Last year, in September, we all got a great look at the positives to Hunter Renfroe.
He was the first ever player to hit a home run onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Building, and put up a .371/.389/.800 batting line in 11 games. That mammoth dinger was amazing, and so was his production in his first stint of major league pitching, but we here at EVT warned you to temper your expectations about Renfroe’s future.
The outfielder has never shown any sort of plate discipline, at any level. He crushes fastballs and has unreal power, but lacks the proper mentality presently to hunt the pitch and be successful. Especially at the major league level. He has shown progress in brief moments, but the Padres are clearly getting tired of his failure to adjust.
His demotion to Triple-A was a bit of a surprise, but when you delve into his lack of consistency, it really wasn’t. He needed a wake up call.
Renfroe will never be a patient hitter. He has made it this far in this game by swinging the bat, and he will surely continue to do that. The problem is he cannot chase pitches that are outside the strike zone. He cannot continue to fall behind and be forced to hit a pitchers pitch. The Padres need him to improve his patience enough to get better pitches to hit. If he swings at strikes and connects with them, generally they are hit pretty hard.
Defensively, Hunter Renfroe came with the pedigree that he was an above-average defender. He has showcased a cannon for a throwing arm as he leads all the National League in outfield assists (9) for a right fielder. The problem is he also leads the National League in errors for a right fielder, with nine. He has amassed a -0.6 defensive WAR in 2017, and has looked horrible in most of his routes to the ball. Yes, Renfroe has a great arm. One of the best in all of major league baseball. However, he often misses cutoffs, and that can be very frustrating. The Padres are clearly concerned about his future in the outfield.
A.J. Preller enjoys shopping for his own groceries. Like a great chef, he demands to buy the ingredients himself and shop around for his creation. When he arrived late in 2014, he immediately began to tear down the Padres’ farm system. Not that the prospects did not have value, but they were not his prospects. These players were not drafted by Preller and hand-picked by his regime. Names like Trea Turner, Max Fried, Mallex Smith, Matt Wisler, and company were moved for immediate major league-caliber players. It was very evident then that Preller does things his own way. That 2014 Padre system was highly ranked, and he had no trouble at all in dismantling it.
Hunter Renfroe survived this purge in 2014, as did Austin Hedges. Both were top-five prospects in the system, but were kept. Hedges, clearly is the type of defensive-minded catcher that you want to build around. Renfroe looked to be a solid piece of the puzzle, but you have to wonder what the feelings are on him moving forward.
At 25, he is not a young prospect. He has accomplished all he can at the Triple-A level as well. Since his demoting to El Paso, he put up a .509/.557/.891 batting line in 14 games and 55 at bats. Even more impressive than those gaudy offensive numbers are the fact he has walked six times opposed to striking out seven times.
So what is his future with the ball club? Clearly the Padres do not envision Renfroe as a blue chip prospect and someone to build around. Wil Myers, Austin Hedges, and Manuel Margot are the trio that fit that mold presently. That does not mean that he is worthless in term of value. Hunter Renfroe is a powerful right-handed batter with plus tools. Patience will be needed with him, but with players like Jose Pirela, Jabari Blash, Franchy Cordero, and Travis Jankowski capable of manning a corner outfield spot, he needs to develop fairly quickly. The clock is ticking.
Renfroe is currently in El Paso, where the Chihuahuas are winding down their season with a playoff series against Memphis. Eventually, the outfielder will be back at Petco Park, and he should get a majority of the starts in right field. The Padres need to evaluate his skill and determine what the next course of action is with him.
Does the club invest in his future and deem him the right fielder of the future? Do they give him another solid opportunity to play everyday and establish himself in the league? Or does the team attempt to package him and trade him? It remains to be seen if Renfroe has much value right now. In the right situation, on the right squad, he could be a productive player. I am sure that A.J. Preller will explore every option with this young man as he attempts to take the Padres into relevancy.
Ultimately, Hunter Renfroe is not the savior. Padre fans keep waiting for that type of player. He could be an excellent piece to the puzzle, but his game is far from complete. A trade could happen as the Padres are in search of young major league pitching and yet more advanced prospects who fit the mold of what they are trying to create. This winter could be an interesting one as the team positions themselves closer to contention in a very tough National League Western division.