Sam Freeman was the 24th round pick out of the University of Kansas in this past year’s draft. A hard throwing lefty, Sam dominated the Appy League before making the jump all the way to Palm Beach to finish his season. He struck out 38 batters in 26.1 innings and held lefties in check, to the tune of a .038 batting average. Jeff Luhnow recently called him one of the hidden gems in the system. I recently caught up with Sam and he was kind enough to answer my questions. My thanks to Sam for his time and thoughtful answers.
How would you describe your first taste of professional ball?
I Would describe my first taste of professional ball as exciting. Getting the opportunity to compete everyday against players who will one day be in the big leagues and see how you match up against them definitely a rush. I also learned a lot about myself, like what does and doesn’t work for me, what I need to do to keep my body ready to play everyday and how to mentally prepare for potential situations in the game where my number might be called, as I was used as a reliever.
You played in the instructional league. For those of us who don’t know, what goes on in the instructional leagues?
During instructional league, the players get to work on specific parts of their game they feel or the organization feels they need to improve on to advance. After we get to the facility and eat in the morning, we would stretch as a team then the hitters would work on base running then break up into their specific positions and get individual work, while the pitchers would condition and long toss, if a pitcher was to throw in that day’s game or had a bullpen, they would do pitchers fielding practice or “pfp” while the other pitchers did their long toss. After about 30 minutes all the players would come back together and we would do a team fundamental where we would focus on bunt coverages, first and third situations, cuts and relays or pop fly communication. Once that was over we would take batting practice then go in for lunch around 11:30. After lunch, about half of the players would play in a game against either the Mets or the Marlins instructional league team’s then call it a day. The instructional league is a huge benefit because players get more individual attention from the staff and are free to work on the different parts of their game without stressing about the results. Also we became familiar with what is expected of us and how to conduct ourselves in spring training.
Tell me about your repertoire.
My repertoire consists of a four-seam fastball that sits from 90-94 MPH, a change-up which is kind of in between a split finger and a traditional straight change up. I’ve heard the grip referred to as a “fosh” change up and am currently working with a cut fastball and a hard slider to see which pitch I can throw more consistently for strikes against left-handed hitters.
And how would you describe your pitching mechanics?
I would describe my mechanics as pretty clean for the most part, I would say one of my flaws with mechanics is my glove side tends to fly open which keeps my control from being as good as it could be. I would say I have an up-tempo delivery. I throw from an over the top arm slot and with me being a smaller pitcher, I feel it is necessary to get the most that I can out of my body so I use a lot of legs and really try to drive off the mound. I always pitch from the stretch because it is more comfortable to me and because of the less movement pitching from the stretch than there is from the wind-up I don’t have to worry as much about my timing.
Have you always pitched?
Yes and no. I have always worked on pitching since I was in little league and all throughout high school but it was never anything I actually wanted to do, I was more interested in making diving catches and stealing bases. I really began taking pitching seriously my freshman year in junior college at North Central after my pitching coach Mark Allen took me to a pitching clinic, and even after that I still signed with Marshall to be a two-way player. Last semester at Kansas University was the first time I was a pitcher only.
You were drafted by the Cardinals not once, but twice. What’s the story behind that?
Well, after my sophomore year in junior college I was drafted in the 24th round by scout Joe Almaraz. I had signed with Marshall University earlier that fall and I thought if I could go prove myself in one of the better D1 conferences I could increase my stock for the following draft. Things didn’t work out at Marshall, so I transferred to Kansas University in the spring. I started the season pretty well going 4-0 then went completely down hill from there and finished the season on a horrible note. So my whole plan about increasing my stock pretty much blew up in my face at that point. Luckily for me, Joe Almaraz gave me another opportunity and invited me to a pre-draft workout. I guess I impressed the organization enough there for them to draft me again even after I put up horrible numbers at KU. Now I am determined to make the best of this opportunity.
Looking at your stats, I notice you were absolutely murder on left-handed batters. What does that mean to you?
To me, I guess it means I found a little niche for myself with lefty vs. lefty match-ups being key to winning games. Coming in to face left-handed hitters was one of the roles that I occupied and I am glad that I was able to come through most of the time.
Jeff Luhnow recently had a chat with fans and called you one of the “hidden gems” in the system. What are your thoughts on that?
It is definitely great to hear. I know that players that go late in the draft like myself are often looked upon as having an even harder road to make it to the big leagues than the players that go earlier. So, hearing him say that just drives me to keep working hard and prove that I can play with anybody.
Last question: Who do you like to win the World Series?
I have to go with the Rays. When I tell people that, they want to call me a fair weather Rays fan but the truth is I called it in 2005 that they would break out in three years, because back then they had prospects like Delmon Young and Joey Gathright along with the core group of guys they have now who are really showing they can play. I even have a text message on my phone from one of my friends validating me, but people just say that it’s fake and so I asked him to send it to me. (Ha ha) There is no winning either way, but yes, I am going with the Rays to win it this year.