Very early in the 2019 season, Milwaukee traded pitching prospect Sal Biasi to the Seattle Mariners for catcher David Freitas. Since the acquisition, Freitas has taken the Pacific Coast League by storm. He won the PCL batting title with a .381 batting average, which is really not a surprise as Freitas has performed well with the bat throughout his minor league career.
Actually, with a few games with Tacoma, his PCL average for the year is .381, but that's still the highest in all of the minor leagues this season. https://t.co/tVA4OdCBGE— Tom (@Haudricourt) September 4, 2019
Freitas has yet to put things together at the major league level. Part of the reason might be lack of opportunity as the 30 year old has had just one real shot to prove what he has at the highest level in the sport. In 2018, Freitas made the opening day roster of the Seattle Mariners. During that season, he made 106 plate appearances and slashed .215/.277/.312. Obviously his opportunity was in the form of the backup catcher, so he was not getting regular at-bats, and the results showed.
David Freitas got the playing time he sought at Class AAA San Antonio this season, and he responded with a PCL batting title: pic.twitter.com/suO9OkeFEt— Todd Rosiak (@Todd_Rosiak) September 1, 2019
Getting plenty of at-bats in San Antonio, Freitas hit, slashing .387/.459/.571 for a 155 wRC+. There is no question that Freitas can hit, and he puts the bat on the ball. In fact, he might have exceptional plate discipline as well, at least if you believe in a new hitting stat that Fangraphs calls the Maddux plate discipline index (mPDI), named after Greg Maddux who suggested the novel concept of throwing strikes when the hitter is likely not to swing and throwing balls when the hitter is likely to swing. That articulation of the concept would actually formulate the pitching version of the statistic, but reversing the concept, the hitter would hit strikes and lay off balls essentially. In 2018, David Freitas was one of the best at doing that against major league pitching, up there with guys like Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, and Khris Davis.
A guy who can hit like that playing a premium position where the ability to hit is lacking? Why has this guy not gotten a real shot to play major league baseball? The problem is defense. With the Mariners in 2018, Freitas caught 274 innings and was able to frame at a decent level (0.9 FRM, which is J.T. Realmuto level).
Unfortunately, he is not very good at throwing out would be base stealers. He only threw out 21% of those that tried to steal on him in 2018, and with the Missions this season, he was only able to throw out 5 out of 51 of those that attempted to steal on him. That is not very good. His pop time is at least part of the problem as he posted one of the worst pop time averages in all of baseball in 2018 (2.12 seconds).
Evidently he is not great a blocking pitches, at least according to Baseball America, but Fangraphs showed that he did not have one passed ball or wild pitch allowed with the Missions in 2019. Maybe the catching gurus in the Brewers’ system helped him find something there. Unfortunately, he might not be that great at game calling and management as pitcher ERA when throwing to him in 2018 was 4.47 (league average was 4.14). Again the hope would be that the Brewers’ catching gurus helped him.
Freitas is not the best defensive catcher in baseball by any stretch, and that is likely the reason he has yet to get ample opportunity at the major league level. The Missions did play him 25 games at first base, so a transition defensively might be in order. The question is, does he have enough power to stick at a position that almost requires it, especially from a right-handed hitter?
Freitas’ right-handed bat will play really well against left-handed pitching. Look for some impact moments when he makes spot starts and in pinch hitting roles. Craig Counsell will likely not hesitate to use him against right-handers either, as his contact skills are something very needed by this Brewers team. I would bet that Freitas does not catch much in 2019 unless the Brewers fall out of the race as Yasmani Grandal and Manny Pina just serve that purpose better. However a start or two at first base might be possible. Freitas will likely be the right-handed bat that pinch hits when the Brewers need someone who can make contact.
What a season for David Freitas. He gets traded and is told to relocate from Tacoma to San Antonio. He makes the PCL all-star team, fights through injury to win a league batting title and then gets called up to the majors. Oh, and he also becomes a new dad. @missionsmilb— Missions Beat Writer (@BriggsMissions) September 3, 2019
David Freitas has the hit tool, and he can make a difference off the bench for the Brewers down the stretch in 2019. He may also make a difference beyond 2019 as his earliest possible arbitration season is 2021. Milwaukee has a way of finding catching talent that others give up on (Manny Pina, Stephen Vogt and Erik Kratz) as well as developing it defensively (Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, and Jacob Nottingham). Freitas needs significant work defensively, but if the Brewers could get him close to league average on defense, they will have found a diamond in the rough. Otherwise, he makes for great depth moving between San Antonio and Milwaukee.
Baseball statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, and Baseball Savant