Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the massive personnel overhaul choreographed by San Diego Padres GM A.J. Preller is that top prospects Austin Hedges and Hunter Renfroe were not dealt. Not only was the front end of the starting rotation kept intact, and strengthened by the addition James Shields, but the top position players within the Padres farm system were not sacrificed either. Hedges is now with the big league club to provide quality defensive catching depth for Derek Norris, and Renfroe likely looms large in the future plans of the Padres outfield.
Renfroe could be ready for promotion to the majors in 2016, so where would he play? Wil Myers has shown he can handle center field even though he isn’t a prototypical center fielder. Myers will likely shift to a corner outfield spot later in his career, or maybe even 1st base considering the easy transition he’s had to that position filling in for the hurt Yonder Alonso. Alonso was playing good baseball before his injury but unlike Myers he’s pretty much limited to playing 1st base, so Myers will likely move back to center field when Alonso is healthy, and at 24 years old Myers could stay in center field for at least a few more seasons before a move elsewhere is necessary.
In right field Matt Kemp’s hips seem ok and just might hold up for a few more seasons. Which leaves left field, currently occupied by Justin Upton. Having yet to sign a long term contract and playing some of the best baseball of his career, Upton is undoubtedly eyeing up a new mammoth contract after this season. The Padres new owners have invested big money into revitalizing the club, but they may not be able to shell out the big big money Upton will command. Has A.J. Preller always planned to have Upton for one year, make a qualifying offer to him so the Padres gain a compensatory draft pick in 2016 and bring up the much cheaper Renfroe to replace Upton in left field? Possibly.
As Jon Heyman writes on cbssports.com, the “Padres view Upton as a one year buy for now”, but that could change based on how this year goes.
How the year is going, in Upton’s case, is extremely well. He’s hitting .287 and on pace for 41 home runs and 35 stolen bases. Upton’s average per season production is 26 HR, 16 SB and a .275 average. While it’s unlikely Upton keeps up his current pace this season, 30 home runs and 20 stolen bases is certainly possible. Is Hunter Renfroe the type of player that could reach that level of production in his prime?
50 hit, 65 power, 55 run, 60 arm, 55 field, 55 overall is how mlb.com grades his future tools on the 20-80 scouting scale, 20 being terrible, 50 being league average, 80 being elite.I’ve seen other scouting reports grade his power higher at 70, either way he has the same Petco Park proof power Upton possesses.
Hunter Renfroe’s ability to make solid contact lags behind his power at the moment though, which hinders his ability to turn his raw power into game power, and could account for differing grades of his power tool. Based on mlb.com’s grading of his tools Renfroe’s ceiling wouldn’t be too far off from the type of player Justin Upton has been for a lot of his career.
Last season Upton hit 29 home runs and stole 8 bases while hitting .270, and that stat line is probably similar to what Padres fans can expect from Renfroe if he reaches his ceiling, perhaps with a lower batting average. While it would be a decline in production, especially from what Upton has done so far this season, it doesn’t mean Renfroe can’t be a valuable player hitting at the heart of the Padres lineup in within a couple years. Renfroe’s similar but lower production would mean the Padres would be looking to upgrade other positions, but with Renfroe’s cheaper contract they would have more money to make those upgrades.
The Upton/ Renfroe decision isn’t just based on what Upton is doing now and what Renfroe could potentially do in the future, though. Renfroe is still just in AA and his development is far from complete. So how is he doing so far this season? Unlike in Upton’s case, Renfroe’s season is not going extremely well. He’s hitting .220 with 2 home runs through 27 games. It’s still early though, and using Austin Hedges as an example, prospects can go from struggling mightily in AA to being promoted to the majors quickly. Hedges hit just .225 in AA last season before breezing through a short stint in AAA with a .324 average.
If Renfroe turns it around and is ready for a promotion before the 2016 season starts and Upton finishes the year with career best numbers I’m sure Preller would have both players in San Diego if he had his way. The Padres are still a small market team though, and keeping the payroll down by letting Justin Upton go and replacing him with the cheaper Hunter Renfroe would be wise from a financial standpoint. If Renfroe stalls and isn’t ready for promotion within a year perhaps the Padres will be more willing to offer Upton a contract big enough to prevent him from leaving San Diego. With A.J. Preller at the helm, personnel possibilities are endless for the Padres, but keeping an eye on Renfroe’s development this season could give you an idea of what the Rockstar GM is cooking up next.
While we’d all like to see Justin Upton remain a Padre next season, his departure could potentially coincide with the arrival of Hunter Renfroe, and that wouldn’t be so bad.