At this point in his young career, it is evident that Hunter Renfroe is far from a polished product.
Coming into the 2017 season, everyone was well aware of his poor plate discipline, but seeing it first-hand has been another story.
Competing against major league-quality pitchers has not helped this young man, as they continually pick at his weaknesses and expose him.
In the bottom of the sixth inning in Friday’s game against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Renfroe had arguably one of his best at bats of the season so far. The end result was a strikeout, as he expanded the zone on a slider by Sergio Romo and chased a 3-2 pitch far outside the zone, but he showed some promise in the at bat.
Renfroe also struck out in the ninth, his fourth K of the game, which resulted in a light chorus of boos ringing throughout the lower level of Petco Park.
The young outfielder is well aware of the talk about his lack of plate discipline.
He knows that he needs to improve this aspect of his game. But changing an approach that has resulted in success for most of his baseball career will be difficult, if not impossible.
At this point, Renfroe is what he is. He goes up there ready to mash the ball, and if it’s in the zone, he is letting it fly. That is fine. He made his living by swinging the bat, so the Padres certainly do not want him to go up there taking pitches. He is a power threat, a middle of the order type hitter, and those type of hitters are notorious for being aggressive when in the box. That is just who he is.
Hunter Renfroe has received many pitches to hit this season. Pitchers are attacking him with breaking pitches in and out of the strike zone. Early in the count, he is getting off-speed pitches that he should be crushing. Instead, he has taken them for called strikes, or been way out in front of them, resulting in foul balls. He might need to change his approach. If he fails to do so, then he could very easily get lost in the mix.
With his fastball hitting reputation, it’s time for him to look off-speed early in the count, and then adjust from there. Especially against right-handed pitchers, who have a decent slider or curve ball. Kenta Maeda downright frustrated Renfroe in his first two at bats on Friday by constantly feeding the young slugger sliders and cutters away. Renfroe never seemed comfortable in his at bats, and that has been a common theme so far in this 2017 baseball season.
In his 115 plate appearances and 409 pitches seen this 2017 season, Renfroe has been in a hitter’s count only 21 times. That is well below average. Hitter’s counts are considered 3-0, 3-1 and 2-0 counts. Renfroe has been 2-0 in a count only 12 times this year (swinging eight times). He has been 3-1 in a count seven times this year (swinging five times). And has been 3-0 only twice this year (swinging once). Basically, he is seemingly always behind in the count. The power hitter is swinging at 41% of the first pitches in an at bat (major league average is 28%) and that is also not helping.
Renfroe hunts the fastball and he expects to crush it, but his inability to recognize spin is a bit of a concern so far.
If he can recognize pitches that are inside and strikes, while staying on them, pitchers will not be able to get ahead of him quickly with breaking pitches. Basically, perhaps Renfroe should be using the whole field early in the count if he insists on swinging so often. He has the ability to hit the ball out to center or right, so that is not an issue. He must remain focused on the center of the diamond for these off-speed strikes. Not doing so will only result in off-balance swings, which do nothing for his power ability and only get him behind in the count. I’m not saying he shouldn’t go up there trying to drive the ball, but perhaps he should only try doing that while ahead in the count and when he is almost assured a fastball and a strike. Easier said than done. That is for sure.
Hunter Renfroe is 40 games into his major league career. He has hit nine home runs in that time, while hitting a respectable .250 in 148 at bats. Has he been a disappointment? No, not at all. He has had growing pains, and has made mistake that are typically made by young players, but its way too early to deem his season, let alone his career a failure.
There is room for adjustment though. 37 strikeouts and three walks in his major league career thus far is not going to cut it long-term as far as productive value. By putting the ball in play more, and getting a few singles early in the count, Renfroe could boost his value and keep the naysayers away from him.
On-base percentage and batting average are never going to be his strong suit, but he has prestigious power that deserves a chance to be featured. His future with the team is pretty safe currently. The Padres will give him at least the next two years to establish himself as a major league player. There will be growing pains, but if he can figure it out, he is an exciting player. The team has no other option currently and Renfroe has mastered the minor league system. His time is now.
His power has already been documented, but Renfroe also has a cannon for a right arm. Early on in his Padres career he has displayed that rocket arm. He has been a bit overzealous in some of his attempts, but you have to admire the ability he has to throw runners out.
Hunter Renfroe is a hitter.
Once again. Changing him into the second coming of Joey Votto is out of the question. Instead of trying to make Renfroe into someone he is not, start thinking outside the box to make him better. The game of baseball is all about adjustments and staying one step ahead of your opponent. There is no need to worry about Hunter yet, but he does need to make some adjustments with his approach and he needs to recognize spin much better. Pitchers are generally afraid to attack Hunter Renfroe, and he is seemingly never ahead in the count. That’s a bad combination for success, which has resulted in his atrocious strikeout-to-walk percentage so far.
Like all power hitters, Renfroe is streaky. He has yet to get hot this 2017 season, and it is only a matter of time before he starts to drive the ball consistently. When that happens, hopefully he makes the adjustment (mentally) at the plate to continue to get decent pitches to hit. There is a ton of hope for this young man. He has the ability to be special. No need to worry just yet.