One of the big stories in the minors the last few weeks has been the hot streak by outfield prospect Wes Freeman. In his last 12 games, Freeman has been on fire, with a .362/.400/.745 line in 47 at-bats. He’s recorded a hit in ten of those 12 games, and has hit five home runs during this stretch. Perhaps the most impressive stat is that his strikeout rate has dropped to 23.4% in this time period. Prior to this hot streak, Freeman was hitting for a .169/.197/.237 line, with an atrocious 35.6% strikeout rate.
Freeman was drafted in the 16th round of the 2008 draft out of high school. He signed for $150 K, which isn’t a huge amount, but which is considered significant for a 16th round pick. He was touted for his power, which was raw, but had the ability to be plus power. Overall, Freeman was considered a very raw prospect, in sort of a high risk/high reward type fashion.
We saw how raw Freeman was in his first few years in the minors. In 2009, Freeman played in short season ball, going to the Gulf Coast League. He hit four homers in 157 at-bats, but had a bad .210/.275/.344 line, and a horrible 37.6% strikeout rate. The following season the Pirates challenged him by sending him to West Virginia for full season ball. Freeman was completely over-matched, with a .155/.223/.238 line in 84 at-bats, and a 52.4% strikeout rate. He moved back down to the GCL, where his numbers were worse than the previous year. In 75 at-bats, Freeman hit for a .187/.265/.267 line, with a 46.7% strikeout rate.
It’s obvious why the Pirates have stuck with Freeman for so long. First of all, there’s the raw power. We’ve seen a lot of that lately, although throughout his career that power has been limited due to his free swinging ways. His 6′ 4″, 215 pound frame gives him the look of a future major leaguer. Even with the size, he’s got the speed needed to play center field, and a very strong arm. I’ve heard him described by opposing scouts as the only position player prospect on the State College roster. That was before Alex Dickerson arrived, but also back before Freeman’s current run of success.
The current hot streak is a small sample size, but it also displays a flash of Freeman’s potential. However, one hot streak isn’t going to be enough to say that Freeman’s career is back on track. Seeing the power, the hitting, and the lowered strikeout rates are definitely encouraging signs. However, Freeman has only walked four times this year in 112 plate appearances. He’s going to need to improve his plate patience in order to have success at a level higher than short season A-ball.
The hot streak does raise one question: should Freeman be considered a top 50 prospect? The overall numbers have been bad, but the talent is there. Freeman is only 21, so he’s still young enough to revive his career in baseball. He also possesses a skill that is rare in the Pirates’ minor league system: power. His .207 isolated power ranks fourth among prospect eligible players in the Pirates’ system with 100 or more at-bats this season (he’s fifth if you count foreign rookie leagues). The other three players are Jarek Cunningham, Calvin Anderson, and Matt Curry, ranked in that order. If his hot streak became more than a hot streak, and carried over through the final month of the 2011 season, I’d have to give serious consideration to adding him to the top 50 prospects next year. I don’t see him ending up higher than 40th, and probably not higher than 45th. He has the talent, and if we’re starting to see that talent translate over to success, then we might be seeing the emergence of a sleeper prospect for the Pirates.