The Cleveland Indians surprised some on the first day of the draft when they took high school shortstop Tyler Freeman with the 71st pick overall.
It wasn’t because Freeman wasn’t talented, he most certainly is, many simply feared he’d be difficult to sign due to a strong commitment to TCU, which had dropped his stock a bit.
Thankfully, the Indians signed the 18-year-old on June 28 and he’s been hot out of the gate. Even with a recent rough patch, Freeman is still slashing .282/.319/.400 through 23 games with the AZL Indians in the rookie league. He’s also shown strong contact rate, striking out just 9.8 percent of the time.
Freeman still has a long road ahead, but he’s made a very nice first impression, smacking seven doubles and stealing three bases with a fielding percentage of .944 overall.
The recent Division II California state baseball champion spoke with Let’s Go Tribe about rooming with Quentin Holmes, being a good teammate and country music in this exclusive interview:
Brian Hemminger (Let’s Go Tribe): From following along on social media, I can see that family is extremely important to you. You have your own family plus your super supportive cousins in Texas. Can you tell me a bit about the importance of your family’s support?
Tyler Freeman: Oh man, my family, other than my religion, it’s right up there. Our family, the Freeman family is very close. No matter what happens, we always have each other’s back. With our cousins, whatever news they hear from us, they’re the first ones to respond to it, they’re supportive. They’re always there for us. We’re one big unit in that sense.
Brian Hemminger: And it’s quite the athletic family. Your sister is playing softball in college, your younger brother has a scholarship to play baseball at Baylor and your mom played ball too, right?
Tyler Freeman: My mom was an alternate for the original Team USA Olympic team the first year it came out with like Jenny Finch. I had some great role models within my own family.
Brian Hemminger: You were a double play combo with your brother this past season. What was it like winning the state championship with him by your side?
Tyler Freeman: Honestly, you couldn’t write that any better. Playing up the middle with him was the best playing experience of my entire career. Playing with him, he’s my brother and it’s a bonus turning double plays. That whole year was so much fun. We had some really great moments that we shared and winning the title with him meant everything to me. We’ve been through so much and we’d played before, but it wasn’t anything like this past season in high school.
Brian Hemminger: What are some of your favorite pastimes when you’re not playing baseball, practicing, working out or sleeping? What helps you recharge the batteries?
Tyler Freeman: When I get back to my apartment when the day’s over, I turn on some country music and just lay down and relax to that. Luke Bryan is my favorite. I just bought concert tickets to see him play when I get back home to California when the season’s over.
Also, if I’m struggling, I’ll watch videos of my play to critique myself.
Brian Hemminger: Now you’re rooming with the Indians’ other top 2017 draft pick Quentin Holmes. I had a chance to speak with him and in regards to character, you’re very similar, but it seems like you guys are pretty different otherwise. What’s that been like?
Tyler Freeman: Getting to know Quentin, I’ve never really met someone from the East Coast. I played with Quentin for a bit on the Yankees Area Code team last summer but I didn’t know him on a personal level. Getting to know him, it’s pretty awesome to be honest. Just learning about his side, the East Coast side compared to the SoCal side is very different.
Brian Hemminger: How are you guys getting along musically? You’ve got your country and Quentin’s over there practicing harmonica and playing Buddhist chants.
Tyler Freeman: (laughs) Yesterday, I was showing him my country playlist and he was being polite and listening to it but I could tell he wasn’t fond of it. One morning we wake up and he starts blasting this Buddhist music and I’m like, “What are you listening to?” He’s like, “It just gets me to relax, it gets me going.” I’m like, “Whatever works for you!” (laughs)
Brian Hemminger: I read a blog post you made about being selfless on the field. What do you think are the best qualities that go into being a good teammate?
Tyler Freeman: Being selfless, in my opinion, no matter how you perform in a game, good or bad, you’ve got to pick a teammate up. It’s not all about you. You’re gonna contribute here and there to help your team win but let’s say another teammates down and you’re the guy to step up for him or another teammate is the guy to step up. Being selfless, it’s all about your team, not putting yourself first.
Brian Hemminger: Did you know Royce Lewis at all? You guys played the same position and were both from California. It seemed like you were really happy for him when he was drafted number one overall.
Tyler Freeman: I do talk to him, although we aren’t super close. We live in Southern California but we’re still pretty far from each other. I did a lot of showcases with him and stuff and I wish him nothing but the best. I talked to him on the phone about a week ago, telling him congrats for everything and no one deserves it more than him. He’s humble, he’s a hard worker and he deserves every bit of everything that he got in this draft with the Twins. I knew him pretty well, enough to talk to him.
Brian Hemminger: When you got drafted, they made comparisons of your offensive game to Michael Young. What did you think about that?
Tyler Freeman: My heart dropped a bit. I was like, “Wow, Michael Young?” Growing up, I was such a baseball nerd. I cared about nothing but baseball and I knew every player on every team. When I heard Michael Young, I thought that was unbelievable. He was just added to the Texas Rangers team Hall of Fame and being compared to that, hoping that maybe one day that’s something I can accomplish, that’s a dream come true. I would love to work hard and make that happen.
