I recently had the opportunity to talk with Oklahoma City Dodgers broadcaster Alex Freedman. In part one of that conversation, we talk about the increase in home runs in the Triple-A leagues and his thoughts on catcher Will Smith, infielder Gavin Lux and right-handed pitcher Dustin May.
Eric Stephen wrote a great profile about Alex in 2016, which you can read here, where Alex goes over his background and how he entered broadcasting. He has been the Oklahoma City Dodgers broadcaster since the Los Angeles Dodgers bought into the affiliate in 2015, but has broadcasted games there since 2012.
This interview is slightly edited for clarity.
Q: Dustin May will make his LA Dodgers debut on Friday night. What was impressive about May in his five starts at OKC?
AF: “His last two starts were just tremendous, even though he was fine in his first three starts. He made his Triple-A debut, then it was like 11-12 days between starts because he went to the Futures Game, then we had the All-Star break. In that first game back, he was a little shaky but he said since he got back on five days rest, that has been big for him.
“He’s a guy who I really don’t think — despite playing in a 56,000-capacity stadium — will be intimidated one bit. When he’s on the mound, it doesn’t make a difference if it’s Manny Machado or some kid out of rookie ball. He’s out on the mound, ready to go, on the rubber always staring in ready to get the sign.
“I think he will do all right. Obviously we have no idea how it’s going to be in the end, but in this day and age where there is so much emphasis on putting the ball in the air, when you have a 97-98 mph sinker, it could be a game changer.”
Q: Will Smith did not hit well in his initial promotion to Oklahoma City in 2018. What have you seen from this season that is different than last year?
AF: “Last year, Smith did not get off to a good start and that lead to stress. That stress went into everything from that point on and he just really could never get it going. It went from hoping to knowing at the plate. He just saw the ball a lot better, seeing a lot of good pitches and able to really be more selective and play his kind of game that he’s always been known for this year.
“He had to shoulder a lot of the actual catching at the end of last year because Rocky Gale had the call up, so Smith caught the last nine or ten games. To do that certainly was impressive and it did not hurt his defense. I give him a lot of credit for not letting his plate struggles affect him from behind the plate.
“He seemed to come into this season knowing what to expect. The way he carried himself and the confidence he had made our manager put him in the 3-hole and based on what I saw last year I’m thinking, ‘Okay well not really sure what’s going on here.’ But he just really thrived from day one.”
Q: Is infielder Gavin Lux having the most impressive beginning to his transition to Triple-A baseball in your time covering the Oklahoma City Dodgers?
AF: “Oh for sure, no doubt. When you do what he’s done for about a month, it’s just incredible. It’s slowing down a little bit. I think folks are kind of adjusting and we’ll see how he adjusts in turn.
“It is just so rare, I don’t think we’ve seen him have a single bad game, which would be fine for a 21 year old to have in Triple-A from time-to-time. What’s impressed me about him is just the plate appearances he’s always puts together, it’s very rarely that he’s looked completely overmatched when striking out.
“He makes some really athletic plays at shortstop and second base, especially turning double plays. Seeing the total package he brings is really impressive. If hadn’t been for Gavin Lux, DJ Peters might arguably have the best start to Triple-A player I have seen in my time at Oklahoma City, but Lux has just been on a whole separate level and that series he had Iowa a couple weeks ago ... it was special.”
Q: Do you think the Dodgers should promote Gavin Lux now or let him finish out the season at Oklahoma City?
AF: “I think if you bring Lux up now, he’s going do fine. He’s not going to hit the way he does in Triple-A, but he’s not going to be embarrassing, he’s going to hold his own. He’s one of the few players that I’ve seen — even more than some highly touted guys who have come through — where I’ve watched and thought there’s a big league regular.
“I don’t think there is a conspiracy here, I really do think it comes down to getting enough just regular amount of at-bats. He would not play right now on a regular basis at the big league level and it might be counter-productive for his development if he were to go up there right now. I have no inside knowledge, I expect him to be up there in September. I expect him to be a guy they are going to give some exposure to and, quite frankly, I would not be surprised if he does perform well.
“What player development folks always like to see is players struggle at the Triple-A level and how they handle that. I remember our manager from a couple seasons ago saying that he wanted to see Cody Bellinger struggle, but he never really got that chance. And I say Cody turned out all right. Not to say that a guy needs to go through that struggle phase at the Triple-A level in order to do well in his career, but it is something player development wants to see.”
Q: DJ Peters was always regarded as being very athletic with a lot of raw power, but he also had issues with striking out prior to this point. What expectations did you have when he was promoted to Oklahoma City?
AF: “I had never seen Peters play before he joined us. Everything I read said he has power, athleticism, and is a big guy who could move, but he strikes out a ton. From the first couple games he played with us, I thought, ‘Who have all these people been writing about?’ He has had good takes, really letting tough pitches go, and really just showing the good knowledge of the strike zone. Even though there are some swing and miss, I would call him a free swinger, sometimes missing some pitches in the zone. But more often than not, he has not done that with us here.
“I think the most impressive thing about Peters is just the person. He is just an energetic guy, loves playing, wants to be in there every single day, can only play at one speed, friendly. Such a great young man I have been impressed with, an absolute pleasure having him around this clubhouse.
“He’s done a great job for us, always finds ways to get on base even if it isn’t hitting home runs by taking walks and getting hit by pitches. He has also been a nice addition defensively because quite honestly, we have not had a true centerfielder all year, and it has been nice to have him patrolling the outfield.”
Q: I have to ask about all of the home runs. What have you noticed about this year and the increase in home runs?
AF: “It’s crazy really when you get down to it, every team is on pace to shatter their single season team record for home runs. Baseball America did a study that shows home runs are down in every other affiliate league, Double-A and below, it leads you to believe that the ball has a lot to do with it.
“We have seen a lot of balls that affected line drives more than maybe the high-arcing shots. You see a lot of line drives that you think off the bat are going to be doubles or triples to the gap and end up getting out, so I think that is the kind of ball when it’s hit, it seems to affect the most.
“In a sense, you have I kind of gotten a little numb to it also. I still don’t think it necessarily takes away from when you make you good contact. So I don’t feel it is necessarily is responsible for a lot of routine fly balls that are being turned into home runs, obviously it has given a little giddy-up to the ball as well. It is just kind of the state of the game right now so we have to deal with it.”
Q: Have you heard anything on how this baseball affects the pitching or the types of pitches pitchers throw?
AF: “Talking to pitchers, they feel this ball helps fastball movement but it is not as good for breaking ball movement because the seams are lower and the surface is a bit slicker.
“Dustin May says he gets better movement with this ball than the one he was using in Double-A. His two-seamer, which is so key for what he does. I heard that before as well, our pitching coach [Bill Simas] said that, and he’s starting to work with guys to teach them cutters because he’s had some success with introducing that to some guys just as another pitch. They feel like that would be effective with this kind of ball.
“And I think just in general, pitchers know that they have to be more careful, which leads to more nibbling, which leads to more walks, which leads to longer games as well, so I think that is kind of a secondary effect of this new baseball ... maybe pitchers not challenging as much as they have in the past.”
True Blue LA thanks Alex Freedman for taking the time to do this interview. You can follow Alex on Twitter @azfreedman for all the news about the Oklahoma City Dodgers.