The San Diego Padres spent their 2017 season in development for the future.
It was an opportunity for the team to allow its first wave of young talent to take the field on a daily basis without the weight of too lofty of expectations. The team finished the season with a record of 71-91. Not impressive to the naked eye, but for a team that was supposed to win around only 60 games, it was a moral victory.
2017 ushered in a new era in Padres baseball–at least this is what we hope and expect. The season welcomed the Core-Four of the 2016 Pacific Coast League Championship-winning El Paso Chihuahuas, as the new central members of the Padres. The Core-Four, as they were known in the PCL, are catcher Austin Hedges, infielder Carlos Asuaje, outfielder Hunter Renfroe. and outfielder Manuel Margot. They all spent the final 11 games of the 2016 season up with the Padres, but in 2017 they were given their opportunity to take ownership of the team as the first wave of prospect talent.
When considering the future of the Padres, center fielder Margot is almost always at the top of the discussion.
Margot came over to the Padres on November 13, 2015 as part of the deal that sent Craig Kimbrel to the Boston Red Sox. Along with Margot came Javier Guerra, Logan Allen, and Asuaje. As it stands now, Margot seems to be the blue chip takeaway for the Padres in that transaction.
As a prospect with the Red Sox, Margot was recognized by scouts as a player with plus-plus speed that he uses well on the bases, above-average range, and solid outfield defense, as well as the ability to hit the ball hard to all fields. This was shown to be true during Margot’s 2016 campaign with the Chihuahuas in which he batted .304//351/.426, with 30 stolen bases and 39 extra-base-hits in 517 at-bats. His defense in center field was second to none. Margot was, without a doubt, a major reason that the Chihuahuas won the PCL Championship in 2016.
He was brought up to join the Padres for the last 11 games of the 2016 season, along with Renfroe, Hedges, and Asuaje. During this short stint in MLB, Margot managed nine hits in 37 at-bats with three RBI, while crossing home plate four times himself. It wasn’t a complete look at the young player, but it provided a taste of what was to come.
With the 2017 season in the books, enough of a sample has been secured for a decent analysis of Margot as a major leaguer. In keeping with the our series at EVT, we will take a look at Margot’s season, focusing on the positives, the negatives and the outlook moving forward.
Margot’s defensive abilities were never in dispute. His scouting report as a prospect had him profiled as a strong defender with solid range in the outfield. He put on a little showcase of his skill-set in the 2016 All-Star Futures game at Petco Park, when he robbed Carson Kelly of a home run by making a beautiful catch at the wall in the sixth inning.
In 2017, Margot compiled eight defensive runs saved in 1049 innings in center field. As far as his range in the outfield goes, he is within the top 15 of all outfielders based on the Statcast Catch Probability metrics at Baseball Savant. According to their evaluation, Margot made four five-star catches, nine four-star catches, and 19 three-star catches in 2017. Margot’s defensive prowess certainly passed the eye test during the season. He produced some gems out there. It’s good to know that the numbers back up what we all witnessed.
Margot’s season was remarkably consistent at the plate. While the hope is that over the span of a season a rookie’s numbers would show progress, Margot’s indicated that he may just prove to be a very balanced offensive player. In the first half of the season, Margot slashed .263/.311/.392 with 17 extra-base-hits, 10 stolen bases, a strikeout percentage of 21, and a walk rate of 6. In the second half, he slashed .263/.314/.424 with 21 extra-base-hits, seven stolen bases, a strikeout percentage of 20, and a walk rate of seven. The area in which Margot showed a slight uptick in production was his power, as indicated by his second-half slugging percentage of .424 and his 21 extra-base-hits.
So what does this indicate to us about Margot? I think it shows that Margot has the potential to become one of the game’s most consistent offensive players. Sure, there are some areas of his offensive game that we would like to see improve, like his strikeout and walk rates (we will address that forthcoming). However, the way that those first and second half numbers mirror themselves is kind of beautiful. Don’t forget he sustained a calf injury in June and came back from the DL almost as good as he was, if not better than he was, prior to his injury.
If Margot can bring his numbers up and keep them consistent upon improvement, he could turn himself into one of the best.
Margot stole 17 bases in 2017. That’s not bad for a rookie. He proved himself to be a smart baserunner and an able leadoff hitter. Baseball Savant has him as the 10th-fastest sprinter in the league in the Statcast sprint speed leaderboard for the season ( side note: they have Franchy Cordero at eight). He also used his wheels in the field, which surely contributed to some of his five-star catches that were previously mentioned.
Let’s not forget that Margot is only 23 years old. It’s exciting to recognize that he has so much room to grow, especially when you look at the defensive proficiency and the offensive consistency that he had in 2017. The sky’s the limit for this young player. This is one of the reasons that I do believe that he could become one of the best players in the game when he reaches his prime.
Margot just has an awesome attitude. He can always be seen with a huge smile on his face. He just looks like he is having a great time out there playing the game of baseball. This has got to have a positive impact on his game as well as that of those around him. The team surely covets a guy like Margot for his clubhouse presence. Moving forward, these are team leadership qualities, and as Margot leaves his rookie season behind him, watch for him to become a team leader.
Margot finished the season with a strikeout percentage of 20. That is not great for a leadoff hitter. It’s not the worst, but it’s just not good enough. June was the month that his K rate was the highest as it reached 27.8%. August was the outlier of the season. He brought his K rate down to 13.7%. If he could bring his strikeout percentage down to around there and keep it consistent moving forward, that would be grand. If Margot is going to be a consistency guy, he could really improve his stock by having more good at-bats and making opposing pitchers work harder.
On the flip side of a high strikeout percentage, is a low walk rate. Margot finished the season with a walk rate of 6.6. Again, this is not atrocious, but just not at the level that’s needed of a leadoff hitter on a good team. If he can work the counts better and show a little bit more plate discipline, he should be able to simultaneously shrink his K rate and grow his walk rate. These are usually things that players develop with experience, and there’s no reason to expect Margot not to adapt. Look for him to make adjustments at the plate moving forward.
A full year of Margot with the Padres has shown us that he is guy who can be relied on to do his job in the field, on the base path, and at the plate. He’s just getting started so he hasn’t fully blossomed yet. He’s only 23 years old so expect him to steadily improve. It seems that if the 2017 season has indicated anything about Margot it’s that he is consistent. So far, he hasn’t been super flashy offensively, but he also never hit a wall or slumped hard. On the other hand, he was one of the best outfielders in the league in 2017 and that was a flashy aspect of his game. We really needed Margot’s consistency with Renfroe’s up and down year. He seems to be a sturdy guy. He spent a little time on the DL in 2017, but didn’t seem to miss a beat upon his return. Margot appears to be a low-maintenance player, and that’s always a good thing. Moving forward, it would be nice to see him show a little better plate discipline and work counts with more maturity. It seems to be that Margot has a huge ceiling, and could end up being one of the elite outfielders in Major League Baseball in the near future.