I recently interviewed Oklahoma City Dodgers broadcaster Alex Freedman. Freedman has been broadcasting OKC baseball since 2012, the last eight years as a Dodgers affiliate.
There will be a second part talking about some of the changes made to the minor league schedule, rules and some of the rehabbing Dodgers.
Editor’s notes: This interview took place before Bobby Miller’s second Triple-A start on Friday August 26, 2022. The Q&A was slightly edited for clarity.
Q: You just saw Bobby Miller’s and Gavin Stone’s Triple-A debuts. Accepting that it was just one game and you even tweeted out that you can take nothing from a single appearance, what were your impressions of two the Dodgers top pitching prospects?
Alex Freedman: I’m not going to put a ton of stock, good or bad in a guy’s Triple-A debut. I’ve seen some bad ones by really good pitchers, most notably, Julio Urías and Walker Buehler. And I’ve seen some good ones for guys who didn’t end up doing a whole lot, necessarily, in their careers.
I think that the couple takeaways I had from each guy, one of which was Stone, was his changeup. His changeup looked excellent, because at Sugar Land, our broadcast position, it’s much lower than it is at most places. So you do have a chance to see the ball a bit better behind the plate. So the changeups for Stone really, really stood out for me.
For Miller, fairly or unfairly, the expectation was he is going to come out and just start pumping stuff by guys and all that.
But even though the velocity was high, whether it’s the fastball, breaking pitches, or changeup, really, it was a lot of balls put in play early in a count. And who knows if that was what Sugar Land wanted to do, if maybe they noticed something on video. The nine hits are a bit deceiving. There were quite a few ground ball singles, definitely a few that were around a shift. Balls that just weren’t hit well, that found some spots.
So, I think that nine hits was a little bit deceiving. And because the Dodgers, the offense put up so many runs last night, I think it was a good thing for him because it meant a longer leash and he could get some more time out there on the mound, and feel his way around, and all that stuff.
I think there’s obviously a really good chance that both guys are going to be here, for sure, for the rest of the season. And we’ll see how things progress from there.
Q: Ryan Pepiot has split some time between LA and Oklahoma City this year. Have you’ve noticed or talked with the pitching development staff about what they have they tried to work with him on to continue his progression?
AF: I think maybe the question is, does he stay as a starting pitcher or is he put in the bullpen? I think the stuff is there, no doubt. He definitely has the demeanor, stamina, physicality to maintain his stuff throughout six, seven innings that we have seen this year.
And of course the changeup is just, it has incredible movement on it. What really has been the difference from him from when he was with us last year to this year is last year, it was pretty inconsistent.
And you hear the term, the game would speed up on him and it would just be like, hey, one ground ball, maybe got through or around a shift, then it kind of led to something else and this and that. This year, he’s really just been kind of able to focus on each individual batter and executing pitch to that specific batter.
So you haven’t seen those kind of rallies that were sustained against him last year. I mean, he’s only given up more than two runs once in games with OKC and all that. So, the last two starts he made, he went seven innings both times. And the strikeouts weren’t necessarily there, but the efficiency was higher, because he was relying mostly on fastball slider, instead of that changeup, to get a lot of outs early in the count.
So I think he’ll, again, another high-ceiling player, with loud stuff, good to meet on the mound, smart guy. That he’ll be in the major leagues, I think, for quite a bit of time, it’s just the role that might be a bit of a question. He’s got plenty of time to continue to hone on that command, and find his way to be a bit more efficient in the big leagues as well.
Q: Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch are two of the top position players in the organization. What are their strengths? And what do you think they need, if any, fine tuning as they get ready to potentially progress up into the majors?
AF: Well, I think for Vargas, just a complete hitter, really just a pure hitter. And I’ve said before, and it’s maybe a little bit of hyperbole — but I don’t think so — that this is my 10th year with Oklahoma City, and whether it’s the seven years with the Dodgers, or the three years before that affiliated with the Astros, it’s the best pure hitter I’ve ever seen. For an Oklahoma city player, at least, that I can confidently say that. And he is only, still only 22 years old. He’s never overmatched.
He’s going to give you a quality plate appearance every single time. He can get the bat to the ball basically anywhere. So it’s just been, it’s so fun to watch him at the plate, and all that. Doesn’t strike out a ton, walks almost as much as he strikes out. So just really, especially in the batter’s box, carries himself for a player who’s a lot older and has a lot more experience than he does.
Some have said that they’re not sure how much power he’s going to exactly hit for. And to me, the jury’s out on that, because, like I said, he’s only 22 years old, so there’s certainly still a lot of time for him to add strength and get some more power. He’s got a ton of doubles.
He’s got 15 home runs this year. So it’s not anything to sneeze at, but a confident player and someone who I think is going to be very successful for a long time.
For Michael Busch, of course, there’s still some swing and miss there. But in the game this day and age, there is for a lot of players. What’s really surprised me about him is his athleticism. He might not be a complete product, necessarily, at second base, or they put him in left field a little bit, but he’s very athletic, which I hadn’t really read about or heard about before he got here.
Especially with the way that the defense is played in shifts, which is still allowed at the Triple-A. There have been several times where he’s played just either to one side of second base towards the middle, he’s gone to the other side of the bag and made a really nice play.
And of course, the power is definitely there. When he connects, the ball’s going to go a long way. And he’s been used in multiple spots in the lineup, too. With Drew Avans hurt, he’s been batting lead off recently. He’s bat at second, third, fourth, fifth. He’s been all over the place in the lineup. So yeah, he’s also certainly had a bit of impressive season so far, I think in terms of the pure hit tool, might be a little bit behind Vargas, but he’s got a bit of an edge in power.
Q: And I know Vargas has played, I think mostly third base down in OKC. How’s that improved, or how’s that looked as the season gone on?
Yeah, it’s, it looked fine. Most of his errors have been on throws, and usually just kind of letting him go high. So in terms of balls that are hit to him, I think he’s been fine. He’s also worked in some left field, and he’s been okay out there. He does a good job getting some pretty good jumps on there.
I think the thing with Vargas that we’ve seen out in the left field is just the little things. There have been a couple times where a guy’s taken an extra base, because he’s been a little bit slow to maybe get to a base hit, on a ground ball single, or a ball towards the corner or the gap, or something like that.
Talking with some of the player development staff, specifically, Jason Bourgeois who oversees the outfielders, he says, “It’s just refining. It’s really on him for say, whether it’s BP or a daily basis, to kind of mentally go through different scenarios in terms of, ‘Well, what do I do here if this happens, if these guys are on base and so on and so forth.’” But he says the first step and the athleticism is there and that he can be a left fielder, if that’s the route they choose with him.
Third base, I think the fielding is maybe improved, really, as the year has gone on. The first couple weeks of the season, he had some routine errors, but the range is decent over there at third. The arm strength is not an issue, sometimes it’s just a little bit on the accuracy. And that’s the same thing from left field.