Ready to catch on: Fifth-round pick Ronnie Freeman gets pro start with Yakima Bears

June 14, 2012 by  

YAKIMA, Wash. — It seems unlikely, if not impossible, that being a catcher could help someone as a hitter.

After all, there are physical demands that include squatting for every pitch your team throws every inning, wearing energy-sapping, heat-amplifying gear and taking foul tips off various parts off the anatomy — some protected and some not.

Ronnie Freeman, the fifth-round pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks in this month’s amateur draft, will be in uniform tonight for the Yakima Bears when they begin the season at Eugene. (ANDY SAWYER/Yakima Herald-Republic)

If nothing else, the cumulative effect would appear to take a toll when someone steps to the plate after spending the previous half inning behind it.

But if you listen to Ronnie Freeman, a first-year Bears backstop who was one of the best hitters Kennesaw State University in Georgia has ever had, the opposite can occur.

“If you’re an outfielder and you’ve had a bad at bat,” Freeman said, “you’ll have time to think about that when your team’s not hitting. Not everyone does, but some do. As a catcher, you go right back to being involved in every pitch and all the responsibility that comes with the position. So you don’t have time to dwell on what happened five minutes ago.”

Freeman, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound native of Lawrenceville, Ga., which like Kennesaw is part of metropolitan Atlanta, comes to Yakima with imposing college credentials.

Last season, Freeman’s junior year, he hit .348 with six homers and 54 runs batted in, not only playing but starting all 59 games for the Owls of the Atlantic Sun Conference. He slugged .483 and had an on-base percentage of .423, helping the Arizona Diamondbacks choose him in the fifth round of this month’s draft.

The 183rd player picked overall, Freeman is Yakima’s highest draftee. He had not heard of his first professional baseball destination before being assigned here.

“Can’t say that I had,” Freeman said, “but there were actually a couple of teammates on my college team that are from this state. So they told me where it was, and what the landscape was like.”

The Bears open their Northwest League season tonight at Eugene, with right-hander Alex Capaul getting the start. Yakima’s home opener is scheduled for Wednesday night against Salem-Keizer.

For Freeman, catching has been the position of choice since his Little League days when he was also occasionally summoned to pitch.

He helped Brookwood High School to a state championship as a junior in 2008, then blossomed as a Kennesaw freshman in 2010. En route to a .365 batting average, Freeman finished the year with a 29-game hitting streak that became 42 the following season.

“That was a little unusual,” he said, “because I had the whole offseason to think about it. Robin Ventura has the record (58, set while Ventura was at Oklahoma State in 1987), and I knew all that stuff.”

And as one would imagine, Freeman is well-versed in Atlanta Braves lore and is an avid fan of iconic third baseman Chipper Jones.

He thought about playing pro ball as a kid, sustained those visions through high school and then began the consider them with realism during his early days at Kennesaw.

“So yeah,” Freeman said, watching the media day activity around him, “this is a dream come true. My hope for this year is just to get some at bats, play hard and work my way into the system.”

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