Breakout candidate 2012: St. Louis Cardinals’ David Freese

On a team that had the likes of Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, it was David Freese who led the St. Louis Cardinals to a World Series victory last season. The young third baseman hit .397 with five home runs and 21 RBIs during the playoffs and even took home a World Series MVP trophy. So after all that, he is primed for a big year in 2012 right? Well, it goes a little deeper than that.

Last season, Freese hit .297 with 10 home runs and 55 RBIs. The problem was he only played 97 games. Injuries have been the biggest obstacle for Freese in his young career. In 2009, he suffered a left ankle injury that required surgery and spent most of the season in the minors. In 2010, he was the opening-day starter at third, but his season was cut short due to a right ankle injury and more surgery. Last season, Freese got off to a hot start but went down again after being hit by a pitch in the left hand. He would miss two months before returning near the end of the season and finishing strong.

I believe the injuries shouldn’t be a major issue going forward. The reason I say that is because of the injuries themselves. He had ankle problems in both ’09 and ’10. Last season, neither ankle gave him problems. It was simply a bit of bad luck getting hit in the hand. That tells me that unless something drastic happens, he is all good to go. Also, at age 28, he is entering the prime of his career. He is a career .298 hitter and has never hit under .300 in the minors (not including rehab stint in 2011). The guy can hit. And with the lineup they are projected to have, he should have plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers.

No longer is Pujols hitting third in St. Louis and no longer is Tony LaRussa writing the lineup cards. While it is unknown how new Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will run this team, it is almost guaranteed there won’t be as many different variations of lineups like LaRussa had. Also, despite the addition of Carlos Beltran, many things can be taken into account now that Pujols is gone. Beltran, 34, has never been one to stay healthy and Holliday has also had durability issues as of late. Then there is no telling how much longer Berkman (36 by opening day) will be playing at a high level. Considering all those equations, Freese could hit anywhere in the lineup from two to seven.

For the season, I think Freese hits .315 with 25 homers, 90 RBIs and represents the National League as a reserve at third base in the All-Star game (not the deepest position in the NL). Also, on opening day, I say he hits sixth but ends the season ahead of Beltran in the fifth spot. He just has to stay healthy to make it all happen.

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