When I first found out I would be attending the University of Oregon for this academic year, I immediately scoped out the Eugene sports scene. Obviously there were the Ducks – who hasn’t heard of them? – and the Nike-inspired running community, but what I didn’t know was that the town was also home to the Eugene Emeralds, the short season affiliate of the San Diego Padres. I quickly threw myself into their season, and followed them from afar; a decision that led to my specifically bookmarking one prospect’s Baseball Reference page, a player who I’ll be closely monitoring this upcoming year.
After batting .345 for Mississippi State, and pasting 16 homers in the process of leading his squad to the College World Series finals, the Padres selected first team All-American Hunter Renfroe with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft – a move called by Fangraphs to be “interesting… given that his best tool is his plus raw power and the club plays its home games in a very spacious park.” Still, with the ceiling to be a five tool outfielder at the major league level, the Padres saw a bargain; scouting director Billy Gasparino dubbing his pick “a unique player.” And after quickly signing their prize for slot value ($2,678,000), the right fielder was despatched off to the Northwest League to join the Ems.
Renfroe didn’t stay in Eugene long enough for me to catch him live, but performed well enough in his short stay to be ranked the no. 2 prospect in the league, right behind the Cubs’ 2013 first round pick Kris Bryant; after just 104 at bats (25 games), Renfroe had a slash line of .308/.333/.510, including nine doubles and four home runs, numbers sufficiently dominant to warrant his end of season promotion to the Midwest League. There, with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, he fared less well, compiling a .212/.268/.379 line (with five doubles and two home runs) in his 16 games against sterner competition – struggling to either get on base or hit the ball with his customary authority. After following up his long collegiate season with his professional debut, the power hitter’s slower bat speed was most probably an issue simply caused by simple fatigue rather than anything to have long-term concerns about.
That would be his decison-making on when to swing the lumber; With a cumulative OBP of .308 across his professional career so far, and a 49/8 strikeout to walk ratio to boot, Renfroe undoubtedly has room to improve in terms of plate discipline and pitch recognition. Still, as Baseball Prospectus said of the slugger, his “ability to hit to hit tape-measure homers cannot be ignored.” With solid range, good athleticism and a gun for an arm too (the 22 year old is a converted catcher, but also apparently featured a mid- to upper-90s fastball as a reliever), Renfroe profiles favorably as an above-average right fielder. An above-average right fielder whose batting philosophy – as told to David Laurila – is to “just try to hit the ball right in the face.”
Despite his late season struggles, the scouts remain high on Renfroe; he has already drawn comparisons to Nelson Cruz, with Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet assessing “the Mississippi State alum looks capable of developing into an average or better corner outfielder with 20+ home run potential.” The Padres too, have every confidence in their outfield prospect; Projected to begin the season at High-A Lake Elsinore in the California League, if all goes well for Renfroe, he should end the year bombing away in Double-A, with an eye towards making his major league debut in 2015. There he will hopefully be part of the next great Padres team, joining a group that ideally will also include fellow top prospects Austin Hedges, Max Fried, Matt Wisler, and Casey Kelly.
I’ll be keeping tabs on him every step of the way.