It’s been a quiet offseason all around baseball, and with that sort of silence comes interesting baseball discussions. This offseason, one of the biggest topics among the Padre fandom has been about Franchy Cordero. To be more specific, fans have discussed whether he is major league ready, and more importantly, whether he can be an impact big leaguer someday. Beyond that, he has been compared to Christian Yelich from some more excitable fans, and has been labeled as a non-factor by some others. At this point, it seems like the truth lies somewhere in the middle of that conversation. The 2018 season may answer that exact question.
But let’s back things up first and discuss where Cordero’s professional career began. Signed by the San Diego Padres as an international free agent in November of 2011 out of the Dominican Republic, it’s been a bit of a strange development path for the now-outfielder. Originally signed as an infielder, Cordero did not shift to the outfield full time until 2015. As an 18-year-old in the Dominican Summer League in 2012, Cordero slashed .270/.372/.374 with a 120 wRC+ and 13.7 percent walk rate and 27 percent walk rate in 270 plate appearances. Although his offensive numbers were solid, he hit only one home run and made 44 errors at shortstop in just shy of 500 innings (ouch!).
To kick off 2013, Cordero made his stateside debut in Arizona with the Padres’ rookie league affiliate. Despite playing in only 35 games, Cordero had an offensive outburst of sorts, slashing .333/.381/.511 with a 145 wRC+. However, his walk rate fell by half and his defense was still pretty bad, although he only made 11 errors in 30 games in the field compared to 44 in 56 games the year before. The 2014 season was a bit interesting for Cordero, as he began the year in short season ball, taking a step back offensively, with a 117 wRC+. On top of that, Cordero saw his walk rate fall to just 5.4 percent while his strikeout rate neared 30 percent. Cordero’s defense also took a big step back, as he made 33 errors in 315 innings in short-season ball. A late-season promotion to Low-A didn’t go much better, as Cordero posted a 33 wRC+ in 94 plate appearances.
Cordero spent the entirety of the 2015 season in Low-A ball, slashing .243/.293/.306 with a 75 wRC+ in 524 plate appearances. He also posted a 5.9 percent walk rate and 23.1 percent strikeout rate. Despite his offensive woes, this was a big season for Cordero because he made a significant improvement in his defense after shifting to the outfield. That change became permanent in 2016, and it seemed to lead to all-around improvement for Cordero. Although his walk and strikeout rate were around the same as his career averages, Cordero posted a 109 wRC+ in his first 74 games in High-A in 2016. He followed that with an even better 136 wRC+ in 59 Double-A games. More importantly, Cordero saw slight increases in his walk rate and his extra-base percentage, making him a better all-around player. With his added defensive value, Cordero was suddenly a prospect again.
Going into 2017, Cordero was suddenly thrust higher on prospect lists and into the fan conversation. After finishing the 2016 season with a small taste of Triple-A, the 22-year-old found himself back in Triple-A to begin the 2017 season. Cordero performed well out of the gate, posting a .289/.349/.520 slash line with a 120 wRC+ prior to his late-May promotion to San Diego. The big development for Cordero was his increased ISO (at a career-high .231), as well as an increase in his walk rate to just shy of eight percent, although his strikeout rate still hovered over 30 percent.
Over his first two and a half weeks in the big leagues, Cordero put up monster numbers. In his first 60 major league plate appearances, Cordero posted a .339/.383/.625 slash line with a 164 wRC+. However, there were some lingering signs of possible regression under the surface, as Cordero posted an ISO near .300 and a strikeout rate just shy of 37 percent. From June 16 to his demotion less than two weeks later, Cordero faceplanted, getting just one hit over 34 plate appearances and striking out 58.8 percent of the time during that span. His slash line during that time: .032/.091/.032. Following that showing, and a return to health for Manuel Margot, Cordero was back in the minors.
Although Cordero did see five big league plate appearances in late July, he spent the majority of the rest of the season back in Triple-A. Over those last 217 at-bats, Cordero slashed .355/.386/.668 with a 167 wRC+. Despite those positive numbers, Cordero still posted an abysmal walk to strikeout ratio, striking out 59 times with just eight walks. On top of that, Cordero also posted an unsustainable .313 ISO during that time. With his late-season performance, none of the question marks tied to Cordero were answered.
2018 Projection and Long-Term Outlook
Steamer: 19 games, 80 plate appearances, 5.1% walk rate, 31.2% strikeout rate, .243/.285/.395, 79 wRC+, 0.1 fWAR
Given the Padres’ depth in the outfield, it’s hard to see Cordero getting many plate appearances in 2018. And it would seem that Steamer agrees, as he is only projected for 80 plate appearances in total. Sadly, those projections don’t look too inspiring, as Cordero is projected for a rather pedestrian stat line. It figures that Cordero will start the 2018 season back in Triple-A unless he has a really strong spring training. Beyond that, it’s hard to see him making a big major league impact until he can prove that he is capable of showing better plate discipline. With a high swing rate and lower contact rate, Cordero needs a lot to go right in order to have a successful season.
However, it’s difficult to argue that Cordero wouldn’t provide some value right now based on his speed and defense alone. Even with his power gains, Cordero will have to lessen his free-swinging nature if he hopes to be a part of the Padres’ plans in 2018 and beyond. Given that he’s always had the same plate discipline issues, it’s hard to see him making such substantial improvements in that department in 2018. But if he can get his strikeout rate into the lower 30s, he could be a productive big leaguer with his speed-defense combo and a little bit of pop. At that point, he’s Travis Jankowski with more power and better overall offensive potential. And that might just be his floor.