Saying that Pacific catcher James Free II burst onto the scene as a freshman in 2017 might be the understatement of the year, and we’re only a little more than a month into 2018.
The Walnut, California, native came out and played 52 games as a freshman for the Tigers, hitting .343/.407/.652 with 14 doubles, 14 home runs, and 54 RBI. Those numbers, and a few others, put him in some rarified air not only at his position, but in the freshman class within the WCC.
With a hat tip to his bio on Pacific’s roster page, his home runs, extra-base hits, batting average, RBI, slugging percentage, total bases, and OPS figures were good enough to pace all WCC catchers for the year. Furthermore, his batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs, RBI, doubles, and total bases were all enough to lead all freshmen in the conference. For good measure, he led the WCC during the regular season in home runs and RBI. And for his efforts, he was named to the West Coast Conference All-Freshman Team and the All-West Coast Conference Second Team.
That’s an impressive enough freshman season at any position, but it’s particularly impressive when you consider that Free serves as a catcher, the most demanding position on the field. Asking a freshman to take a beating like catchers do for a full season behind the plate is a big ask, much less asking him to do that and be your team’s best power bat, but that’s what Free was for the Tigers in 2017.
Now, ahead of 2018, the personal accolades have started to roll in for Free. Perfect Game named him a preseason Third Team All-American, alongside the likes of huge names in college baseball like Cal’s Andrew Vaughn, Florida Atlantic’s Tyler Frank, Florida State’s Jackson Lueck, and LSU’s Zach Watson. He’s also already established himself as a prospect, about 16 months ahead of when he’ll be eligible for the draft. In their recent preview of the WCC, D1Baseball.com ranked Free as the fourth-best prospect in the WCC for the 2019 draft.
As far as team accolades go, those are yet to come for a building program like Pacific. But if new head coach Ryan Garko and his staff can uncover a few more diamonds in the mold of James Free II, they’ll be winning in a big way in short order.