This is nothing against him, but if there were one guy on the San Diego Padres 40-man roster that it would be easy to forget, that man would be outfielder Matt Szczur. Overshadowed by the plethora of young outfielders on the Padres’ roster, Szczur flew under the radar in his first year in San Diego. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs, Szczur has been the opposite of flashy over the first seven years of his professional baseball career.
Szczur has never been much of a hitter over the course of his time in professional baseball, but he has always been both versatile and dependable. In his first full season after tastes of three different levels in 2010, Szczur slashed .314/.366/.431 in 66 games with the Cubs Low-A affiliate, racking up a 129 wRC+ in the process. Following a promotion to High-A, Szczur struggled, slashing just .260/.283/.410 to wrap up the season, posting a wRC+ of just 89.
Looking to bounce back a bit in 2012, Szczur began the year with his best offensive showing to date, slashing .295/.394/.407 slash line with a 132 wRC+ in 78 games back in High-A. Szczur followed with more struggles at a new level, slashing just .210/.285/.357 with a 78 wRC+ in 158 Double-A plate appearances to finish the season. Szczur repeated the pattern the following year, repeating Double-A and slashing .281/.350/.367 with a 112 wRC+ over 128 games and 574 plate appearances.
Szczur followed his 2013 season with yet more struggles in Triple-A for most of 2014. Over 116 games at the highest minor league level, Szczur put up a .261/.315/.312 line with a 65 wRC+. It’s clearly never good when you’re slugging percentage is lower than your on-base percentage. Despite those Triple-A struggles, Szczur somehow earned a big league call-up, with 66 plate appearances in the majors before the season concluded. Szczur put up yet another pedestrian batting line in the big leagues, with a 76 wRC+, but his solid baserunning and defensive versatility were both strong assets for the Cubs.
Szczur split his 2015 season between Triple-A and the big leagues, putting up another sub-par offensive performance at the highest level. Szczur spent most of the following season in Chicago, having a fairly productive season for the World Series Champion Cubs. Although Szczur batted just .259/.312/.400 with a 87 wRC+, he did put up solid defensive numbers and was worth 0.7 fWAR in just 200 plate appearances. Despite lacking the potential to be an everyday regular, Szczur proved himself to be a useful asset off the bench for a contending Cubs’ team in 2016.
Szczur began the 2017 season back in Chicago. However, he ended up playing in just 14 games and seeing just 23 plate appearances before being designated for assignment by the Cubs in the beginning of May. Szczur was quickly scooped up by the Padres, who he ended up playing 95 games for throughout the rest of the regular season. In his 176 at bats in San Diego, Szczur slashed just .227/.358/.364 with a 101 wRC+.
Although the offensive numbers don’t really jump out, Szczur was able to post the first above-average line of his career because of an increased walk rate and overall improved plate discipline. After posting walk rates between six and eight percent in his time in Chicago, Szczur made some serious strides, posting a 15 percent walk rate in San Diego, compared to a 18.7 percent strikeout rate. This elevated walk rate was a big reason for his .358 on base percentage and overall improved offensive numbers. On top of that, Szczur showed one of the better ISO numbers of his career which was probably helped by a decreased ground ball rate and increased fly ball rate. All told, Szczur made some good offensive strides while maintaining his solid baserunning, average defense, and overall versatility in the field.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 43 games, 168 plate appearances, 8.8% walk rate, 20.5% strikeout rate, .239/.313/.350, 80 wRC+, -0.2 fWAR
Compared to some of the other projections of the Padres’ roster, Matt Szczur’s projection isn’t great, but it isn’t particularly awful either. Given that Steamer only is projecting him for 43 games and really a handful of plate appearances, it’s hard to read too much into the possible numbers. However, the numbers are a pretty significant step back from the improvements Szczur made in 2017. If he can maintain his increased walk rate and overall offensive improvements, Szczur could find a role for himself in the Padres’ outfield. Either way, it’s going to be difficult for Szczur to find playing time with the likes of Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, Jose Pirela, Alex Dickerson, Franchy Cordero, and others competing for outfield playing time.
Even so, Szczur is a veteran who can play all three outfield positions, so it seems like he will have a place on the Padres’ roster, at least in the short-term. A player’s championship pedigree is a sometimes questionable trait to highlight, but Szczur does have experience on a playoff-caliber team. For a Padre team looking to turn the corner, that definitely holds some value.