Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman has been the mainstay of a four-year rebuild.
Freeman was putting together an MVP-worthy 2017 campaign before fracturing his wrist and missing seven weeks. He returned three weeks early and finished the season.
Freeman spoke with reporters at Chop Fest on Saturday at SunTrust Park. He addressed his offseason, the rebuild and more.
Q: How’s the wrist?
FF: That’s all it’s been about this offseason, getting the wrist strong. I started hitting way earlier than I normally do just to test it out. I actually did it in 25 degrees on purpose the first day to see if there’d be any aches or pains. I’ve had zero problems. I’ve hit about 25 times off the tee, about three or four times flips and that’s about it. But that’s way more than I normally do and I’ve had no problems. Everything feels great and it feels strong.
Q: Would you handle everything (coming back early) the same way?
FF: I would. I have no regrets. I have no regrets coming back early. I have no regrets playing every single day. I wanted to come back and help the team win. I felt like I was able enough to help in a way and I have no regrets about what I did. Hopefully I never have that problem again, but I would come back as fast as I could again if I had that opportunity.
Q: How was seeing Chipper Jones the other day?
FF: It was special. I’ve known Chipper for nine years and I’ve seen him tear up twice in my whole life. And it was spring training 2012 when he announced his retirement and that day. So pretty big moments in his life is the only time you’re going to see Chipper tear up. To see him emotional, I think everybody knew he was a shoo-in, but he told me he didn’t sleep a wink the night before. Walking around with his phone in his hand for an hour-and-a-half waiting for that phone call. But it was pretty special. Just the emotions, everything came full circle. Especially with his parents there. That was special to see.
Q: How important is it to learn from a guy like that?
FF: It’s huge. He embodied what you wanted to do on the field. He was working hard in the cage, the video room. He played the game the right way on the field. He’s been through so much in his career on and off the field that made him the person he is now. Being there for his last three years, that just made me attached to him. I kind of went to his hip after my rookie year, then he let me be friends with him in 2012 (laughs). So it was special to spend that last year watching him get – he deserved everything he got. To be first ballot, 97 percent, I think he should’ve been 100. But it was special to be able to enjoy that. Grateful to play for a Hall of Fame manager in Bobby (Cox), and now I’ve played with Hall of Fame people too. So it’s pretty cool. It means I’m getting old too.
Q: Does Chipper get the credit he deserves as a hitter?
FF: If you look at his numbers, it’s pretty plain and simple. Hit .300 from both sides of the plate, 468 home runs. It’s just something he did. Thirty-six years old and wins the batting title. People tail off at the end, he never did. The only thing that had him was his knees. I feel like if he had good knees, he’d still be playing right now. He’s just one of those special guys who’s a once in a generation player. The Atlanta Braves were lucky enough to have him his entire career. I think that’s a testament to who he is. He never wanted to test free agency. He always wanted to stay here. That kind of rubbed off on me too.
Q: How do you feel about this roster?
FF: We’ve got a lot of young guys. I feel like that’s the same answer I’ve given for four years now. I’m hoping a lot of guys come into their own. We’ve got a few guys that had their first years, a couple of them didn’t have what they wanted, so hopefully they can learn from that and build on that. The guys that are coming in can make big impacts right away. We’ve got a lot of young arms. I’m really looking forward to seeing (Luiz) Gohara for a whole season. That’s a special arm right there. Ozzie (Albies) for a full year, we’ll see how Dansby (Swanson) recovers after last year. We saw what he did the last month or two. He was looking a lot better. So I think (Johan) Camargo, what he did, what he showed, what he did in winter ball, he’s continuing it. So that’s going to be good to see. Obviously having Ender (Inciarte) coming back.
It’s going to be – we don’t have that big right-handed bat until you-know-who (Ronald Acuna) comes along and hopefully he can make an impact right away. We’re going to have our ups and downs with him. It’ll be his first year learning the system, learning the game, people making adjustments to him. But he could be that guy. And hopefully he’s the next Aaron Judge where he can come in and make an impact right away.
Q: Have you seen Acuna play?
FF: I have not seen him play at all. I’ve seen video of fall league, a couple home runs here or there. He came over a couple times in spring training last year and I was already out of the game when he came into the game. So I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard such amazing things about him, so it’s going to be good. We’ll see. Hopefully he can push his way in a lot quicker.
Q: How would you assess last year for you personally?
FF: I got off to the start I wanted to, building off of ’16. But some things you just can’t control. You can’t control getting hit by a pitch. It just hit me in the right spot to break it. I’ve been hit in my wrist, my hand multiple times before and it didn’t break. But that time it did. I don’t have any regrets. I came back, I still played well. Obviously I didn’t play as well as before I broke it, but I feel like I can get back to pre-break this year and I feel great. So if I can play, my goal is 162 games so hopefully I can do that this year.
Q: Is the rebuild on schedule?
FF: It’s further along. You saw the Goharas, the Ozzie Albies, you’ve got Acuna knocking on the door. Two years ago those guys weren’t here. They’re here now. Some of them have big league experience. So I think the rebuild’s far along, getting there. Every year we’ve won more games. I think last year was 72 and I expect it to go up again this year. As much as we want it to be this year, you just can’t. You don’t know what these young guys are going to do. I’ve been patient. I’ll continue to be patient. And once that day comes, I think it’s going to be full-force. We have a lot of money coming off the books this year, so I think we’ll see a lot of things happen in the next year or two.
Q: Have you met the two new coaches, first base coach Eric Young Sr. and bench coach Walt Weiss?
FF: I met Walt Weiss for the first time the other day at physicals. He was manager of the Rockies. I’ve known EY for a while because he was friends with the Uptons (Melvin and Justin). Every time we went to Colorado we’d grab dinner. He’s high energy, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s tough to lose Eddie and TP off your coaching staff. They’ve been a staple in this organization a long time. But they brought in Walt and EY, so you’ve got to get to know them and I’m looking forward to it. I heard you don’t want to fight Walt Weiss, so I’m going to leave that alone. But it’s going to be good. We’ve got a lot of moving parts so we’ve got to come together in six weeks in spring training and gel real quick.
Q: You mentioned money coming off the books. Have you considered recruiting free agents to Atlanta?
FF: No (haven’t thought of recruiting guys). You can’t recruit guys until we’ve got things situated here in Atlanta. I think we’re well on our way. I think 2018 is a big year, so if we can start winning more ball games – you’ve got to win for free agents to want to come here. So we’ve got to do that this year. I think if we start winning, things will speak for themselves. We’ve got a big, beautiful ball park, great guys in the clubhouse, so hopefully things can happen.