Unlike the AL MVP race, which has been of a two man race in recent years, the NL MVP race is wide open. There are at least 15 players that could realistically be holding up the NL MVP trophy at the end of the season. Freddie Freeman, the first baseman for the Atlanta Braves, could very well be that player in 2015. Freeman has had an MVP-type season before. In 2013, Freeman finished fifth in the NL MVP voting. He hit .319 with 23 homers and 109 RBIs. While his numbers were down last year, they were still impressive and I expect Freeman to have a monster year this year. With the Braves unloading almost all their bats in trades, Freeman will have to carry the load in 2015. In 2014, Freeman got off to blistering start and carried what was a terrible offensive team for about half the season. Eventually, like the rest of the team, Freeman cooled down in what was a disappointing 2014 campaign for the Braves as a whole. Regardless, he was still our most consistent hitter, and the two-time All-Star is entering his prime at age 25. We are still yet to see Freddie’s best. This could be the season Freeman breaks out.
Last year, Freeman’s RBI numbers were down 31 from the previous season, as nobody could get on base in front of him. The Braves had a team batting average of .241 which ranked 11th in the National League. Without Freddie, that number would be much lower, as he led the team in batting average at .288. Many have been saying that Freeman won’t see much good pitching, as he is the only dangerous bat in the lineup. However, I expect his RBI numbers to go up for a couple of reasons. While the Braves lost a lot of pop in the lineup with the offseason trades, those players did not hit for a high average. As long as guys such as Eric Young Jr., Jace Peterson and Nick Markakis get on base, their speed will force pitchers to pitch to Freddie. The Braves also made a change in their hitting coach this offseason. They hired former Royals All-Star Kevin Seitzer, who was the Blue Jays hitting coach last season. Seitzer has announced that the free-swinging Braves that fans saw last year will be no more. In 2015, Braves fans should expect a much more disciplined approach at the plate and a lot less strikeouts. Both the change in personnel and the change in hitting coach should lead to a lot more base runners for Freeman to bring in this season. The lineup may not be as sexy, but the smallball will prevail.
Freeman has been groomed to be a middle of the lineup hitter for the Atlanta Braves ever since he was drafted. His swing has pop, but is also so adjustable in contact situations. He goes with the ball effortlessly and he is a coach’s dream. SportsTalkATL writer Harrison Coburn watched Freddie hit in the cages with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer during Spring training, and Seitzer emphasized that he wanted to see “singles and bombs” from Freddie. The Braves have made Freeman the cornerstone of the organization with all of these move and the big contract extension he received before last season. While there has been a ton of trade speculation around the Braves clubhouse this offseason, it’s clear that Freddie’s job is safe. In 2015, expect to see why. I see Freddie hitting around .320 with around 25 home runs and 100 RBIs. He may have to maintain a more patient approach, but that is the mindset of hitting Kevin Seitzer emphasizes. If the Braves are going to have any shot at the playoffs this season, Freeman will have to carry them with his bat and his glove. Freeman is also a marvelous fielder and commits very few errors. He was a gold glove finalist last year and should be in the conversation for the award again this year. At a very young age, Freeman is going to be asked to be a veteran leader in this clubhouse alongside Nick Markakis and Jonny Gomes. The Braves organization have put all of their chips on the table for Freddie to carry this team in the near future. Don’t listen to the doubters, expect Freeman to deliver.