The MLB Draft is being held this week and the first Panther went off the board on Tuesday in the sixth round as relief pitcher R.J. Freure was selected by the Houston Astros. He was picked No. 192 overall.
Freure was a sophomore that has pretty good stuff. His numbers (4-1 with a 4.30 ERA and two saves) don’t jump off the page at you but what Freure has is strikeout ability. In only 58 2⁄3 innings this year, Freure struck out 95 batters. That was second on the team behind only starter Matt Pidich and Pidich had to throw 91 1⁄3 innings to get his 99 Ks. Freure’s strikeout to innings pitched ratio easily led the entire team.
Afterwards, he commented on being selected.
“It’s an honor to be given this opportunity to play professionally and I would like to thank my coaches for helping me and showing me how to become a better player and person on and off the field,” Freure said. “I’d also like to thank my family and friends for always being there during both the good and bad times. Mostly, I want to thank my parents for everything they have done for me and allowing me to pursue my dream. I am extremely thankful for this opportunity.”
And coach Joe Jordano expects him to be a major league pitcher — and relatively soon, at that.
“In my opinion, RJ has a major league pitch in his breaking ball, and couple that with a mid to upper 90s fastball, when he develops his consistency and potential of a quality third pitch, he’s a big league pitcher sooner than later,” said head coach Joe Jordano.
Freure showed good improvement this year, despite having an ERA over 4.00 for the second straight season. His 4.30 ERA fell from a 4.74 mark last year and while he struck out more than a batter per inning last season (46 strikeouts in 38 innings), his K/IP ratio went through the roof this season.
In previously researching the MLB Draft rules for eligibility, I wasn’t even immediately sure he was draftable. The three primary rules are a player can enter if he goes straight from high school, is a junior or senior or at least 21, or is a junior college player. Freure was only a sophomore and only 20 years old.
You might remember that, the Panthers had a 20-year-old sophomore, Charles Leblanc, selected in 2016 after his sophomore year as well. But, as Pitt’s athletics department told me, you only need to be 21 within 45 days of the draft so he was eligible. Same with Freure, who will turn 21 next month.
If Freure had gone lower there might be more hope for him returning. But as a sixth-round pick, he went relatively high, considering there are 40 freaking rounds in this thing. Hard to expect him back and most of Pitt’s players seem to generally make the jump after being selected, even in the lower rounds.
As far as next year goes, his loss obviously hurts the team’s bullpen and the Panthers will also be losing the aforementioned Pidich as he was a senior.