interesting. Let's move on.
While Freeland isn't as close to being a finished product as Nola, some scouts do like his stuff better. Toss in the fact that he's left-handed, with plus stuff, and oh have I mentioned his command, and you get a player that a lot of teams are going to be intrigued by.
But is he top five material? The overwhelming majority of mock drafts don't think so, but that doesn't mean the Twins think the same way. The same way that adding Nola to the team would add another pitcher to the organization's list of top prospects, adding Freeland (which would probably be a slightly longer project) would make the collection of pitching talent in the system that much stronger. And considering that Alex Meyer and Trevor May could both graduate from the current list for next season, that's no bad thing.
Going back to that command one last time - do you want to know how impressive it is? We already know that he struck out 128 batters in 99.2 innings, but that only goes so far if you're walking 40 guys. Clearly that's not the case here, but just for reference here's how Freeland's strikeout-to-walk ratio looks next to a few recently drafted pitchers who are considered to be, I guess, pretty good. This a list of numbers for each player's final collegiate season.
Should the Twins select Kyle Freeman? Maybe, if they think he's the best player available. But at this point, any pick that isn't Nick Gordon or Aaron Nola looks like it will be a surprise.