ETSU's Freeman excelling in double duty
Baseball America's Golden Spikes Spotlight
By now, Clinton Freeman has the routine down: Come up with the big hit for East Tennessee State, then get ready to take the mound.
"A lot of times he'll be hitting in the seventh or eighth inning, he'll come across the plate and score a run, and immediately he'll grab his glove and hat and hustle down to the bullpen and get ready," ETSU coach Tony Skole said. "We don't even have to say anything to him."
Freeman has been a fixture in the middle of East Tennessee State's lineup for three years, hitting .365 with seven homers as a sophomore, .335 with 10 homers as a junior and .366/.396/.642 with eight homers and 40 RBIs through 34 games as a senior this spring. But he has also pulled double duty as the team's closer for the past two years, saving eight games in 2013 and eight more this year.
Few players in college baseball are as valuable to their teams as Freeman is to the Buccaneers, and he demonstrated that this past weekend in a sweep of North Florida.
He recorded three straight two-hit games; he homered Friday, drove in two runs Saturday and hit a double and a triple on Sunday. He worked a scoreless inning of relief to earn the win Friday, then worked another scoreless inning for the save on Saturday.
"He's sort of a throwback, I guess," Skole said. "He's just a baseball player. It's what he's done all his life. We're sort of on his shoulders right now. He just does so much for us, obviously hits in the three-hole for us.
"We were probably a little unfair to him because we started him as our Friday-night guy, because he really was our best arm. He made three starts for us, we didn't hit at all for him, and he was 0-3 as a starter. Since then he's moved back to the bullpen and he has been outstanding."
Freeman is perfectly suited for the back of the bullpen because he relishes being on the mound with the game on the line, Skole said. He pumps strikes with a high-80s fastball from the left side and two solid offspeed pitches.
"At the end of the game, you don't have to worry about him walking anybody," Skole said.
Skole said some professional scouts like him as a pitcher, while others prefer him as a hitter. A 6-foot-2, 195-pound left-handed hitter, Freeman has proven he can handle a wood bat, excelling in the Alaska League after his sophomore year and then earning Cape Cod League all-star honors last summer, when he hit .322 with nine doubles for Bourne.
"He's a pretty accomplished hitter," Skole said. "His biggest thing is his ability to recognize pitches. He's not scared to hit with two strikes, and he's got great power, but he uses the whole field as well. He's a tough out, and he likes to be up in big situations."
He's also a good defender at first base, where he has just one error this year (a .996 fielding percentage), and is a positive force in the ETSU clubhouse -- a true senior leader.
"As good as a player as he is, he's a better young man," Skole said. "He's just a good person and a great teammate, one of those guys you're glad to have in a clubhouse. That's something you don't find all the time.
"He's the first one in the cage, and [Monday] is our off day, but I drive by the field and he's out there in the cage working by himself. He's that kind of worker. Most of those guys that hit at an elite level are like that.
"He's just a baseball player's baseball player."
Read more from Aaron Fitt's weekly Three Strikes column.