In recent weeks, Manuel Margot has made the most of his time with the San Diego Padres.
Coinciding with his return, Margot has also experienced a sharp uptick in productivity and has quickly climbed into the number two spot in the order, right behind rookie phenom Fernando Tatís Jr. Margot’s success will be critical to any success the Padres might experience as a whole going forward. He provides a substantial defensive presence in centerfield, as well as a second speed threat on the bases at the top of the order.
Margot has always been a toolsy center fielder and at one point was ranked among the organization’s top prospects after he came over from Boston in the Craig Kimbrel trade. Following a promising rookie campaign in 2017, where he sported a .263/.313/.409 line while stealing 17 bases on 24 attempts and finishing sixth in National League Rookie of the Year voting, Margot struggled mightily at the plate and on the basepaths in 2018.
Despite cutting his K-rate by three points to 17%, he slumped to a .245/.292/.384 line with a subsequent drop in his wRC+ by nine points to 81. When attempting to steal a bag, he was thrown out 47% of the time, despite his sprint speed remaining in the top 25 in the league. It seemed like Margot was to late on his jumps and would consistently fail to run in a straight line.
Despite visible improvements on the base paths earlier this season, it looked like it would be much of the same. After posting a sOPS+ of 73 in April and March, Margot cratered to post a sOPS+ of just 32 in May. Through May, he had also walked just five times compared to 33 strikeouts in his first 131 at-bats. Soon after that, he lost his starting role, as Wil Myers began to see more time in center and even Hunter Renfroe made a handful of appearances up the middle. When Myers’ struggles became too much to handle, Margot was reinserted as the starting center fielder and hasn’t looked back since.
Following a modest return to his rookie season form in June, that saw him post a 93 sOPS+, Margot had an impressive July in which he delivered on much of the hype that followed him as a prospect. In July, Margot hit to a .254/.390/.493 line in 67 at-bats while also posting a 15:13 BB/K ratio as he showed improved patience at the plate. He continued his hot stretch at the plate into August as well, as through his first seven games of the month has a .333/.368/.944 line and a sOPS+ of 217.
Margot’s peripherals may be a key to his increased success this season. His exit velocity currently sits over three mph lower than it was in 2018 at 85.4 mph, placing him in the bottom 9% of the league. While this may sound concerning at surface level, it’s still nearly a whole mph above where he was at in 2017 when he produced a 91 OPS+. Margot has raised his fly ball rate for a second straight year, this time by over five points, but he’s also seen a subsequent rise in his HR/FB rate from 5.5% to 10.2%, meaning that more of the balls he’s hitting in the air are leaving the yard. This number is also on line with, and even a tick higher than, his 2017 rate of 9.4%.
Margot has taken advantage of his increased OBP by once again becoming a threat on the base paths. As of Friday morning, Margot had stolen 15 bags in 16 chances, with his first caught stealing not coming until July. Margot’s improvements at baserunning this season have given the Padres a second speed threat along with Tatís Jr and served to lengthen a lineup that has struggled at times to produce runs despite having some big bats.
Along with his offensive renaissance, Margot has continued to supply superb defense at a premium position. He currently ranks 20th in baseball in outs above average with five, ahead of notable names like Ender Inciarte and Jarrod Dyson, while settling in just behind teammate Hunter Renfroe who currently sits at six OAA.
Margot’s surge has the chance to provide yet another stabilizing presence in the Padres lineup to pair with Manny Machado and rookie sensation Fernando Tatís Jr. Following his struggles in 2018 and the early parts of this season, the Padres future in centerfield had become to come into question with no clear internal reinforcements in the wings. If Margot can keep this production going at the plate and sustain an OBP above .320 while continuing to provide value on the bases and in the field, he will play a key role in imminent postseason runs.