Guardians promote Tyler Freeman as Ernie Clement goes to Clippers

Cleveland Guardians' Ernie Clement during a baseball game, Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Detroit....
Cleveland Guardians' Ernie Clement during a baseball game, Wednesday, July 6, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)(Carlos Osorio | AP)
Published: Aug. 4, 2022 at 9:49 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - No. 6 prospect Tyler Freeman was smiling ear-to-ear as he finally made his MLB debut for the Cleveland Guardians on Aug. 3.

However, the Guards had to option utility player Ernie Clement to Columbus to make room on the 26-man roster so they could recall Freeman from AAA.

Clement singlehandedly changed the stigma of being a utility player in Major League Baseball with his solid glove and profound versatility around the in and outfield.

You mainly saw him start as a fill-in at third base or left field, but he’s made appearances at second, shortstop, and as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

His strongest suit was arguably holding it down at third for José Ramírez, which his 15 starts there shows as the All-Star cheered him on from the dugout.

The 26-year-old Rochester native even became a relief pitcher in two games - one of which he was also listed as a backup catcher.

“Big Ern” stepped up whenever his team called on him, “whatever they need, I’m gonna go out and try to do my best... catching, pitching, picking Joséy up, whatever... I’ll do it,” Clement told Knott in his post-game interview after taking the mound for the first time in his career.

[ Utility player to pitcher: Ernie Clement takes the mound for the Guardians ]

He’s the guy his team could count on when it came to defense, but his time at the plate hasn’t exactly been as highlight-worthy... and it’s what influenced Terry Francona’s decision.

With 143 at-bats in the 2022 season, Clement tallied a .203 AVG with 15 runs and 6 RBI.

This was a downward slide from his stats last season when he had a total of just 121 bats, but earned a .231 AVG, 16 runs, nine RBI, and three home runs (the first two being in the same game).

But, Tito believes in this 2017 fourth-round pick.

At one point in his collegiate career at the University of Virginia (where he became a College World Series champion his freshman year), he was statistically the most difficult player to strike out in the NCAA.

He had the confidence to back it too, saying his favorite was a 3-2 count because it puts the pressure on the pitcher.

Clement will be the first to say he doesn’t consider himself a home run hitter, but his previously strong contact with the bat has helped his team to victory before, and his manager thinks he could do it again with a little more game time in Columbus.

“I think this will be good for Ernie to play,” Francona said in his pregame interview. “I think Ernie went through a period where he swung the bat pretty good, didn’t get any hits, and then - like a lot of guys - you try to do a little too much and you get yourself in trouble.”

This move is reminiscent of last season when Clement was sent to the Clippers towards the end of his rookie season to get more consistent game time and reps at the plate.

He briefly returned to Cleveland when he needed to fill in for a teammate in bereavement, but ultimately finished the season in Columbus.

Clement came back to start the next season stronger than ever with one of the best performances in Goodyear, Ariz. in the organization.

He stayed above .500 for most of Spring Training, finishing with a .467 AVG with 30 AB, 1.269 OPS, and even filled in as a PH and DH.

Time will tell what’ll happen next, but whether he’s sporting Cleveland or Clippers across his jersey, this spark plug is staying positive and ready to play.

What makes this transaction bittersweet is how Clement loves “T-Free,” having spent time together in the minors and working out in the off-season.

Clement’s even once changed his name and profile picture on Twitter to pose as a prospect analyst account to troll Freeman:

Now it’s 23-year-old Freeman’s time to shine in The Show.

The Southern California native was drafted in 2017 as a supplemental second-round choice out of high school.

Since then, he established himself as one of the minor’s best pure hitters, having a .292 AVG or better in each of his first four seasons in the pros.

He was the MLB’s No. 84 prospect, having batted .279 (83-297) with 51 runs, six home runs, and 44 RBI with AAA this season.

That shoulder operation @ErnieClem was talking about was when Freeman slightly tore the labrum in his left shoulder on a swing last June.

The needed surgery ended his season after 41 games, but he still earned a spot on Cleveland’s 40-man roster in November.

Freeman then became the 12th Guardian to make his MLB debut this season.

This is just two away from the record of 14 rookies who were called up by the Indians in 2002.

With Freeman now donning a Guardians jersey after spending extensive time in AAA, Francona plans to have him fill a utility role.

“He got off to a delayed start because of the injuries, so we wanted him to make sure he had enough at-bats under his belt,” Francona stated. “Putting a younger guy in that role could be a little challenging anyway, so you want to make sure they’ve got some gas in the tank. But we’ll probably move him around a bit.”

Freeman got the call up to the majors in the middle of the Clippers game the night before, which Clippers Manager Andy Tracy had some fun with:

The rookie wasn’t the only one excited for his debut... His new (and old) teammates welcomed him into Progressive Field with open arms before the game.

It didn’t take long for Freeman to show everyone what he’s got.

He drew a walk in his first trip to the plate in the second inning before recording his first career hit with a single in the sixth.

As he had the biggest smile plastered on his face as he stood at first base, the Freeman family was on their feet erupting with applause.

Among Freeman’s fans in the stands was his younger brother, Cody, who is a catcher in the Rangers organization.

After a successful MLB debut, next to nothing could wipe the grin off of Freeman’s face as he spoke with Andre Knott.

Although he was speechless, Freeman had a few words of gratitude, “Thank you to everyone that made my dream come true.”

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