Now that the initial Travis Jankowski and Colin Rea mania has calmed down, it is as good a time as ever to assess which Padre prospect will be next to head to the major leagues for a debut or return to the major leagues following some time in the minors.
Names like Cody Decker, Alex Dickerson, and Rymer Liriano may be the first names that come to mind to both causal and diehard Padre fans alike. The name that makes the most logical sense, and is probably the Padres biggest minor league investment this year beyond Austin Hedges and the few prospects that have already seen big league time, is Hunter Renfroe.
Similarly to Travis Jankowski in 2012, Hunter Renfroe was the Padres first round pick in the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft. Similarly to Jankowski, Renfroe was, and really still is, viewed as a fringy prospect with some good potential upside with quite a bit of risk attached.
While Jankowski really came out of nowhere with his development in 2015 (he was initially not expected to be MLB ready until 2017 according to several scouting reports), Renfroe has long been one of the Padres top prospects and quite a bit has been expected of him by both the Padres scouting department as well as by scouts outside of the organization.
Prior to the season, Hunter Renfroe was rated as the 49th overall prospect in all of baseball according to Fangraphs and Kiley McDaniel behind only Matt Wisler in the Padres organization. With the promotion of Austin Hedges and the trade of Wisler, it seems pretty clear at this point that Renfroe is now the Padres top overall prospect and is of the highest priority.
According to McDaniel’s report, Renfroe has a future value of 55 which basically means that he is predicted to be a slightly above average every day Major leaguer. Renfroe’s real strengths are his raw power (65), game power (60) and his throwing arm (60) which are all above average. Based on McDaniel’s report, it seems that Renfroe is expected to be a solid everyday big leaguer with the potential to be a star with his above average power, speed, and throwing arm in right field.
In the same way as Travis Jankowski and Colin Rea, Hunter Renfroe took big steps in his development this year and has already progressed over multiple minor league levels. Renfroe began the year with Double A San Antonio after struggling in Double A at the end of last year. The biggest question mark for Renfroe was always his plate discipline and he demonstrated these concerns this year in Double A with only a 7% walk rate to go with a 24% strikeout rate. These numbers make him a somewhat similar player to current Padres such as Derek Norris, Justin Upton, and Matt Kemp who all strike out a lot with lower walk rates. The difference from 2014 to 2015 for Renfroe was a higher ISO to go along with a higher average, a higher on base percentage and a higher slugging percentage.
His performance in Double A this year earned him a recent call up to Triple A following the promotion of Jankowski to the big league club and so far Renfroe has responded well to Triple A pitching. So far in five games Renfroe has a slash line of .364/.348/.864 with three home runs and eight runs batted in which is good for a wRC+ of 206. Clearly these aren’t sustainable numbers in the long term, but Renfroe’s power potential and good glove, arm, and speed should all translate well to the big league level.
It seems clear that if Renfroe continues his hot hitting over the next week, he will be first in line for a call up once the rosters expand in September. The most obvious problem for the Padres is where to find Renfroe playing time with Matt Kemp and Justin Upton at the corner outfield positions and Jankowski sharing playing time in center with Melvin Upton.
Despite these inherent limitations for this season, it seems logical that the Padres will still bring Renfroe up to get a taste of major league baseball before calling him up full time for 2016. If Justin Upton leaves via free agency, which it seems he will, and Wil Myers makes a full time move to first base or perhaps some other position long term, the Padres could very well have a starting outfield of Hunter Renfroe, Travis Jankowski, and Matt Kemp for 2016. This may or may not be an offensive upgrade but will certainly be a clear defensive upgrade in two thirds of the outfield.
Hunter Renfroe is clearly the guy who is next in line to see a big league call up before the end of the season. He is the Padres current top prospect and the Padres have more invested in his development than perhaps any other player. Hunter Renfroe is likely going to be an above average big leaguer at one of the corner outfield positions with the potential to be a star. Renfroe does come with some substantial risk but if he reaches his full potential his upside is a slash line of .275/.345/.475, with 25 homers, and solid average base running and defense according to the prospect report by Kiley McDaniel done for Fangraphs prior to the 2015 season. Padre fans are looking forward to seeing what this kid can do, and it shouldn’t be long before that happens.