On Thursday afternoon, rookie starter Sonny Gray absolutely shutdown the Houston Astros. While the former top pick was busy tallying his first MLB win, Nate Freiman—the club’s other rookie—was enjoying a career day.
Freiman finished the afternoon 4-for-4 with four RBI as he became the first Oakland A’s rookie since Ben Grieve back in 1998 to achieve the feat. Manager Bob Melvin joked afterward: “Yea Fry with four hits, we got eight. I told him he was showing off.”
The first baseman sprayed his hits to all fields, and even picked up his third home run of the season when he deposited a third inning offering from Eric Bedard beyond the wall in left field. Freiman has now hit two of his three home runs off the left-hander, and all three off the Astros, who he played for briefly during spring training.
When asked about his seeming success off the veteran Bedard, the soft-spoken Freiman deflected the credit.
“I think that I had really productive work with Chili [Davis the A's hitting coach] in the cage this morning.” Frieman’s not exaggerating either. On Thursday morning while most of his teammates were still eating breakfast in the clubhouse, Freiman had already been taking cuts in the indoor cage, working up a sweat.
“I put myself in a good hitting position. I just had some good at-bats. Not necessarily anything about him, but I had some really productive work this morning in the cage.”
Throughout the 2013 season, Freiman has been doing a remarkable job of putting himself in good hitting positions. Since May 1, he’s hitting .315 (40-for-127) and at the spacious O.co Coliseum Freiman is currently swinging at a clip of .358 with a .907 OPS. The 26-year-old also mashes lefties, as he’s currently hitting .319 (38-for-119) off them in his first big league go-around. In his first seven games in August he’s hitting .467.
Those numbers would be impressive for any rookie, especially one who spent last season in Double-A. For a player who has been a part of three organizations since the end of the 2012 season, and who didn’t land with the A’s until the final week of spring training, though, that kind of performance is just unheard of.
The Astros plucked Freiman last December out of the San Diego Padres organization as part of the Rule 5 Draft. The annual draft gives teams the chance to poach players from other organizations, who have accumulated a certain amount of minor league service time and who aren’t protected on the team’s 40-man roster.
The tall first baseman played well with the Astros this spring as he hit .278, and very well could have made the team if there had been a roster spot available. The Rule-5 draft works so that a player must stick on the active roster the entire season, or be offered back to the original club.
That’s when the A’s stepped in and snagged the slugging first baseman as the Astros hoped to slide him through waivers in the final week of spring training.
But just how rare is it to find a Rule 5 player who sticks, let alone succeeds?
In the A’s case, the last Rule 5 guy to make any sustained contribution came back in the 2003 season. The A’s had grabbed Mike Neu from the Cincinnati Reds in the 2002 edition of the draft, and the right-handed reliever actually enjoyed a solid season in Oakland. The Napa native posted a 3.64 ERA in 32 games, but would last just one season with the A’s and two in the major leagues. Currently, Neu is the pithing coach at UC Berkeley.
Freiman hasn’t just stuck with the A’s, the first baseman has been an essential piece on team battling for a playoff spot. On Thursday afternoon, as has been the case so many times before, Freiman was right in the middle of the team’s rally and what ultimately proved to be another A’s win. Even after his perfect day, the 2009 eighth round pick of the Padres still sees plenty of room to grow.
“Looking at the video I should have been on third right there especially with one out,” said Freiman of his first inning two-run double. “With one out you can be a little more aggressive. I should have been on third right there and given Cayo [Alberto Callaspo] a chance for a sac fly, or to hit with the infield in.”
“Maybe next time,” he said. Though he did point out: “Someone like me, I can’t be going in there trying to hit a triple. That’s just not going to result in anything good.”
Of his four-hit afternoon the six-foot, eight-inch Freiman admitted: “It was a fun day.”
The Duke graduate, who is the school’s all-time leader in home runs, also has a pretty insightful outlook on the stretch drive.
“There’s 40 something games left. So, it’s a little early to start thinking about the standings. We just got to compete every day.”
Freiman even called upon recent history, and in particular the A’s 2012 AL West winning squad, which he, of course, wasn’t a part of.
“This team was down something like six games with a week and a half to go. So, anything can happen in a short time. We just got to compete every day, and we’ll see where we all end up.”