Likely September call-up drawing near for Freeman

About the only thing that’s not coming easily to Braves first base prospect Freddie Freeman right now is the waiting.

With every passing hour, he inches that much closer to September and a likely first call-up to the major leagues.

Whether it comes Sept. 1, when rosters expand, or the Braves wait until the end of Triple-A Gwinnett’s season Sept. 6, it appears just a matter of time now. So Freeman’s got to fill his, lest the anticipation gets the better of him.

“I can’t really think about that,” said Freeman, the highest-rated position player in the Braves’ farm system who figures to take over at first base next season. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, so I block out everything.”

That is no simple task for a guy with the Atlanta right fielder for a roommate. His father Fred likes to scavenge the Internet for the latest roster scenarios. And just about everybody else Freeman knows asks the same question: When?

Freeman said Jason Heyward doesn’t bring it up. He understands how it is, waiting for that call. His father knows he doesn’t want to talk about it, too, so he often keeps his thoughts to himself.

As for everybody else, Freeman might give an “I don’t know” or a “We’ll see” when asked about it. But he can’t hide a little twinkle in his eye. It’s getting harder by the day.

Even his manager, Dave Brundage, who happens to believe Freeman is ready, has taken to calling him “Fred” instead of “Freddie” for all the maturing he’s done this season in Gwinnett.

“He says, ‘No, it’s Freddie. My dad’s name’s Fred,’” Brundage said. “And I said, ‘Well yeah, but you’re maturing and it’s been fun to watch. To me you’re no longer Freddie, you’re Fred.’”

Freeman started the season like a typical 20-year-old in Triple-A. He was overaggressive (one walk in his first 14 games), got himself out on a healthy dose of first pitches (“I like the ambush,” he said) and hit only .259 with five homers through May. He then had a scare with a knee injury and missed seven games.

Shortly after he came back in early June, Gwinnett hitting coach Jamie Dismuke suggested he open up his stance to help him get to inside pitches. Freeman took off.

He hit .318 in June, .333 in July and .402 in August, through Wednesday’s game. For the season, he’s hitting .317 with 35 doubles, 17 home runs and 83 RBIs in 119 games. He’s second in the International League in doubles and third in RBIs, slugging percentage (.522) and OPS (.900).

“I kept getting jammed and flaring everything to left,” Freeman, a left-handed batter, said of his early-season struggles. “I couldn’t get to that inside pitch. Once I opened it up, I was able to get my hips through the ball. And it’s been like that ever since. Seem to be finding some more holes since then.”

There was that twinkle in his eye again.

So much of what Freeman touches these days turns golden. He even helped turn a triple play on Wednesday night behind pitcher Scott Diamond, the first he’d ever taken part in or seen in person.

That was just hours after Freeman had mastered the clubhouse pingpong table yet again. He set a goal to unseat Wes Timmons as the G-Braveschampion. Mission, like almost everything this year, accomplished.

Freeman’s only lapse lately came last week, after the Braves traded for Derrek Lee and it became apparent that the team wasn't prepared to turn over first base to a 20-year-old down the stretch.

Freeman went 1-for-5 with “the three worst at-bats he’s had probably in the last two months,” Brundage said. He called Freeman into his office after the game.

“Why don’t you prove them wrong?” Brundage suggested. “It’s just showing, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m ready.’ That’s the approach you need to take. You can’t control anything that goes on up there. The something you can control is standing in those shoes right here.”

Freeman responded with multi-hit games in five of his next six games.

“I think he can smell it,” Brundage said. “And he can taste it.”