HARRISBURG, Pa. - Batting practice had just ended but the first pitch was still nearly three hours away as Cole Freeman, 26, leaned on the railing down the first-base line at FNB Field on City Island here Friday afternoon.
“A lot of us are eager to see our families,” admitted Freeman, in a year the minor-league season started and ends later than in the recent past.
The Double-A Harrisburg Senators will end the home portion of a long season on Sunday against Bowie, then end up the year next week on the road at New Hampshire.
In the year of pandemic protocol, a new-type schedule, and major changes to the Washington farm system, Freeman has endured as a versatile infielder/outfielder after missing out on the 2020 season.
He wasn’t part of the alternate site in Fredericksburg last summer or Instructional League in Florida and instead worked out in his native Louisiana with a former high school teammate.
Once Freeman began the year in central Pennsylvania, he was hit by a pitch in a home game against Somerset and that has had lingering effects.
In games through Thursday, LSU product Freeman was hitting .272 with five homers and 38 RBIs and 14 steals in 378 at-bats.
“I’m not happy with my season by no means. But I’m not disappointed though, especially after my 2019 season,” said Freeman, wearing blue shorts, a blue T-shirt and three chains around his neck on a splendid, 74-degree in the state capital. “With that year off, I didn’t expect my body to respond like it did. When you take a year and a half off, that is something your body” isn’t used to dealing with.
“This year has definitely been a grind,” added Freeman. “There are some numbers of mine that I am frustrated with. But I got hit in the hand with a 97 and was out for two weeks. We have not caught a lot of breaks as a team.”
Harrisburg manager Tripp Keister, who played at the University of Delaware, notes that Freeman is among the league leader in hits and bunts.
“He bunts, he runs, he can steal bases, he can play center field, left field, second base and third base,” Keister told Federal Baseball on Friday. “He has had a good year.”
Freeman was drafted in the fourth round in 2017 by Washington out of LSU. He is one of several former Tigers in the system, including outfielder Andrew Stevenson.
The right-handed batter spent all of 2018 at low Single-A Hagerstown then was with high Single-A Potomac in 2019 - as he hit .311 that year. But then the pandemic hit and Freeman was not able to face top pitching last year and he was not part of the alternate site.
He worked out near his home with the former prep teammate who played at Nicholls State.
“You can only swing off the tee so much,” Freeman noted. “It was just me and him” working out together.
“I was able to stay pretty busy; I got lucky with COVID [sanctions in some spots] in Mandeville, Louisiana,” Freeman added. “He was good for me to get out of the house and stay in shape. The hardest part to replicate is taking ground balls. It was good, I felt stronger. It was hard to go a year and a half without playing.”
Freeman lives with a host family and earlier this year one of his roommates was pitcher Cade Cavalli, a top prospect who started for Triple-A Rochester on Friday.
“His effort is amazing; it’s God-given to him and he knows that and he doesn’t over-think that,” Freeman said of the talent level of Cavalli. “We got to be really, really close.”
Another infielder for Harrisburg is Jake Alu, a 24th-round pick of the Nationals in 2019 out of Boston College.
“Now he’s an everyday guy; he earned that,” Freeman said of Alu, who was hitting .288 with 10 homers through Thursday. “He said he was playing one or two games a week” early in his pro career.
Now the Nationals have new faces in the farm system after trading so many veterans in July.
“We have a lot more guys in the minors who are prospects and stuff,” Freeman said.
“We are all trying to force their hand and get that shot” at the majors.
After the season ends later this month, Freeman plans to head to Arizona and work out this winter with RJ Guyer, the strength and conditioning coach this year with the Senators.