The Cleveland Guardians just keep getting younger. First reported by The Athletic’s Zack Meisel this morning, infielder Tyler Freeman is the latest prospect to get the call to the majors with Ernie Clement being optioned to make room on the 26-man roster.
The 23-year-old has slashed .279/.372/.364 with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers this season, clubbing a career-high six home runs in his return from shoulder surgery last year. While he’s not a power threat in any sense, he should fit in nicely with the Guardians’ current approach of slap-hitting balls where they ain’t.
In addition to his career-high home run total (which was likely aided by Huntington Park’s generosity), Freeman also has a career-high 7.4% walk rate this season. That is not terribly high, and not what you usually expect from someone who routinely carries an on-base percentage over .370, but he also doesn’t strike out much. His whiff rate was just 9.1% this season, down from 11.7% in 41 Double-A games last year.
Once a staple at the top of any Guardians top prospect list, Freeman fell off a bit after he never gained a power stroke and his shoulder injury prematurely ended his 2021 campaign. FanGraphs and Keith Law at The Athletic both had Freeman at No. 7 in the Guardians organization heading into 2022, and MLB Pipeline currently has him at No. 6, down from the organization’s top prospect in 2021.
Scouts universally see him as a singles machine who won’t strike out, but also won’t be a threat in the lineup. A lot of weak contact, but a disciplined plate approach. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s basically Steven Kwan. Transitioning from Triple-A to the majors like Kwan has is not something that happens often, but the Guardians have a roadmap for making a hitter like Freeman work.
Freeman’s four-hit game on June 29 should give you a taste of what kind of hits to expect from him when everything is clicking. A lot of contact with a lot of hustle.
The question now becomes where Freeman will play. He’s a shortstop turned second baseman by trade, but the Guardians appear to have those positions locked down in the short term. Amed Rosario mans short, while All-Star Andrés Giménez is locked in at second. Defensively, it would make all the sense in the world to have Giménez or Freeman play short and second in any formation, but Rosario doesn’t feel like he’s moving any time soon.
It would be a shame to see a player with Freeman’s ceiling come up and be stuck as a utility guy, but I feel confident saying he’s a clear upgrade over Ernie Clement before he even takes a single major-league at-bat.
For now, Freeman is starting at third to give José Ramírez a rest day at designated hitter. After that, it’s anybody’s guess where he goes.