Draft : : Prospect Scouting Reports
Thursday, January 16, 2014

Draft Focus: Kyle Freeland

Frankie Piliere        
Photo: Evansville

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Position:  LHP
Height:  6-3
Weight:  170
Bats/Throws:  L-L
Birthdate:  May 14, 1993
College:  Evansville
Hometown:  Denver, Colo.
Previously Drafted:  Phillies '11 (35)
Projected Draft Round:  1-2

Summer collegiate baseball has evolved into a way of evening up the playing field for college players across the country. Players from all corners of the nation and from various conferences, large and small, are on the same field and looking to prove themselves to the very same scouts. The Cape Cod League is the highest level example of that, and Evansville’s Kyle Freeland is among the best examples of what a player can do to take advantage of that platform in recent memory.

Area scouts may have been well aware of Freeland’s potential, but a stellar summer on the Cape has him now squarely on the radar of scouting directors as one of the top lefthanders in the 2014 draft class.

A native of Denver, Colorado, one could see how Freeland has managed to stay somewhat under the radar until this past year. By no means was he completely unknown, however, as the Philadelphia Phillies drafted him in the 35th round of the 2011 MLB Draft. To say he’s come a long way since then, though, would be more than a significant understatement. Freeland elected to go pitch at the University Evansville, and from there we’d begin to see an evolution from him into the prospect he is today.

The best thing that can happen to a “cold weather pitcher” like Freeland is getting an opportunity to rack up innings and experience. He got just that at Evansville in his freshman season, as he was handed a full-time rotation slot and 91 innings of work to go along with it. Not yet the dynamic swing-and-miss pitcher he is today, Freeland struck out 70 batters in that span, while walking 22 and surrendering 92 hits. His 4.55 ERA was a solid, if not pedestrian total, but again it may be the innings that were most important in that freshman campaign.

The true coming out party for Freeland in college baseball could likely be traced back to his time spent in the Alaska League following his freshman season. Enjoying a summer season that included a string of over 30 straight scoreless innings, the 6-foot-3 lefthander ended up with a 5-1 record for the Anchorage Glacier Pilots, posting a 1.74 ERA and striking out 37 batters in 41 innings of work. He also earned rave reviews from coaches around the league for his plus slider and fastball that reached as high as 93 mph. Perfect Game’s post-summer Alaska League Top Prospect list named Freeland the league’s No. 6 prospect.

It seemed that Freeland had flipped a switch in Alaska, but whatever switch he flipped didn’t quite stay permanently on when he returned to Evansville for his sophomore season. While he continued to eat innings (93 1/3), he allowed 107 hits and posted a solid but not representative of his talent 4.34 ERA. And, the simple issue scouts in the region would point to was simply consistency.

Whatever happens to Kyle Freeland when the summer months rolls around, he certainly seems to do his best work there. Following up on his spectacular tour in the Alaska League, Freeland took it up yet another notch by steamrolling Cape Cod League competition in 2013. Suiting up the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Freeland did not look the part of a pitcher who had just given up 107 hits in 93 innings for Evansville.

Freeland was impeccable in nearly every way and in multiple roles for Hyannis. He worked primarily as a starter, but also contributed in some very valuable, high leverage relief outings. Over nine appearances an 40 innings, Freeland fanned 48 batters, allowed 39 hits and walked only four.

So, exactly what did Freeland tap into to make the leap from talented but somewhat inconsistent lefthander in the spring to the dominant force he became over the summer? In terms of raw stuff, it’s easy to see how it equates to high levels of success. At his best, Freeland lives consistently at 90-92 mph, consistently topping at 93 mph. Out of the bullpen, he’s capable of sitting at 92-93 mph. And, his gangly frame only figures to add strength, which could lead to some further projection. From his three-quarters arm slot, Freeland generates what amounts to a heavy fastball that is difficult to read out of his hand.

Speaking of that arm angle, it’s a key component to both how difficult Freeland can be to hit and what helped him make such strides in the summer of 2013. Upon first viewing Freeland with Hyannis, what I saw was a pitcher of varying arm angles, sometimes down to a more true low three-quarters slot. He was a pitcher that looked like a future reliever in the making, a highly effective one, but a reliever nonetheless. By the end of the summer, Freeland looked a lot less like that pitcher and very much like an arm you could see in a big league rotation. His slot, while still very difficult for hitters, was more consistent, and more repeatable, and his delivery much more under control than I had seen before.

That consistency isn’t going to do much to change the lively fastball that put Freeland on the map, but what it does do is allow him to be far more effective in commanding his secondary pitches. There’s a reason the Evansville standout walked just four batters all summer, and that was because he could turn to three different pitches he could throw for strikes.

The most notable of that arsenal is clearly his slider, which in a lot of ways acts as multiple pitches for Freeland. He throws it anywhere between 80-87 mph, and yes that is a very wide range. Early in the summer, he’d vary his angle with it, and late in the summer it would simply serve as a wide variation for him. The 80-82 mph variation has a sweeping action and is a pitch he used more frequently against lefthanded batters. He became very adept at spotting the 84-87 mph variation on each side of the plate to righties, and the downward tilt on that offering is that makes it a true plus pitch for Freeland.

The icing on the cake for Freeland was the evolution of his changeup. Still a pitch that he only needed to use sparsely on the Cape, it became still a very important weapon to combat righthanded batters. Thrown anywhere from 83-86 mph, this is more of the changeup you’ll see from the likes of CC Sabathia, which is to say it behaves more like a choked version of a two-seamer both in terms of differential and movement. He spots this pitch very well, and it has the look of a big league average offering in the making.

The lingering questions will still be in place for Freeland all spring despite all this. Scouts want to see him duplicate one of these superb summers over the course of an entire spring. But, there’s also a strong enough body of evidence in terms of mechanical improvements that Freeland has very likely turned a corner for good this time. If that’s the case, look for him to go off the board in the 25-40 overall range when Junes rolls around.

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