Drafted in the first round by the San Diego Padres in the 2013 MLB Draft, outfielder Hunter Renfroe has always been known as a power bat. Drafted out of college, Renfroe jumped right to short-season ball after the draft, hitting four home runs and posting a .308/.333/.510 slash line over his first 111 professional plate appearances. That slash line was just a sign of things to come for the young outfielder. Despite that success, Renfroe struggled upon being called up to Low-A to end that season, slashing just .212/.268/.379 in 72 plate appearances. The potential was there, but Renfroe was certainly still rough around the edges, as evidenced by a 31.9 percent strikeout rate in Low-A to go along with his 5.6 percent walk rate.
Even with some struggles in Low-A, Renfroe jumped right to High-A as a 22-year-old to kick off the 2014 season. And he did not disappoint, as he posted a .295/.370/.565 slash with a 137 wRC+ and a much improved 8.9 percent walk rate and 25.6 percent strikeout rate. Not perfect, but definitely a step in the right direction. After a successful 319 plate appearances, Renfroe earned himself a call-up to Double-A. However, just like when he jumped from short season to Low-A, Renfroe struggled to a .232/.307/.353 slash line in 251 plate appearances to finish the season. Although he struggled to hit for power, or much of anything for that matter, Renfroe did post the best walk rate (10 percent) and strikeout rate (21.1 percent) of his career.
Rather than challenge Renfroe at a higher level, the Padres decided they wanted to see him make adjustments back in Double-A. With a .259/.313/.425 slash in 112 games, Renfroe certainly made some improvements, but perhaps not to the level desired. Those improvements came with a higher ISO, but also a three percent decline in his walk rate matched by a three percent increase in his strikeout rate. Prior to the conclusion of that season, Renfroe was given a shot to test his mettle in Triple-A. Although the Pacific Coast League is a bit hitter-friendly, Renfroe still posted an impressive .333/.358/.633 slash in just under 100 plate appearances. As was the case at every other level, Renfroe’s positive developments were somewhat masked by alarming trends: this time a decline in his walk rate down to just four percent.
With Double-A success under his belt, the last mountain for Renfroe to climb was Triple-A, where he found some success at the end of 2015. Renfroe played 133 games in Triple-A in 2016, slashing .306/.336/.557 with a 131 wRC+. Although his power production reached new heights, Renfroe’s on-base percentage and walk rate (3.9 percent) reached new lows. Despite his offensive success, Renfroe’s flaws were readily apparent. Despite that, the Padres gave Renfroe a late-season call-up, during which he mashed four home runs in 36 plate appearances, posting a 214 wRC in the process. At this point, it seemed like Renfroe had nothing further to prove back in the minor leagues.
Coming off a productive Triple-A season with some big league success to boot, it was clear that Renfroe was ready to sink or swim at the big league level. Although Renfroe didn’t necessarily sink, he didn’t really swim either, as the slugger floundered to a .231/.284/.467 slash line with a below league average 96 wRC+. Water puns aside, Renfroe’s plate discipline issue reared its ugly head yet again, reaching a new low in the process. Not only did Renfroe post just a 5.6 percent walk rate, which was one of the worst in baseball among everyday players, he also posted a strikeout rate just shy of 30 percent. It’s easy to point to his 26 home runs and say the season was a success, but Renfroe got only 76 other hits in total. On top of that, his defense graded out poorly in right field, leaving him worth only 0.3 fWAR in 2017. All-in-all, it was a season of struggles for Renfroe, although he did see some late-season success after being sent back down to Triple-A for a few weeks in August. Even so, it is clear that the Padres’ front office and ownership were not happy with what they got out of Renfroe in 2017.
Steamer: 75 games, 308 plate appearances, 5.4% walk rate, 26% strikeout rate, .249/.294/.453, 95 wRC+, 0.0 BsR, -6.8 DEF, 0.1 fWAR
ZIPS: 138 games, 570 plate appearances, 5.3% walk rate, 27.5% strikeout rate, .244/.288/.460, 94 wRC+, 0.3 BsR, -1.8 DEF, 1.3 fWAR
Projected for only half a season of big league plate appearances by Steamer, the projections don’t look too promising for Renfroe in 2018. Although ZIPS projects him for nearly a full season of playing time, the numbers aren’t much better. If you compare the numbers to Renfroe’s 2017 numbers, everything looks just about the same. The power will likely still be there, but the struggles with plate discipline are expected to continue. Sure, his defense is expected to improve, but at this point, it would be hard for it not to improve. Renfroe appears on the verge of not only losing his spot in right field to Wil Myers, but on the verge of losing a starting outfield spot altogether. If Renfroe is unable to improve his plate discipline, he may find himself not long for San Diego. Looking long term, it’s hard to see Renfroe having a place in the starting nine with his current offensive profile. Home runs are nice, but with nothing else to show, Renfroe may quickly find himself on the bench.