Though the 2016 San Diego Padres season has been brutal to watch as a whole, there have been numerous things that have been a positive.
One of the most surprising and pleasant things about the season has been the emergence of Ryan Schimpf from seemingly out of nowhere.
The rookie infielder/outfielder slugged 20 homers this season in 89 games for the Padres. He totaled a .869 OPS and a 130 OPS+ in his first year at the highest professional level. That’s an amazing total for a player that had never had a major league at bat prior to the season. Schimpf spent his entire pro career in the Blue Jays organization, six years in total, prior to signing with the Padres before spring training started.
A.J. Preller and the scouting department did a great job by finding Schimpf and signing him to a deal. He was signed initially as organizational depth, but after hitting .355 with 15 homers at Triple-A El Paso in 166 at bats, he was recalled. Putting up numbers like that while playing a mixture of second and third base earned the minor league veteran a cup of coffee, or at least that is what the team thought it would be. But Schimpf was never sent back down as he produced from day one and he forced his way into the lineup.
His power potential from a middle infielder is really intriguing. The Padres could also utilize him at third base, but his numbers tend to look pedestrian at the hot corner. The future of Schimpf in a Padres uniform is certainly cloudy as Cory Spangenberg is to return healthy this spring, and with that, a competition could be in store for Padres fans at second base. Spangenberg is a favorite of manager Andy Green and he will certainly be allowed to regain his spot that he lost due to injury early in the 2016 season.
Hitting 20 homers in 276 at bats is quite the accomplishment for this 28-year-old. Production like that from a middle infielder is very precious. Schimpf was surprisingly never given the opportunity to play at the major league level from the Blue Jays, despite the fact that the team loves power hitters. Their loss is the Padres gain, as they certainly reaped the benefits of Schimpf in their everyday lineup during the second half of the 2016 season. He has a natural power stroke and the ball just jumps off his bat. He has the ability to square up balls and drive them. Expect Schimpf’s power numbers to remain the same. If pitchers make mistakes over the heart of the plate, he will crush them. But will he be given the at bats?
Playing 733 games in eight minor league seasons has surely helped turn this top prospect into a consummate professional. He his humble about the game and realizes that it is special to play this game at this level. Schimpf is reportedly a great teammate and I have heard nothing but positive things in regards to his work ethic and attitude. The whole clubhouse is rooting for the guy, and players like him really do create harmony in the locker room.
He has the ability to play first base, second base, third base and the corner outfield. At the very least, Schimpf has earned a spot as a utility infielder and power hitter off the bench for 2017. He should be able to retain a starting position somewhere in the Padres lineup, but if he falters in the spring and fails to play well, the team could explore keeping him as a great left-handed hitting stick off the bench. The fact he can play five spots on the field only increases his value. He could see some time in the outfield in 2017 if the team is unable to re-sign Jon Jay.
Schimpf will be 29 in April and is not considered a young phenom by any stretch of the imagination. In fact he is not even close to being considered a young player, although its difficult to say if he is a late-bloomer or just a player who had a career year last year. Usually when you see a huge uptick in production from a player that never played at the major league level, you come to the conclusion that he will only get better. At the age of 29, Schimpf seems likely to reproduce the power he displayed in 2016. That is just what history dictates. He has power. Not to say this young man cannot improve as a player, but he has an uphill battle if he wants consistent at bats. There are more pressing issues with his game that are mentioned next.
Strikeouts & Low Batting Average
With all that power from him, comes the strikeouts. Schimpf struck out 105 times this season in his 276 at bats. That is quite horrendous, and numbers like that scare you in regards to his long-term ability. The power is fantastic, but the Padres will be cautious in crowning him the everyday player at second base. The franchise has emphasized more importance in putting the ball in play, and Schimpf is not that type of player. 42 of his 60 hits this 2016 season were of the extra base variety. Only 18 singles in 276 at bats is an anomaly. Or at least the Padres hope it is. For the future, he must shorten up with two strikes, and with that, he can turn some of those K’s into singles. Striking out at the current pace he is showing will only earn him a trip back down to the minors quickly. He needs to improve.
Not that he is horrible defensively or on the base paths, but Schimpf is definitely not above average either. His footwork around second base is suspect and he has also booted numerous double play attempts. He seems more comfortable at third base, but the Padres are happy with Yangervis Solarte and the production they are getting from the Venezuelan switch-hitter. Schmipf has to improve his defense at second if he wants to take the job from the speedy Spangenberg. Speaking of speed, Schimpf has little foot speed, as his 38 steals in over 850 professional games tells you. He will not win you a game with his wheels, as Schimpf’s game revolves around driving the ball out of the ball park.
Of all the current Padres, he might have the cloudiest future with the team. It is no secret the team is looking to cut down on their strikeout rate from their offense. At the same time, Schimpf was one of the most exciting players on the Padres team and losing him would probably not go over well with the fan base. A.J. Preller will surely shop him and he could be dealt. It all really depends on what direction the club wants to go. Having a power hitter like Schimpf can be beneficial to a team, but he must have the proper surrounding cast. If the Padres can bring in players that have low strikeout totals and place them around Schimpf in a lineup, then it might work. If not, Schimpf could be lost in the shuffle. His future is yet to be determined. Stay tuned.