Braves Keeping A Spot Warm For Freeman

ATLANTA—The Braves left Indianapolis and the Winter Meetings still in search of a first baseman and a righthanded bat, preferably one with some semblance of power.

With Adam LaRoche looking for a three-year deal, the Braves are likely to have a new face at first this season. Yet chances are the fit could be temporary due to Freddie Freeman's rapid development. Atlanta's second-round draft pick in 2007 worked his way to Double-A Mississippi last season and held his own in the Arizona Fall League despite battling a handful of minor injuries that limited his ability to drive the ball.

"When you consider what he went through from a physical standpoint, Freddie had a very productive season," general manager Frank Wren said. "A lot of guys would have struggled a lot more than he did, but I think that is also an indication of what kind of player and the type of character we have in him."

Freeman, 20, has a sweet, smooth lefthanded stroke that allows him to drive the ball in the gaps. He also has a knack for rising to the occasion by driving in runners in scoring position. Defensively, he was tabbed the top first baseman in both the high Class A Carolina and Double-A Southern leagues last year.

While some observers have suggested that Freeman could make the jump to the big leagues this spring, it's unlikely the Braves will allow that to happen. Freeman had only 149 at-bats at Double-A, where he hit .248/.308/.342. He also batted .267/.353/.400 in 45 trips to the plate in the AFL, which suggests he could use some more seasoning at the upper levels of the minor leagues.

The Braves also do not want to put excessive pressure on their lineup by breaking in two rookies at the same time. As the new year inched closer, it became apparent that Jason Heyward would receive every opportunity in spring training to claim the starting job in right field. Heyward and Freeman are the best of friends and a potent one-two punch, but it would be premature to believe both are ready for the challenges at the major league level.

Wigwam Wisps

• The Braves lost lefthander Edgar Osuna in the Rule 5 draft to the Royals. Kansas City also signed six-year free agent first baseman Ernesto Mejia a week later. Mejia missed more than 10 months with a knee injury after leading the Carolina League in both home runs (21) and RBIs (93) in 2008.

• Osuna was the lone casualty of the Rule 5 draft for Atlanta. The Braves did not select a player in any of the draft's three phases.