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Athletics 2014 season review: Nate Freiman starts to show home run power

On the downside, when he homers we don't get to see him awkwardly slide into home plate.
On the downside, when he homers we don't get to see him awkwardly slide into home plate.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In 2013, Nate Freiman wore No. 7. However, that number ultimately went to Alberto Callaspo in 2014, and so Freiman switched to No. 35, which had previously been worn by first-round picks Grant Green and Michael Choice in '13.

Player profile

Name: Nate Freiman, aka Six Eight Nate
Position: 1B
Stats: .218/.269/.448, 93 PAs, 5 HR, 15 RBI, 5 BB, 23 Ks
WAR: 0.2 bWAR, 0.2 fWAR
How he got here: Selected off waivers from Houston Astros prior to 2013
2014 Salary: Salary not readily available (likely a portion of MLB minimum)
2015 Status: Pre-arbitration, under team control
2015 Salary: Salary not readily available (likely a portion of MLB minimum)

Season summary

Freiman was chosen by the Astros in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft from the San Diego Padres, but the Oakland Athletics grabbed him off of waivers before that season started. Due to being a Rule 5 player, he had to stay on the 25-man MLB roster all year in 2013, which he did. With his permanent rights secured, though, the A's were able to send him back to Triple-A in 2014 -- a level he'd skipped entirely when Oakland had brought him to the Majors the previous year -- to give his bat more time to develop.

Putting him back in the minor league oven was probably a good idea. When he jumped to the Majors in 2013 he maintained a decent average, but the power that the A's had acquired him for disappeared. Over his first three months in Triple-A, though, he virtually duplicated the strong batting line he'd posted in Double-A in 2012: .277/.361/.493, with 14 homers in 76 games. With his strong showing in Sacramento, he got the call from Oakland at the end of June when right-handed first baseman Kyle Blanks went down with what ultimately proved to be a season-ending series of injuries. When Blanks went on the DL on June 24, Josh Reddick was activated in his place; five days later, Reddick went back on the DL and Freiman got his chance.

Six Eight Nate burst onto the scene in his first game back with a three-run homer off of Andrew Heaney -- then a Marlin, now an Angel, and that day the loser of a 4-3 decision thanks to Nate's long ball. Freiman stuck around for a whole month in that first stint in Oakland, but unfortunately he didn't do much else after that big debut against Miami. He made it into 13 games and got 35 plate appearances, batting .212/.257/.394 with 10 strikeouts and that one homer. On July 27, he was optioned back to Sacramento to make room for Callaspo's return from the DL, and he went right back to hitting well with the River Cats.

Freiman was back in Oakland a week later when Nick Punto went on the DL, and it was in August that he did his best work. Specifically, it was in Atlanta that he did his best work, in two games against the Braves. He homered off of left-handed starter Alex Wood, and he homered twice off of lefty starter Mike Minor, but the A's still lost both games. All told, he hit .286/.348/.810 over eight games thanks to those dingers.

After a brief trip back to the minors while the A's set their roster for the Sept. 1 postseason eligibility deadline, he spent the rest of the season in Oakland. Like most of the A's in September, he didn't hit at all: .182/.229/.273 with one homer in 35 plate appearances. The good news was that the homer came off of Dallas Keuchel, one of the top lefties in baseball last year, but the bad news was that the A's lost the game again.

Freiman was included on the Wild Card roster, and he made it into the game. In the 10th inning, the Royals brought in southpaw reliever Brandon Finnegan to open the frame against Stephen Vogt, and Freiman stepped in to pinch-hit -- he flew out. In the 12th, Callaspo pinch-hit for Freiman with a runner in scoring position and surprisingly knocked that runner in, giving A's fans another 15 minutes or so of happiness before a long winter.

All told, Freiman showed flashes of the player the A's probably wanted him to be all along. He hit for power, with 10 of his 19 hits going for extra bases, and he exceeded his homer total from 2013 in fewer than half as many plate appearances. He specifically mashed left-handed pitchers, with a .283 isolated slugging percentage against them. When he wasn't homering, though, he struggled to make contact and didn't walk much, making it tough for him to get on base consistently. He played adequate defense at first base, with the small-sample metrics actually rating him as slightly positive and the eyeball test suggesting that he was "more or less fine." It all added up to an OPS+ of exactly 100 for the second straight year and a roughly replacement-level player in limited duty, but hey, that's all Freiman was supposed to be last season -- the backup first baseman waiting in Triple-A to add some right-handed power when the team needed it.

2014 season grade, relative to expectations: C+ ... I expected Freiman to spend most or all of 2014 in Triple-A, and that's about what happened. He didn't do much with his MLB at-bats, but he got the plus on his C for showing an increase in power over 2013. That's the skill the A's got him for, so its development is paramount to his success as a player.

2014 season grade, overall: C ... A replacement-level player gets a passing grade, I suppose, and Freiman rated just a touch better than replacement. Hard to complain about five homers in 93 plate appearances when there aren't any other glaring flaws like an unacceptable strikeout rate or Custian defense.

Video highlights

Freiman homered in his first game back in the Majors in 2014, in late June. It was the deciding blow of the game, a three-run blast in a 4-3 win.

Here's his multi-homer game against Mike Minor and the Braves. Both of these balls are absolutely smoked.

Freiman displays a bit of opposite-field hitting.

OK, we know he can crush lefties on offense. Here he is using his height on defense to make this play look easy.

He can range to his right ...

... and he can guard the line to his left.

Hey, maybe he can hold his own with the glove after all. Here he is executing a perfect 3-6-3 double play.


Right now, Freiman is a replacement-level player despite holding the record as the tallest position player in the history of MLB. If his bat continues to develop and he becomes someone who can reliably hit 10-15 homers on the short side of a platoon, then he'll become something more. In the meantime, every team needs some replacement-level backups available now and then, and it just so happens that Freiman's best skill (power) is one that the A's currently lack in great quantity.