The San Diego Padres are now about halfway through Spring Training and although a few positional player battles are still taking place, the most intriguing battle is for the starting right fielder spot.
Wil Myers is currently a lock for left field and Manuel Margot is likely to start in center for the Friars. Franchy Cordero also has a chance at that center field spot but after missing a significant chunk of the 2018 season due to injury he may start the year in Triple-A. The final spot in the outfield will go to either Franmil Reyes or Hunter Renfroe; arguably the Padres’ two best hitters in 2018.
Although Opening Day starts are meaningless over the course of a 162 game season, it is still fun comparing two players that have very strong cases for being a team’s primary option at a set position. With that being said, who should the Padres roll out in right field on Opening Day?
Offensively, both Renfroe and Reyes are pretty evenly matched.
Reyes paced the Padres with a 129 wRC+ in 2018 but did so in only 87 games which raises some questions about whether or not he could do the same over the course of a full season. His game relies heavily on power but he did manage to walk at a league average rate (8.4%) despite striking out 28% of the time.
If he is able to strike out a tad bit less in 2019, it is reasonable to think he could match or exceed his prior offensive output as he consistently hits the ball hard. Reyes’ average exit velocity in 2018 was 92.3 miles per hour, good for 14th in all of baseball. Hitting the ball consistently hard is a skill and as long as he’s making contact it is a skill that Reyes excels at. He does have a BABIP (batting average on balls in play) of .345 which isn’t sustainable for a lumbering power hitter such as Reyes, but as long as he is able to keep most of his batted balls in the air he shouldn’t regress much.
Renfroe’s calling card is his prodigious power. He posted an ISO (how many extra base hits a player averages per at bat) of .256 in 2018 which far surpassed Reyes’ .218 mark. He relies on power exclusively at the plate as evidenced by his career .296 on-base percentage in the majors. It is still possible for a power hitter to provide offensive value while putting up low on-base numbers but it can lead to a one-dimensional approach at the plate that doesn’t leave room for adjustment. Even though he didn’t strike out as much as Reyes last season (24.7% strikeout rate) he walked in just six percent of his plate appearances.
Now, Renfroe could keep his strikeout rate where it is and still have success but the lack of plate discipline in his game could prove costly. He is also a dead-pull hitter whereas Reyes has a more balanced batted-ball profile. This isn’t to say Reyes is a lock to be a superior offensive player, it just illustrates Renfroe’s one-dimensional offensive game.
Defensively, Renfroe is clearly Reyes’ superior. Renfroe rated well in defensive runs saved and ultimate zone rating at +3 and -0.4 respectively in right field last year while Reyes posted a -1 and -4.4 in 200 more innings (Renfroe played 100 more innings in left field than right in 2018). Although there isn’t much data regarding minor league defense, Renfroe moves around the outfield better than Reyes and has a cannon of an arm that admittedly can get a bit erratic.
Overall, the Padres could start either one of these two and they most likely will provide the same value in 2019. As of right now the edge should go to Reyes as he possesses slightly more upside at the plate. Regardless of who starts the year in right field, controlling two players of their caliber will prove to be invaluable for the Padres in the coming season.