Amid a San Diego Padres farm system that has been torn down and built back up again in the past few years, one thing has remained constant: RF Hunter Renfroe. The 6′ 1″, 220 pound 24-year-old who was drafted 13th overall in the first round out of Mississippi has had an up and down road in the Padres system. He has never really put things together for an entire season– until this year.
In his first year of pro ball, Renfroe bounced around between the Eugene Emeralds (the Padres former short season affiliate) and the Fort Wayne Tincaps. Combined, he put up six HR, 25 RBI, and a .271/.308/.510 stat line.
Renfroe then began his 2014 season in AA with the San Antonio Missions, where he struggled mightily to a .232/.307/.353 clip. He also registered more strikeouts (53) than hits (52) during his short time there. Recognizing his struggles, the Padres sent him to Singe-A Lake Elsinore, where he somewhat salvaged a very difficult year, putting up 16 HR and a .295/.370/.565 stat line in 278 at bats. However, he still struggled with strikeouts and had 82 hits compared to 81 strikeouts.
In 2015, Renfroe bounced around AAA El Paso and AA San Antonio, and improved marginally. The strikeouts were still far too high and he kind of went off the radar from a lot of prospect boards.
That brings us to this year, a year where Renfroe has dazzled in his first full year of AAA. Making throws like this and this !!!. At the plate, he is currently putting up a .334/.359/.611 clip with a career high in OPS. His strikeouts are somewhat down from his career norm and he also leads AAA in HR (24). He earned a trip to his second Futures Game at Petco Park, which officially put him on San Diego’s radar as the next young power hitter to don a Padres uniform.
So, that begs the question: is Hunter Renfroe ready for the big leagues?
The first question to ask: is there room?
Short answer: as of now, no.
It would make a lot more sense to call up Renfroe if there was not a current logjam in the outfield for the Padres. Melvin Upton Jr. Alex Dickerson, Travis Jankowski, Matt Kemp, and Jon Jay (when he returns) are currently all outfielders on the Padres roster. A big reason why A.J. Preller wants to trade Melvin Upton Jr. Kemp, and Jon Jay is exactly because of this jam. The ideal scenario is you trade Upton Jr. and Jay, allowing Dickerson and Jankowski to play every day to see what they can do for the rest of the 2016 campaign. It definitely sounds likely that Melvin will be dealt, and Jay will likely be traded for scraps in the August waiver wire. Jankowski’s performance to date has all but solidified his everyday job. That leaves right field, and Matt Kemp is not going anywhere. His bloated contract and lack of overall production makes him downright impossible to move at the moment. The Padres would be better off just putting Kemp out there everyday and see if he can play himself into a trade by having another fantastic second half at the plate.
For the next few months, Renfroe is pretty much guaranteed to stay in El Paso.
Could he possibly be called up once rosters expand in September? Perhaps. However, would it make sense for the Padres to begin his clock and lose a year of arbitration over a meaningless September month? Barring a possible Kemp DFA or trade in the offseason, the Padres could have a Kris Bryant scenario on their hands. Like the Cubs, the Padres could call Renfroe up early in April next year, qualifying him as a Super Two Player and giving them one more year of arbitration (aka control) of him. It would make sense, especially because ownership has made it public that they are shooting for 2019 as the first year that they want to truly compete again.
Talent and production wise, Hunter Renfroe seems ready, although keeping him in the minors for the rest of this year would not hurt him at all.
He does have flaws, such as a failure to walk on a consistent basis and a swing has a tendency to get long at times. Renfroe can have at bats where he looks fantastic, then can have at bats when he gets a bit too pull happy. He strikes out a lot as well and struggles with offspeed pitches.
The home/road splits are a little bit of a concern. Obviously, El Paso is a hitters park, and Renfroe has done most of him damage there: 15 HR, .393/.420/.701 with a 1.201 OPS. On the road, he has been much less impressive: 9 HR, .262/.281/.500 with a .781 OPS. These road numbers have improved as of late, however. It is also important to note Renfroe has had roughly 40 more at bats at home than on the road, so it is possible that these numbers even themselves out a little bit.
However, his power, arm, and base running tools make up for his faults. His hit tool is clearly the reason he has progressed through the system. He has a ton of pop in his bat. He’s never going to be a .300 hitter, but has a chance to hit .260-.270 yearly with power. For his size, Renfroe is a good baserunner, is an above-average fielder, and has a more than serviceable arm in right field.
Renfroe has improved greatly this season against left-handed pitching, mashing 10 bombs to go with a .377/.387/.746 clip as well as a 1.132 OPS. Last year he only hit .227 against lefties. Against righties, Renfroe is hitting a cool 14 HR along with a .316/.347/.555 clip and a .903 OPS.
If all goes right, Hunter Renfroe is really comparable to being a similar player to the Matt Kemp that Padres fans have seen these last few years, only with defense, a bit more speed, and better base running. Strikeouts and a lack of walks will probably be the main problem with Renfroe at the MLB level, but everything else seems like it will transition well.
If not, he’s a third OF, maybe a fringe fourth OF. Last August, a year in which he struggled, someone compared him to the next Jeff Francouer. Only time will tell.
It really has to do with how Renfroe will develop and make transitions at the big league level. If he can see really good MLB breaking balls and learn how to adjust to them, then he will absolutely mash. He can hit.
I am higher on Hunter Renfroe than most, I think the hit tool is going to translate to the big leagues. Between Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe, the Padres have two staples in their outfield for years to come.
Hunter Renfroe is ready for the Padres roster. The only question is, when will the Padres roster be ready for him?