By Marvin Pave
Former Wellesley High School and Duke University baseball star Nate Freiman rang in the New Year the day after his 26th birthday and three days after being wed to college classmate and LPGA Tour player Amanda Blumenherst in Phoenix.
It was a memorable 2012 for Freiman, who was added to the Houston Astros’ 40-man roster in early December via the Rule 5 draft after spending his entire professional career in the San Diego Padres system.
Houston’s move to the American League could turn into a homecoming for Freiman, who will have to stay on the Astros roster for the full season or be offered back to the Padres, the team that drafted him out of Duke in 2009.
The Astros are scheduled to play at Fenway Park April 25-28.
“After the wedding and while we’re honeymooning in the Caribbean, all that’s happened this year will probably sink in,’’ said Freiman last week. “It’s cool to think I could be playing at Fenway Park, and I’d be lying if I said I haven’t thought about it, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. I just want to go to spring training in February and prove I belong.’’
The Astros had the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, which they used to take Red Sox minor league pitcher Josh Fields. They were glad to find Freiman available in the second round.
“Our first pick was pretty clear, but to our thinking, Nate was the top hitter on the board, absolutely the best offensive prospect available,’’ said Astros scouting director Kevin Goldstein. “We were thrilled to get him because we weren’t sure he was going to be there and because you don’t usually find his kind of power in the Rule 5 draft.’’
Freiman hit .298 with 24 homers and 105 RBIs in 137 games with the Double A San Antonio Missions last season, with 95 strikeouts in 581 plate appearances.
His RBI total was the highest among San Diego’s minor leaguers.
“That kind of contact rate for a power hitter is pretty impressive, and he just destroys lefthanded pitching,’’ Goldstein said.
In September, the 6-foot-7-inch, 225-pound first baseman played for Team Israel, a bittersweet experience, he said, because of a 9-7 extra-inning loss to Spain that ended the team’s run at the World Baseball Classic qualifier in Jupiter, Fla.
“It was the most emotionally draining game I’ve ever been involved in,’’ he said. “It was heartbreaking but hopefully if they put together another team, I’ll be a part of it. It was a fantastic experience.’’
Freiman hit four homers for Team Israel and subsequently impressed the Houston scouting staff at the instructional league in Arizona.
He has hit 46 homers in his last two minor league seasons.
“I wasn’t surprised I was available in the draft because I don’t think there was room for me on the major league roster with the Padres,’’ said Freiman, who was the state’s Division 2 baseball player of the year as a senior at Wellesley High.
“But I was surprised I was taken and I really appreciate Houston taking a shot at me because there are a lot of good first base prospects out there and I was just hoping to make the Padres’ Triple A team next season. “What’s nice is that Amanda and I have some time off before I go to Florida and she goes back on the tour.’’
Blumenherst, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., was low amateur at the 2006 US Women’s Open and won the 2008 US Women’s Amateur. A three-time National Player of the Year at Duke, she won $105,608 last year.
“Nate hit everything hard, just like a 2-iron off the tee,’’ said Freiman’s manager in San Antonio, John Gibbons, who in November was hired for his second stint as Toronto Blue Jays manager, replacing John Farrell. “He must have learned that stroke from Amanda.’’
Goldstein acknowledged that Freiman was a little old for the Double A level, but said, “Remember, he did four years of college instead of three, and as a pro scout, I believe it takes a big power hitter longer to develop and that it takes taller guys with power even longer.’’
Freiman was originally selected in the 28th round by Texas in the 2008 draft but honored his commitment to Duke, where he blasted 20 homers while setting a new career mark (43 homers) for the Blue Devils his senior season.
He was an eighth-round pick of the Padres in 2009.
Freiman was a standout pitcher and hitter at Wellesley, graduating in 2005.
He injured his throwing arm as a college freshman, ending his pitching aspirations but setting the stage for further development as a hitter and first baseman that included time in the Cape Cod League.
Freiman underwent surgery early in his junior season at Duke to repair his left hand — he’s a natural righty — and missed a month before returning to the team.
He worked hard with Duke’s strength coach to prepare for his senior year, and wound up with the second-highest career average (.356) in program history before steadily moving up the minor professional ladder.
“I think he’s a late bloomer, definitely worth taking a chance on,’’ said Goldstein, “and we’d be as thrilled as Nate if he winds up playing in Fenway Park.’’