Unless your name is Ohtani, conventional baseball wisdom tells players that they have to choose after high school. You may pitch and hit at the prep level, but once you make that next step —especially to pro ball—that "and" usually becomes an "or." The Ducks' Clint Freeman never got that memo.
Freeman, one of manager Wally Backman’s lefthanded bullpen arms, also plays first base, a spot that opened up after David Washington went on the disabled list after breaking his hand in July.
“There’s got to be athleticism there if you can do both, for sure,” Backman said. “It’s nice to be able to have a guy that can play two ways … It’s almost like having an extra player.”
The business of baseball is about value and Freeman, 28, has sought to maximize his by sticking with both. He pitches out of the pen when needed. He hits and plays first base when needed. He does everything except sell popcorn — which he might do if only the team would ask.
“The more spots you can play, the better off you are,” Freeman said. “Out of high school, going into college, I got recruited for being a two-way guy.”
Since signing with the Ducks on June 21, Freeman has posted an 8.38 ERA in nine appearances, entering the team’s weekend series with the Lancaster Barnstormers. He allowed nine runs and 15 hits in 9 2/3 innings. He struck out four and walked six. In his first 11 games as a position player, Freeman hit .267 with two RBIs. He barely missed a home run in last Sunday’s loss to the High Point Rockers, smacking a double that scraped the centerfield wall.
“I haven’t done too bad with my approach to hitting Freeman said. “The biggest thing is to make sure you play defense. You can still go 0-for-4 and do something successful hitting, move a runner or something. Especially with these new rules, you got to play defense behind your pitchers, especially with guys on. [Washington] has thrown me tips here and there.”
Defensively, first basemen theoretically have more responsibility on a pitch-by-pitch basis because of an agreement that allows Major League Baseball to test experimental rules in the Atlantic League. The shift is now banned, which forces first basemen to cover more ground against certain hitters. Batters also can steal first base on any ball not caught by the catcher in flight, forcing first basemen to be prepared to cover the bag at all times.
For the most part, Freeman has always played both positions. He was an All-American ‘utility player" at East Tennessee State and was an 18th round pick of the Dodgers in the 2014 MLB Draft. He hit exclusively for the Dodgers rookie ball team in 2014 and, after new management was installed, exclusively pitched in rookie ball in 2015.
“I’ve just always been a guy that can help the team in any way and I’ve been able to be blessed being lefthanded,” Freeman said.
The Dodgers released Freeman in January of 2016. He played for the River City Rascals of the independent Frontier League from 2016-2018, mainly as a hitter, but logging the occasional pitching performance. Despite his relative absence from the mound before this year, Freeman still thinks his path to the majors lies on that bump.
“But you don’t want to let go of either one,” he said. “If your number is called to hit or pitch, you do whatever you need to do to win.”
As far as doing both in the same game, Backman has shied away from doing it and said it would happen only in a "special circumstance." When Backman thinks he’ll need Freeman in the bullpen, he usually starts the game sitting with the other relievers — perched on a deck behind the rightfield fence.
Freeman said he’s pitched and hit in the same game 40 to 50 times in his career.
“Honestly, when I first got here, it was a little bit harder sitting down in the pen not doing anything and then coming in pitching,” Freeman said. “Just getting a routine down helps.”