CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Combining impeccable command with plus stuff, Evansville lefthander Kyle Freeland produced one of the most dominant starts of the college season, striking out nearly half (47 percent) of the 32 Charlotte hitters he faced this past weekend in an economical complete-game effort.
“That was as overmatched as I have seen a decent D-1 college team in a long time outside of the upper-echelon pitchers like Stephen Strasburg, David Price and Carlos Rodon, when he is going good,” a National League scout said.
He displayed everything evaluators wanted to see, making Freeland a likely first-round pick with the potential to go in the top half of the round. Freeland garnered 22 swinging strikes on the day and retired 19 straight hitters at one point.
“I don't know what more you could have seen on that day, his command and fastball life were really good and the slider was as good as I have seen,” the scout said. “I thought his command was as good as any pitcher I have seen, maybe not even just this year but in a long time.”
He was a strike-thrower from the first pitch, and his plus to plus-plus command has become a hallmark for Freeland, who threw strikes on 80 percent of his pitches. He threw 21 straight strikes spanning from the last hitter in the fourth to the second hitter of the seventh inning.
Freeland has thrown 71.8 percent strikes this season and more than two-thirds in every start this season. For context, the major league average strike percentage was 63.4 in 2013. No qualified major league starter in the last decade has thrown strikes at a higher clip than Freeland’s 71.8 percent clip (although Freeland’s rate spans just seven starts compared to a full major league season). The closest are Carlos Silva at 71.4 percent in 2005 and Cliff Lee at 71.1 percent in 2009.
All three of Freeland’s fastball components (velocity, life and command) were at least plus. Unlike many college starters, he showed the ability to get swings and misses with his fastball, producing six fastball whiffs on the day. His fastball sat 91-93 mph and touched 94-95, and he held that velocity throughout his nine innings and 97 pitches. Using both a two-seamer and four-seamer, Freeland showed varied fastball movement in every direction, featuring explosive cut and glove-side run on his four-seamer and arm-side run on his two-seamer. He produces downhill plane and sink, pitching in the lower half of the zone on both outer-thirds of the plate. Freeland, who works from the far third-base side of the rubber, creates deception in his delivery, and the ball jumps out of his hand. His fastball was very loud, as his high spin rate produced an audible cutting through the air.
His life and location produced 10 groundouts on the day without a single flyout to the outfield, although he did allow a hard lineout to an infielder. A soft lineout was the only other out needed on the day. He has a 1.68 groundball-to-flyball ratio on the season.
Freeland’s mid-80s slider was at least a plus offering, flashing at least a full grade higher. He complemented his slider with a 79-82 mph curveball that was also an above-average offering. His command of his secondary stuff was superb, as more than 80 percent of his offspeed stuff went for strikes, with 16 swinging strikes, and he located his breaking stuff to both sides of the plate. Freeland, who entered college with both a slider and curveball, used his slider as his out pitch.
“It usually depends on the count, but if I have him 0-2 or 1-2, I will probably go to the slider,” Freeland said. “My curveball is a good setup pitch into a changeup or the slider. But the curveball has gotten better and better because I have been constantly working on it. My slider is still my out pitch.”
His 86-89 mph changeup has also taken a step forward, and he showed strong feel for the offering.
“That was by far the best my changeup has felt all season long,” Freeland said.
The first few times Freeland threw the offering some evaluators weren't completely sure what the offering was because of the velocity range, although it had considerable tumble.
“He threw it probably eight times and it had some late life to it, although it was a little firm,” Evansville coach Wes Carroll said. “It is just enough to keep guys off of his firm fastball and firm slider. The velocity will continue to drop on it the more and more he continues to develop it and work on it. With his athleticism, there is no doubt he will have a strong change if it is not there already.”
It all adds up to an athletic, polished lefthander with upside and command of a four-pitch mix who has performed in college, as Freeland has struck out 30.3 percent of all hitters against a 2 percent walk rate, a 15-1 strikeout-walk ratio. His strong performance extends beyond this spring and against a higher level of competition. Freeland had the lowest walk rate (0.90 walks per-nine) of any Cape Cod league pitcher with more than 30 innings last summer with a 12-1 strikeout-walk ratio in 40 innings.
Freeland is the next in a long line of Colorado pitchers who developed into high draft picks after leaving high school. The Phillies, who drafted Freeland in the 35th round, offered Freeland top-10-round money in 2011 before he landed at Evansville, where he began to capitalize on his projection.
“When he came in as a freshman he was 85-87, touching 88,” Carroll said. “He had a thin frame but good shoulders, height and his arm. As recruiting coaches and recruiters you look for arm action, and his arm was so clean, and I knew that the velocity was going to continue to jump as he continued to put on weight, especially with his lower half. That is something he has really made strides in the weight room on is his lower half.”
Freeland said he reached campus at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds but now measures at 6-foot-4 and between 190-195 pounds. He has a lean build similar to a surfer with broad shoulders and a V-shaped torso leading to a slim, trim waist and lean legs that will accommodate additional strength gains.
He also offers athleticism as a former all-state golfer in high school.
“Pitchers sometimes get knocked for not being athletic, but he is very athletic with his footwork and explosiveness, which are pretty impressive,” Evansville pitching coach Cody Fick said. “We will hold conditioning sessions in the winter session on a basketball court. If there is a basketball lying around, it is nothing for him to just go up and dunk it. The athleticism is definitely there. There is some spring in his lower half and some life in his body.”
Freeland is also young for the draft class and will turn 21 less than a month before the draft. Some evaluators do have concerns about his delivery, which has some effort and leaves him spinning toward third base from an arm slot that can be a tick below three-quarters. But delivery concerns can be softened by supreme strike-throwing ability.
With a chance to be the second first-round pick to come out of Evansville—Andy Benes was the first overall pick by the Padres in 1988—Freeland decided to change his appearance heading into his draft-eligible year.
“I had a mullet,” Freeland said. “My senior year in high school, freshman and sophomore years at school I had it. Then after my sophomore year I need to be professional for my draft year and be a grown-up. It is business time, not play time anymore.”