2/18/2013 5:30 P.M. ET
Towering Freiman looks to make big impression
By Brian McTaggart / MLB.com
KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The reaction from teammates and staff when Nate Freiman stepped into the Astros' clubhouse at Osceola County for the first time this spring was a pretty familiar one for the barrel-chested, 6-foot-8 slugger.
"I think people assumed I was a pitcher," he said.
The Astros are hoping he's a pitcher's nightmare.
Freiman, taken by the Astros from the Padres in last year's Rule 5 Draft, is in camp trying to win a spot on the 25-man roster, where he would have to remain for the entire season or be offered back to San Diego. He's put up gaudy Minor League numbers in his four years in the Padres' system.
"I'm really excited to be here," he said. "I had a fantastic experience with the Padres, but this is a nice opportunity to be over here and I'm really excited to start playing games on Saturday."
Astros manager Bo Porter first laid eyes on Freiman, who's about a head taller than anyone else in camp, at last year's Arizona Fall League. When he saw the Padres had left him unprotected in the Rule 5 Draft, he spoke to the scouting staff about taking him.
"You're sitting in the stands and you can see he's a big guy, but when I walked up to him for the first time face to face, I go, 'Wow, this is a big man,'" Porter said. "He's big, but he has a really good swing. It's not like a big guy. It's short, compact. It's not just the home runs. The guy has a pretty good idea how to hit."
The 26-year-old right-hander is a career .294 hitter with 71 homers and 368 RBIs in 483 games, averaging 23 homers and 108 RBIs the past two years in Class A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. Desperately needing some power, the Astros are taking a low-cost risk that Freiman can stick as a first baseman or designated hitter.
As a Rule 5 player, he knows he'll be under more scrutiny and pressure to perform this spring considering the ramifications of keeping him on the club the entire season. Last year, the Astros kept two Rule 5 picks all season -- pitcher Rhiner Cruz and shortstop Marwin Gonzalez.
"I understand that aspect of it, but my focus is on just playing and preparing for the season and we'll see what happens," he said.
Freiman's locker is adjacent to catcher Jason Castro, who admitted he couldn't get over how big Freiman was when camp started.
"He's a big, physical guy," he said. "I've heard from the other guys who played with him in the past, and they say when he connects to the ball, it's kind of different when most guys hit the ball. It's something you definitely want to hear about. I hope he can be a big asset for us."
One place where Freiman tries to blend in is on the golf course, but not as a player. He and LPGA golfer Amanda Blumenherst are newlyweds, and he serves as her caddy in the offseason. He's carried her bags in tournaments in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Malaysia.
"I'm a terrible golfer," he said. "I can't shoot under 100, but I enjoy being out there with her."
The 5-foot-9 Blumenherst was a three-time National Player of the Year at Duke University, where she met Freiman. He has a degree from Duke in history. His wife won the U.S. Women's Amateur in 2008 and played in 23 tournaments on the LPGA Tour last year, with one Top 5 finish.
"She comes out [to see me] when she can," Freiman said. "We spent the offseason together. She's busy and I enjoy caddying for her. In the offseason, we always have fun with that."
The Astros have three players capable of playing first base and DH, including Freiman, Carlos Pena and Brett Wallace, but Freiman is the only right-handed hitter in that bunch. As a Rule 5 pick, the Astros will have to be absolutely sure he'll be able to contribute this year. Porter even mentioned Freiman could serve as an emergency catcher.
"You look at all the spots and what he was able to do last year at Double-A," Porter said. "He put up great numbers against left-handed pitching. Any time you have a guy that can change the game with one swing and you're an American League club and have the access to the DH, it's a valuable tool you want to take a long, hard look at."