SF Giants prospect Harrison Freed talks about his first year in professional baseball.
What a difference a year can make. As everyone around the world adjusts to life with COVID-19, the transformation is incredibly stark in the lowest ranks of professional baseball. It’s especially notable for players who turned pro just last year, like San Francisco Giants outfield prospect Harrison Freed.
The Giants drafted Freed in the 2019 MLB Draft. A 13th round pick out of Butler University in Indianapolis, Freed signed for a bonus of $100,000 (per MLB.com). This season that wouldn’t be possible. Following the season’s suspension, Major League Baseball condensed the draft to just five rounds and placed a cap of $25,000 signing bonuses on any players undrafted.
While Freed avoided the draft crunch set in motion amidst the pandemic, his early pro career has obviously been impacted. In an interview with Around the Foghorn, Freed said, “I really wish I was playing full-season somewhere.” Instead, he’s back home in the Indianapolis area trying to make the best out of a bad situation.
Injuries during his career at local Westfield High School limited his ability to gain national notoriety. Freed attended local Butler University as a preferred walk-on. He quickly found a way to contribute. As a true freshman, Freed hit an impressive .306/.325/.444 in 85 plate appearances off the bench.
While Freed became a solid everyday player for the Bulldogs as a sophomore, his aggressive approach limited his progression. His signature power still found its way onto the field with a solid .427 slugging. However, otherwise, Freed managed just eight walks against 43 strikeouts. He knew what was holding him back.
“Going from high school to college, I went up there to pull the ball. I knew I had pull-side power and so I was kind of swinging at anything trying to catch the ball and hit it to left field,” Freed said. He’d begun working on altering his approach at Butler, but things really started to click at the Northwoods League.
With the La Crosse (Wis.) Loggers, Freed worked with Stu Pederson (Joc Pederson‘s father) to adjust his pull-happy mentality, “Whenever I stay in the middle of the field and focus middle away, that’s when my power really jumps. It’s still a work in progress, but that’s when I went from trying to pull everything I see to allowing [the ball] to get a little deeper.”
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Freed was selected as a Northwoods League All-Star and carried that success back to the Big East. As a junior, Freed led the conference in home runs (17) and mashed a .376/.448/.683 line. Alongside the jump in production when he put the ball in play, Freed’s walk and strikeout rates went in the right direction as well. Freed had a respectable 9.2 percent walk rate and struck out in less than 15 percent of his trips to the plate.
Just a couple months after finishing his career year, Freed was drafted and joined the Giants organization. He was a professional baseball player. Freed described the experience, “It was surreal showing up the first day. Even before [the game], seeing everyone in the hotel room for the first time and you’re going to the field and thinking, ‘Wow! This is it!'”
First assigned to the Arizona League, the lowest domestic minor league, Freed still faced a big jump in competition. “Making my debut in the AZL it was a little different than Butler… it was definitely interesting… We had some good arms [in the Big East], but it’s just not the same when you’re seeing 95 every night,” he said.
He adjusted to the competition pretty quickly though. After producing at a .440/.500/.680 clip over his first six games, Freed was promoted to short-season Salem-Keizer. He hit three home runs in his first five games at the new level, but then fell into a slump.
Freed will be the first to admit his swing has a lot of moving parts. Balancing those quirks with the tougher competition in pro ball will be his biggest challenge. Over his time in Salem, Freed came to some realizations, “When a guy’s 95 plus, I either have to start super early or throw away my leg kick. I have a lot of moving parts and I was kind of stubborn about it honestly, I was like ‘no this worked for me in college,’ but it just wasn’t working for me in July.”
After making those adjustments, Freed came back strong in August and finished the season with a respectable overall line. Still, the real challenge was supposed to come this season in full-season ball. Freed spent the offseason back home working out with six other minor leaguers. In our interview, Freed described the training routine, “We were doing workouts five days a week and some skill work. In January we started up live, so I probably had about 70 at-bats coming into spring training.”
When the pandemic first hit, Freed returned home and alongside the other minor leaguers returned to their offseason routine, but they had to make adjustments, “Once we realized it was going to be more prolonged and especially once Indiana shut down in the middle of May, I worked out in my basement and bought two hitting nets to hit in my backyard.”
Freed has had some contact with Giants personnel as well. He was very complimentary of the check-ins and workouts distributed by the organization’s strength coaches. According to Freed, the organization’s outfielders also coordinated Skype calls. “We stopped about a month ago, but every Thursday all the outfielders from the big-leagues down would be on Skype calls and it was cool to hear [all they had to say],” he said.
The meetings were only 30-45 minutes but offered young players like Freed a chance to pick the brains of the organization’s veterans. They’d explain what they were doing to stay in shape, what advice they had for younger players, and even dove into game film occasionally.
Moving forward, Freed hopes to put himself in a position to succeed whenever minor league baseball returns. Without exceptional speed or defensive ability, Freed’s bat will determine his future. That remains his offseason focus. “I mainly want to finetune my swing since it is kind of mechanical,” he said, “but to be honest, I just want to see how many at-bats I can get… [I’m looking into] maybe going out to Scottsdale, finding someplace to stay, and working at the Giants facility if it opens up.”
How minor league baseball looks when Freed returns is up in the air. The pandemic, condensed draft, and tense negotiations between MLB and Minor League Baseball leave a lot of minor league teams on the chopping block. Freed acknowledges, “It’s in the back of my mind,” but understands his position, “It’s something I can’t really control. I’m not in a position to really make any change so I wouldn’t say I’m that worried … it’s one of those things that whatever side I’m on I just hope I’m on the better side of things.”