PuRP No. 4: Kyle Freeland (424 points, 16 ballots) -- Summer 2014 Ranking: 7 -- High Ballot 3, Mode Ballot 4
Freeland, a 21-year-old left-hander who spent his pro debut at rookie-level Grand Junction and Low-A Asheville, was Colorado's 2014 first round pick (#8 overall) out of the University of Evansville (and Thomas Jefferson high school in Denver). Freeland signed for a below slot $2.3 million bonus, was linked to the Rockies well before the draft, and was the Purple Row community's pick for the Rockies. Here's what resident prospect guru David Hood had to say about Freeland when he was drafted:
Despite the lofty strikeout totals this season at Evansville, Freeland's stuff isn't pure power, but above average pitches played up by excellent command. He's going to pitch in the low 90's with a fastball carrying late life, and will back the pitch up with a solid slider that he can locate in the zone. ... Based on his excellent command and solid mix of pitches, Freeland should move quickly with #3 starter potential ... if he can stay healthy. ... The first thing I noticed with Freeland was the lack of shoulder tilt in his delivery and the stress he put on his throwing arm. His delivery is more arm than total body, and can at times appear violent.
Overall, this is a solid selection that probably has more injury risk than other picks, but provided he's healthy, Freeland could take a similar short trip to the majors a la Butler. He slots in just behind Gray and Butler on my Rockies pitching totem pole, edging Matzek with superior command despite lesser stuff, and Anderson with superior stuff and even if not better command.
Freeland had just five starts at each of Grand Junction and Asheville, combining for 39 innings of work in that time. In that small sample size, Freeland was pretty dominant, racking up a 3-0 record with a 1.15 ERA (0.83 in Asheville), 0.92 WHIP, and 7.6 K/9. The Rockies view Freeland as a potential quick riser in the system and a player that could be in Coors Field within the next two years.
Nick Faleris of Baseball Prospectus rated Freeland fifth in the system, calling him a likely #4 starter at the big league level with 2/3 starter potential:
Strengths: All three foundational pitches show above-average potential and come with multiple looks and deception; fastball sits in low-90s velo band with ability to sink, cut, and run; four-seamer can reach mid-90s; slider comes with late sweep and can tighten to upper-80s cutter; change sits in mid-80s with late tumble; can cut change for different look; plus control; can live on the periphery with comfort; advanced feel for sequencing and ability to vary look and approach.
Weaknesses: Delivery comes with effort and some herk and jerk; low slot limits downhill plane and can hold fastball on swing path; potential to live too fully in the zone; elbow surgery already in the file; yet to show durability required of pro starter; stuff could play down over course of longer season.
The southpaw is distinctive both for his chameleonic arsenal and the adroit manner in which he wields it, with a uniform release and trajectory capable of resulting in seven-plus alternate finishes over a velocity band stretching cleanly from the low 80s to the mid-90s. Provided Freeland can maintain that quality of stuff over a long pro season, the former Purple Ace could force a speedy ascension through the minor-league ranks thanks to his advanced arsenal, plus command, and aggressive approach. Assuming no significant setbacks, the Rockies could see their 2014 first rounder logging major-league innings by 2016.
Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs also ranked him fifth in the system, slapping Freeland with a 50 FV grade:
Freeland is a tough evaluation: his fastball and slider were both flashing plus by the end of the year (the above video is from a solid but unspectacular early-season outing) but injury concerns will follow him for years. He had elbow surgery in 2007 as a high school freshman and some clubs were still concerned about the medical, with a couple teams late in the first round telling me they probably wouldn't take him if he slipped to them due to concerns about his less-than-smooth mechanics contributing to a future injury ... I rounded down on the fastball and slider grade (both flash plus) since I think those pitches settle there in a starter role long-term. Freeland shows an advanced ability to command his above average stuff even with some effort to the delivery, so it's hard to bet against him and he could shoot through the system in some scenarios, reaching his #3 starter upside in short order.
Freeland has been slotted by the electorate as Colorado's third best pitching prospect -- I personally ranked him fourth -- and for good reason. Despite the injury concerns, Freeland is polished and has the stuff to succeed at the big league level. I expect Freeland to start the year in Modesto with an appearance in New Britain before the end of the year not out of the question.
Contract Status: 2014 first round, not Rule 5 eligible, three options remaining
MLB ETA: Late 2016