Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Getting to Know Astros/Hooks LHP Mike Freeman

LHP Mike Freeman was drafted by the Astros in the 7th round in 2015 out of Oklahoma State University, and he immediately made his mark in the system. After starting his first season at Low A Quad Cities, he received an early August promotion to High A Lancaster, followed by a late season promotion to AA Corpus Christi.

Mike Freeman - April 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Freeman's excellent start in the Quad Cities bullpen (1.50 ERA and 1.157 WHIP in 8 appearances) was eclipsed by his even better stint with Lancaster (0.49 ERA and 0.709 WHIP in 7 appearances) where his high ground ball out rate served him well in a park widely known as a pitcher's nightmare. That he ended his season in Corpus Christi with an overall record of 2-1, a 1.17 ERA and a 0.991 WHIP came as no surprise to anyone who saw his success that season.

Then came 2016 and things did not go quite as swimmingly for Freeman. He started to struggle early and never quite got his feet under him. At the end of the season, he was 3-4 with a 7.19 ERA and a 2.041 WHIP in 37 appearances, 56.1 innings pitched. Thankfully, he got off to a much better start this year, going 2-0 with one save, a 1.50 ERA and a 1.500 WHIP in his nine appearances in April.

I asked Freeman about his tough 2016 season and what is going better for him this year. He told me, "It's kind of like my body never really recovered. I just didn't ever feel right. I was pretty worn down after a long season (in 2015). I ended up throwing 150 innings total between college and that first half season after I signed. And I'd never thrown more than 85 innings in a season. And that year before, between college and summer ball, I threw like 45 innings, 50 innings. So I pretty much tripled what I'd done the previous year. That was an adjustment, throwing that much. I always felt worn down. So, really, I just got some time to let my body recover a little bit more this off season and I feel good. I was just real achy and just didn't feel right last season. I started second-guessing myself and why it was that way and got off a little bit mechanically. This season I got back into a groove, my body feels better and I worked on some things mechanically with my college pitching coach. I'm feeling a lot better."

Corpus Christi Pitching Coach Dave Borkowski said of Freeman overcoming his struggles, "I think that he had a good off season. I think he has an idea of what's expected of him. He was able to plan for it. I think he's a little more ready for what's expected, has a little bit more confident look about him. And all it is is him trusting his stuff through the zone. He gets in trouble when he tries to be fine, pitch away from contact. He's got such good movement that he doesn't have to hit the black with all his pitches."

Freeman doesn't throw heat. But the lefty can be very effective with his mid-to-high 80's fastball and slider that he throws from a low 3/4 slot, generating good movement on the pitches. He is also working on a changeup. "I've been working on the changeup this off season and mixing it in more this season just to have another pitch, especially against righties to do a little bit more damage and to keep them off the fastball. I like both (the fastball and slider) and they're both pretty effective."

As far as what's going well for him so far this season, Freeman says, "Just keeping the ball in play. Getting guys out and making aggressive pitches. Every once in a while I may get loose on a few batters here and there, but then get back in it and (limit the) damage. Keeping the ball on the ground for the most part is what I usually do and just keeping guys more off-balance and just being more aggressive with everything this year."

One thing that he knows he'll need to work on to get to the next level are the free passes. Freeman says that he needs to "throw more strikes consistently." He continues, "Every once in a while I may get a little off and walk a guy and have 4-pitch walks and that just can't happen. 4-, 5-pitch walks can't happen and just giving up free bases in general. Keeping that aggressive mentality throughout a whole game and against all hitters, and just going after guys and getting them."

When I asked Freeman about the players behind him in the field when he pitches, he was effusive in his praise of everyone on the team, "We're in AA. All these guys are really talented. There's a reason why they're here. They definitely have earned it and definitely deserve it.  I think they all deserve about as much credit as I could give them." But he did make note of two players in particular, "One thing I've been really impressed with is (Jon) Singleton. I'd never seen him play until this spring. Being as big a guy as he is, he's really athletic. And then even (Tyler) Wolfe is here right now and he's a really quality player. He's a competitor. He played at Kansas State when I was at Oklahoma State and he's a good ballplayer."

The biggest surprise to me in interviewing Freeman is how quiet and "normal" the tall lefty is, particularly after talking to dozens of lefty pitchers over the years; that breed of player has a tendency to be rather, ahem, eccentric. But Freeman seems to be the exception that proves the rule and, but for his 6'8" height, wouldn't necessarily stand out in a crowd. When asked for something about himself that some might find surprising, he told me, "I studied Biology in school. I was a Biology major. That would probably be fairly surprising to most people. I thought I might want to be a Physician Assistant one day. Hopefully, I don't ever have to do anything like that. Stay in baseball for a while. That's the plan."

That's the plan, indeed. Thank you for your time, Mike, and best of luck as your season and your career unfolds.

Other Recent Interviews:
RHP Akeem Bostick

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