At the season’s dawn, Tyler Freeman was a 19-year-old beginning his third season as a professional ballplayer. Most 19 year olds would be found in college, but Freeman began his career after as unexpected high draft pick. Committed to Texas Christian University, Freeman would just have completed his sophomore season as a Horned Frog. The Cleveland Indians selected him in the second round (71st overall) of 2017 First Year Player Draft.
“I did not expect to go where I was taken, I was fully set on college,” said Freeman about draft day in an interview with Did The Tribe Win Last Night. “I’d gotten several calls from my agent saying the Indians were probably the team that’s going to pick me. I’m thinking the next day, not day one.”
A surprise to him, he went early on the draft’s first day (a supplemental pick in the second round) and his path changed.
“My heart kind of sank, no way this is really happening,” he said recalling the moment. “When they called my name, a lot of tears flew for me and my family. It was one of the best days of my life.”
One day short of a month after his 20th birthday, he was promoted from Low-A Lake County to High-A Lynchburg and hasn’t looked back.
At 6’0″, 170 lb., the young shortstop wrapped up his first full length season. He began his career with 36 games with the Indians’ contribution to the Arizona Summer League. He would show off the hitting tool that is his greatest strength, punching 38 hits in 128 at-bats for a .294 average that shortened summer.
The next year he followed it up with 72 games at Rookie-level Mahoning Valley. His 95 hits would allow him to post a .352 batting average, including 29 doubles.
Freeman kept up that pace in 2019. He entered the day Monday with 149 hits and 32 doubles between Low-A and High-A, putting the team’s batting average lead in his sights with one game left on the schedule on Labor Day (Oscar Gonzalez left Lynchburg as the team’s batting leader with a .319 mark when he earned his promotion to AA Akron). Freeman has hit in six straight games and enters the season finale with a .317 average for the year while with the Hillcats after hitting .292 with the Lake County Captains.
Though Southern California is a sporting paradise, allowing for year round activities of all kinds, baseball is the only sport the Rancho Cucamonga native has pursued.
“I loved baseball so much and I stuck with it and rode it all the way,” said Freeman. “I pretty much trained with my dad growing up. He got me to where I am today.”
Of course it helped to be raised in the shadows of Los Angeles, where the Dodgers’ High-A farm club was located. Freeman made many trips to the Epicenter, home of the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in the High-A California League. Of course, he grew up a Dodgers fan.
He also modeled his game after the Yankees captain, Derek Jeter, doing his best to model his game on the future Hall-of-Famer in both on-field and off-field aspects.
Making the transition straight out of high school challenged Freeman. He has spent the past several years adjusting to the professional game, refining the tools he developed with his father.
“In the end, it’s the same game, besides the seven innings in high school” he said. “You’ve got to have fun and compete to win the game.”
It is very evident that Freeman has the competitive spirit, both on the field and with a bat in his hand. Of course the speed and complexity of baseball gets more challenging, and always requires work, but that is something Freeman understands.
“Baseball will humble you, but that is the great thing about baseball is that you have a game the next day so you can start fresh,” he said.
In the Hillcats lineup you could usually find Freeman in the first or second hole, in tandem with center fielder Steven Kwan. In the field, Freeman has paired up with a collection of second base partners, including Tyler Friis, Wilbis Santiago, and Dillon Persinger. Working with his teammates and coaches, such as roving infield instructor John McDonald, has helped him improve his work on turning the double play and learning how to play the shift.
“He’s [McDonald] been helping me get as comfortable as I can on the shift. I think this year I made a great jump on that. I feel a lot more comfortable on the shift,” said Freeman.
He has only six errors for a .976 fielding percentage since donning a Hillcats uniform. In any case, Freeman will continue to improve as he works his way through the Cleveland Indians’ farm system.
“He’s a very instinctive player,” said Hillcats bench coach Mike Mergenthaler. “He’s very talented, obviously, but he has a high baseball IQ, so you are working on smaller details with him. For him, it’s consistency.”
That growing consistency is represented in his two-time mid-season All-Star awards, first with Mahoning Valley in 2018, and earlier this season with Low-A Lake County. Freeman is respectful of these accolades.
“I hope to make as many All-Star teams as I can,” said Freeman. “It’s an awesome feeling being an All-Star, but in the end I want to win a championship.”
This is something he already did at the High School level.
In his senior season, he and his younger brother Cody, a fourth round pick of Texas in 2019, were the keystone combo on the Etiwanda Rancho Cucamonga High School team.
“We won our southern section title my senior year,” said Freeman. “Winning that with him was awesome.”
The next time they meet on a diamond it will be as rivals. The Indians and the Rangers often meet in Spring Training, and it would not be a surprise for the two to face off next year during Cactus League play.
For now, Freeman is focused on getting the job done and helping the Hillcats to win.
“It’s an awesome feeling,” said Freeman about getting the opportunity to play. “I’m playing professional baseball, and competing out there.”
When he has a few spare moments, he spends it talking to his family. Otherwise, he is concentrating on his profession.
Keep an eye on Tyler Freeman. His continuing success will make him a player to watch in the Cleveland organization, not only this year, but likely for many years to come.
Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats (MiLB.com)