Top Minor League Hitters in Milwaukee Brewers History: #9 LaVel Freeman, 1987 El Paso
LaVel Freeman had one of the top half-dozen ‘raw numbers’ seasons ever compiled by a hitter in the Milwaukee Brewers chain, but due to the fact he played at hitter-friendly El Paso in 1987, he lost scoring points and dropped to ninth.
Freeman was drafted by the Brewers in the 1st round (26th overall) in the 1983 January-Regular Phase Draft and reported to Rookie Appalachian League Paintsville (KY). He placed in the league top five in runs scored, hits, and doubles and earned a promotion to Class A the next season.
Splitting time between Beloit (Midwest) and Stockton (California), Freeman slipped a little–typical for most minor leaguers–slashing .257/.351/.343 in a combined 540 plate appearances.
He performed well in 1985 at Stockton, hitting .314/.375/.406 in a full season, earning another bump up to AA El Paso in 1986.
In his first of two years at the ‘Dudley Dome,’ he slashed .322/.393/.483 in 582 trips to the plate.
That led to Freeman’s 1987 year in El Paso, which ranked ninth in Milwaukee Brewers Minor League History.
#9 LaVel Freeman, 1987 El Paso (AA)
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Freeman had a kick-butt year, leading the league in runs (117), hits (208), batting average (.395), on-base percentage (.467), OPS (1.094), and total bases (330). He also managed top-three finishes in doubles (42), walks (70), and slugging percentage (.627).
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Amazingly, he lost the league MVP to Gregg Jefferies, who led the league only in doubles. I’m sure the El Paso ‘Mystique’ had something to do with the voting.
Rob Dewolf played with Freeman in 1987. Nearly thirty years later, Dewolf’s comments speak volumes about the season that Freeman had.
"I was fortunate to play with LaVel — we called him “Free” — in 1987 in Double-A El Paso. I’ve never seen in person a more impressive, dominating performance by a hitter over the course of an entire season than what LaVel did that year. It seemed like he never — ever — got fooled. Even his outs were hard-hit balls. I remember we were like three-fourths of the way through the season and our radio announcer mentioned that the night before was the first time Free had gone two straight games without a hit. And we had played more than 100 games!The fact he hit .395 is impressive enough, but then you realize he did it with power (24 home runs). Granted, our home field, the Dudley Dome, was a hitter’s park. But it played a minor role in LaVel’s performance that season.Free hit everybody. The Midland Angels’ closer that season was Vance Lovelace, a 6-foot-5 left-hander who seemed like he was more like 6-9, and he just threw gas — from three-quarters with little control, no less. I was a left-handed hitter (as was Lavel), so I knew how uncomfortable (read: terrifying) it was to hit against Lovelace. LaVel was unfazed. He seemed to always be banging a double off of Lovelace.Even more impressive, though, was that about midway through the season Lovelace unintentionally beaned LaVel, and Free went down in a heap. I had taken a pitch to the head that season, too, and I knew it was easy to be gun-shy your next few at-bats. Not LaVel. I think the next night he came back and banged out two or three hits. He was just Superman that year.The only disappointing thing about Free that season — for me at least — was that he sat out the final game when he had a chance to hit .400. We already were in the playoffs, and at that point, everyone is dog tired. Free knew he would have to go 4 for 4 in the last game to hit .400, and I still remember him saying, “I haven’t gone 4 for 4 all season, so there’s no reason to think I’ll do it today. I need a day off.”That just stunned me. I said to him, “Free, ask Duffy (manager Duffy Dyer) to DH you, and if you don’t get a hit your first time up, have him take you out of the game.”“Wolfie,” LaVel said, “it’s just not that important to me.”That was Free.The fact that LaVel didn’t get called up to the majors near the end of the Brewers’ season was a joke. I don’t care if it was “only” Double-A: A guy hits .395 and has 208 hits in 129 games, he deserves to see what he can do in the big leagues. I’m convinced the way he swung the bat from Day One that season, he’d have hit anywhere."
Freeman moved up to AAA Denver in 1988 and played well, slashing .318/.385/.461 in 437 plate appearances.
The left-handed hitting outfielder earned an invite to the Brewers Spring Training Camp in 1989, but was reassigned to the minors after hitting .163 in Spring Training.
Freeman was called up before the Brewers’ third game of the year, but played in only two games, going 0-for-3, before being sent down to AAA once again.
He played 46 games in Denver before getting traded to Texas in late June. Freeman played 52 games at AAA Oklahoma City. He was released after the season and was picked up by Detroit. ‘Free’ played 89 games for Toledo at the Tigers’ Triple A level, slashing only .214/.275/.307.
The Texas League named its 2010 Hall of Fame Class, and Freeman was included. His bio read as follows: The speedy Diablo outfielder had an even more impressive hitting season than (Randy) Ready (in 1982). Freeman is one of the only players in the history of the Texas League to get more than 200 hits in a season (208). He hit an amazing .395 in 1987 for the Diablos, leading the league in batting average, singles, total bases, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and runs scored.
“LaVel Freeman might just be the most amazing of them all,” Texas League president Tom Kayser said.