Brian Hemminger: When you went to Cleveland after being drafted, you had a chance to go on the field and meet Francisco Lindor. What was it like meeting him?
Tyler Freeman: Yeah, we were kind of by the dugout and he walked up to me asking questions like “What’s your name?” and “Why are you here?” and stuff like that. I told him I’d been drafted in the second round by the Indians and I hoped I could play up the middle with him one day and he very supportive. He told me, “No doubt about it. If you play hard, you can accomplish anything.” That moment sealed the deal. I was starstruck in that moment, other than the day I was drafted when I was in tears, hearing those words of encouragement, it boosted my confidence through the roof.
Brian Hemminger: You started really hot out of the gate for the AZL Indians. Was it a difficult adjustment when you first started or was it just like playing anything else?
Tyler Freeman: The adjustment from high school out of the gate was a lot different. My hitting coach told me I just needed repetitions because after our team won the state championship in high school, I didn’t really play after that for 3-4 weeks. They got me facing live pitching and put me in the game and I was seeing the ball very well. I adapted very quick to the jump from high school.
Lately I’ve been in a little bit of a slump but my hitting coach has been telling me that there’s nothing wrong with my swing, I’ve just been getting unlucky. That’s what baseball’s all about though. You have to learn to fail and grind through this.
Brian Hemminger: I was going to ask you about learning to fail. Yeah, you’re batting average dropped a bit, but you only struck out four times in the last 10 games. That brings up something you just retweeted from Evan Longoria about learning from failure rather than making excuses. Is that an important part of improving as a player?
Tyler Freeman: Yeah, absolutely. For me in high school, there wasn’t a lot of failure compared to this. In high school, I’d have the random 0-for here or there, but here, it can happen for multiple games in a row and when you fail, you can’t just sit in the corner and cry about it, you’ve got to really bounce back from it. The best players bounce back. No one’s gonna be perfect or stay hot for the whole season. Everyone goes into a slump so it’s learning to bounce back from that and grinding through the failure and learning how to become a better player by doing that.
Brian Hemminger: I’d like to ask about your batting stance. Watching you hit, you have a very open stance and then you step through and really drive the ball. Is that something you figured out on your own or did you pattern it after a favorite player?
Tyler Freeman: I was a toe-tap guy growing up and my freshman year I got away from that. I went back to the toe-tap because before when I didn’t, I would cut myself off and would step more towards second base with my stride rather than towards the pitcher so I didn’t get the inside pitch as well. With the toe-tap, I step in and also step straight if that makes sense. It allows me to step towards the pitcher and I’ve kept it going since after my freshman year and I haven’t had to change it since then.
Brian Hemminger: You’ve played shortstop your whole life and that’s what you’re playing now. What do you think about draft reports saying you could get moved to second base. Are you okay with that or are you taking it as a challenge like, “I’ll show you guys I can play short stop at this level”?
Tyler Freeman: I’ve been a shortstop my whole live but whatever the Indians want me to do, whether it’s catching, pitching, playing first, it will not be a problem to me at all. If I’m playing on the field and if I’m helping my team contribute to a win, I don’t care where I’m playing to be honest.
Brian Hemminger: What’s it been like getting to know your new Latin American teammates? It has to be a bit of a big shock having half your new teammates that are still learning English. How are you guys gelling?
Tyler Freeman: At first, I’m not gonna lie, I was beyond scared. I was like, Oh my goodness, how am I gonna adapt to this? Everyone here speaks Spanish but me. I don’t know what they’re saying.”
Once I got into it, those fears passed. Even the Spanish speaking guys, they would come up to me and they would make me feel at home. These teammates are now my brothers. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve learned to adapt to a new set of teammates.
Brian Hemminger: Have you learned any Spanish phrases yet? Quentin Holmes was telling me about saying “boocan la” together when someone hits a bomb.
Tyler Freeman: I learned like, “What’s up bro?” like “Yo lo que?” and “Tranquillo” for “Chillin’.” (laughs) That’s the big ones so far. It’s still a work in progress though.
Brian Hemminger: What part of your game do you feel needs to improve the most so far when you’re critiquing yourself?
Tyler Freeman: I think the hitting is there, so I’m not worried about the hitting, but maybe being more fluid at shortstop. I’d like to imitate the Dominicans with how fluid they are. It’s like they’re dancing when they’re field. That’s what I feel like I need to improve most to either stick at shortstop or wherever they decide to put me. That’s the biggest thing I’m hoping to change in my game.
Brian Hemminger: Do you have any goals you’d like to accomplish this season or in the offseason with your training?
Tyler Freeman: My biggest goal is to gain 15-20 pounds of muscle hopefully. That’s gonna be one of my biggest goals, just to get bigger, stronger and faster. Those are some of the best things you can do off-field.
Tyler would like to give a shoutout his Etiwanda high school coach Don Furnald, who was one of his biggest supporters. You can follow him on Twitter @tyler_freeman34.