CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Everyone knew even before it began that the pandemic-shortened 2020 Major League Baseball season was going to present challenges of a scope many big league ballplayers had never faced before.
For Atlanta Braves first baseman and decorated Perfect Game alumnus Freddie Freeman, the biggest challenge of all came home to roost before he could even get out of the Braves’ preseason summer camp. It was early July and Freeman had not only tested positive for the novel coronavirus but he also exhibited severe COVID-19 symptoms, including a high temperature of 104.5 degrees.
There were doubts early on that Freeman would be ready for the Braves season-opener but not only did the 30-year-old play on opening day, he played in all 60 of the Braves’ regular season games while helping them earn their third straight NL East title.
And on Thursday night, the four-time All-Star and 2011 NL Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year runner-up was named the 2020 National League Most Valuable Player in balloting conducted by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).
Freeman received 28 of the 30 first-place votes (2 runner-up) to total 410 points, easily outdistancing fellow PG alumni Mookie Betts from the Dodgers (2 1st place votes, 268 points) and Manny Machado (221) from the Padres.
A 2007 graduate of El Modena High School in Orange, Calif., Freeman – from Villa Park, Calif. – was one of PG’s brightest stars during the mid-2000s while performing alongside a good number of other top prospects and current big-leaguers on some of PG’s biggest stages in 2004 and 2006.
The journey began at the 2004 Western Underclass Showcase in Palm Desert, Calif., where Freeman earned Top Prospect Team recognition; that seemed to get the ball rolling.
He was a Top Prospect List performer at the West Coast Top Prospect Showcase in Riverside, Calif., in November 2004 and after sitting out 2005 got right back at it with a TPL showing at the 2006 California Underclass Showcase.
The TPL performance at the Cal Under earned Freeman an invitation to the 2006 PG National Showcase in Fayetteville, Ark., where he continued to impress scouts with his loud left-handed bat and agility at the corner-infield positions. The scouting report produced after his PG National appearance read, in part:
“Freeman is one of the top pure hitters in the ’07 high school class. … When he is swinging the bat well, he is as fun to watch hit as anyone in this class. … Freeman routinely makes plus barrel contact and produces easy power; the ball makes a different sound off his bat than with most players.”
The next stop for Freeman was the 2006 PG All-American Classic, held that August at San Diego State’s Tony Gwynn Field. When he arrived he shared that field with future MLB All-Stars Madison Bumgarner, Yasmani Grandal, Jason Heyward and DJ LeMahieu, and 2018 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.
Not content to close down his PG career at the Classic’s conclusion, he rejoined Grandal, Heyward, LeMahieu and Porcello – along with hundreds of other old friends and top prospects – at the 2006 PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla.; Freeman played with the powerhouse Ohio Warhawks at the event.
The Braves selected Freeman in the second round of 2007 MLB June Amateur Draft out of El Modena HS and he made his big league debut on Sept. 1, 2010 just two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.
Named an NL All-Star in 2013, ’14, ’18 and ’19, Freeman finished fourth in the MVP balloting in 2018, fifth in 2013, eighth in 2019 and 23rd in 2014.
In this, his MVP season, Freeman led the major leagues in runs scored (51) and ranked second in slugging percentage (.640) and OPS+ (186). His slash-line of .341/.462/.640 represented career highs in each category; he stroked a league-high 23 doubles, smacked 13 home runs and collected 53 RBI.
The Dodgers right fielder Betts, from the Nashville suburb of Brentwood, Tenn., is a 2011 graduate of John Overton High School, who played with Tim Dulin’s Dulins Dodgers program during his high prep years. He was rostered at the PG WWBA 18u National Championship in Marietta, Ga., and the PG BCS 18u National Championship in Fort Myers, Fla., that summer.
The Red Sox drafted the right-handed hitting outfielder in the 5th-round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft and he made his MLB debut with the Red Sox three years later in June 2014. Betts won the AL MVP and was looking to become only the second player to win the award in both leagues, joining Hall of Famer Frank Robinson.
Machado, the Padres All-Star third baseman, entered the Perfect Game scene right about the same time Freeman was departing, performing at six PG events in 2008-09, mostly for the All-American Prospects in WWBA tournament play.
He was also at the 2009 PG National Showcase in Minneapolis, playing alongside former NL MVPs Kris Bryant and Christian Yelich.
A Florida native, Machado graduated from Brito Miami (Fla.) Private High School in 2010, and the Florida International commit was selected with the third pick of the 1st round by the Orioles in the 2010 MLB June Amateur Draft. He made his major league debut in August 2012 only one month removed from his 20th birthday.
The White Sox’s Jose Abreu won AL MVP honors with the Indians’ Jose Ramirez finishing second. 2006 PG National Showcase and 2006 PG All-American Classic alumnus and Yankees’ second baseman DJ LeMahieu was third in the balloting.
LeMahieu is a 2007 graduate of Brother Rice High School in Michigan who was with Freddie Freeman at the 2006 PG National Showcase, the ’06 PG All-American Classic and the '06 WWBA World Championship. He was at the WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., with the Midwest Blazers in 2005 and returned a year later with the South Florida Bandits, his primary travel ball team.
LeMahieu was a 41st-round pick of his hometown Tigers out of high school but didn’t sign and honored his commitment to Louisiana State. Once in Baton Rouge, he developed into the 2nd-round pick of the Cubs in the 2009 MLB June Amateur Draft.
ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT, BBWAA voters selected Indians righthander Shane Bieber and Reds righty Trevor Bauer as winners of the American League and National League Cy Young Awards, respectively.
Bieber, a unanimous selection in the AL, is a native of Orange, Calif., and a 2013 graduate of Laguna Hills (Calif.). He pitched for the ASD Bulldogs at the 2011 PG/EvoShield Underclass National Championship in Glendale, Ariz., and returned with the Bulldogs in 2012 for the Upperclass version of the event and earned all-tournament recognition.
The 25-year-old Bieber was a 4th-round pick of the Indians in the 2016 MLB June Amateur Draft out of UC Santa Barbara.
What follows are lists of MLB MVPs and Cy Young Award winners who enjoyed ties to PG during their prep years:
American League MVP
2014: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2015: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays
2016: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
2018: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
2019: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
National League MVP
2010: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
2012: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2013: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
2014: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
2015: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
2016: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
2018: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
2019: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
2020: Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
American League Cy Young:
2009: Zack Greinke, Kansas City Royals
2012: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
2014: Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
2016: Rick Porcello, Boston Red Sox
2017: Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
2020: Shane Bieber, Cleveland Indians
National League Cy Young:
2011: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
2013: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
2014: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers