As is the case with many waiver claims, the arrival of David Freitas on October 27th from the Braves garnered tepid interest. The departure of Carlos Ruiz left the Mariners with just two catchers - Mikes Zunino and Marjama - on the 40-man roster, with basically nothing behind them (apologies to Tuffy Gosewisch), doubtlessly a large factor in his acquisition. While Freitas isn’t a very flashy player, he should provide the team with a solid depth option should injury or ineffectiveness strike the catcher position.
The 28-year-old Freitas is a true minor league veteran, racking up more than 2,500 plate appearances over eight seasons with five organizations before finally getting the call to the bigs with Atlanta, where he slashed .235/.235/.353 over a tiny sample of seventeen at-bats. A fifteenth-round pick by the Nationals in 2010, his biggest claim to fame prior to being called up may have been his inclusion in a 2012 midseason trade between Washington and Oakland, when he was swapped for Kurt Suzuki.
After demolishing the low minors in the Nationals’ system, Freitas’s development began to stall in 2013. While he was able to keep his strong strikeout and walk numbers, he was plagued by a sharp spike in pop ups, going from 21.8% in 2012 to 39.7% and 37.8% in Double-A and Triple-A, respectively. He righted the ship in that regard after being traded to Baltimore, but save for a bonkers 197 wRC+ across 28 PAs with Norfolk in 2014, Freitas’s bat continued to lag.
After being taken by the Cubs in the 2015 Rule 5 draft, though, his bat took off. Despite the bump in strikeouts, inflated BABIP, and still-middling power, Freitas hit well in his one season with Chicago. Abandoning his previous pull-happy approach at the plate, Freitas started to hit to all fields with a lot more frequency - he actually hit the ball the other way more than twice as often as he pulled it during his time in Iowa. He was able to continue this trend in Atlanta, and while the power went away a bit, his solid approach still led him to a 96 wRC+ in the relatively pitcher-friendly International League.
Freitas has a balanced swing with gap power, and has never posted a full-season strikeout rate of over 20% in the minor leagues. His first big league hit, an RBI double, exemplifies this:
This was a middle-in fastball from Mark Leiter, Jr., and Freitas was able to turn on it and rope it into the left-center gap. While a somewhat long swing path can sap some of his power, at-bats like this show that there could be a decent bat in there somewhere, and Ben noted when the team acquired him that he has hit left-handed pitching very well over the past few seasons.
Freitas’s true calling card, however, is his glove. His 6’3”, 225-pound frame has proven useful for his blocking skills, and he’ll rarely let a ball get by him - in over 500 innings caught with Gwinnett in 2017, he allowed just a single passed ball. He also brings a good arm and above-average pitch framing.
The battle for the backup catcher spot will be an interesting one to follow this spring. While Mike Marjama is an LL staff favorite, appears to have a leg up in the race, and probably has the higher ceiling at the plate, he’s still fairly raw at catcher, and the team may want the more polished defender in Freitas to start the year. Regardless of the decision made, though, I expect to see Freitas make at least a few appearances over the course of the 2018 season, and he will almost certainly be an improvement over Tuffy Gosewisch should the need for a third catcher arise.