As the season progresses (and sadly, as more and more starters succumb to Tommy John surgery), many a young pitcher will be called up to make his ML debut. To introduce some of the more intriguing first-time starters then, I’ve a priming segment: On The Bump. Consider these posts your cliff notes, a cheat sheet if you will, for looking good at the local sports bar in front of your friends, annoying your significant other at home, or purely for feeling smug whilst sneakily watching MLB.tv on your iPhone at work. Whatever floats your boat, you’ll be prepared at least.
Who is this guy? Timothy Edward Butler, that’s who! No wonder he goes by Eddie… Anyhow, Butler is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, and attended Greenbrier Christian Academy. The Texas Rangers selected him in the 35th round of the 2009 draft straight out of high school, but Butler opted instead to take his talents to Radford University. Three years later, he was a (supplemental) first round pick, this time drafted 46th overall by the Colorado Rockies, and received a $1 million signing bonus. Probably the right choice to stay in school then.
What has he done? Immediately sent to the Pioneer League after signing in 2012, Butler promptly went 7–1 with a 2.13 earned run average (ERA) and 55 strikeouts, leading the league in ERA, WHIP (1.06) and opponents’ average (.230) in his short pro debut. Not a bad start. His 2013 campaign though, would be even more impressive. Beginning the season with the Low-A Asheville Tourists, Butler would make only 9 dominant starts (1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) in the South Atlantic League before being moved up to the Modesto Nuts of the California League. There we would again impress, posting a 2.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. After pitching one inning of scoreless ball in the All-Star Futures Game, the then 22-year-old was promoted once again, this time to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers, where he would make six starts to conclude the season. Allowing just two runs in his time at Double-A, Butler would finish the season with a cumulative 1.80 ERA, and strike out 143 batters in 149.2 innings (28 starts), and land on Top 100 rankings released by Baseball America (#24), Baseball Prospectus (#26), and MLB.com (#41). So far in 2014, he’s made 11 starts at Tulsa, throwing 68.2 IP with a 2.49 ERA and 1.180 WHIP, whilst forming one of the scariest one-two combinations in the minor leagues with Jon Gray.
How has he done it? Well, according to Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet’s scouting report when he ranked Butler as the rockies’ no. 1 prospect prior to the 2014 season, “Butler made huge strides with his secondary stuff in 2013 and projects to now have three solid weapons with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, changeup and slider — all of which feature a lot of movement. He also has a curveball that lags behind his other offerings. Along with swing-and-miss stuff, Butler’s ground-ball tendencies make him an ideal pitcher for Colorado.” Here’s his changeup making Xander Bogaerts, you know, the guy currently hitting .297 with a 133 OPS+ who won a World Series ring with the Boston ‘freakin Red Sox last year and is a whole year younger than me, look particularly foolish during the Futures Game last summer:
With a pretty low arm slot (which helps him get so much late break on his secondary stuff, particularly that upper 80s slider), you’d have thought Butler would be susceptible to large platoon splits. Not the case; left-handed hitters hit just .202/.278/.300 against Butler in 355 plate appearances last year, compared to a .192/.250/.262 line in 512 plate appearances for righties. Though his K/9 rate has dropped off significantly so far in 2014 to just 5.24, it’s not too much of a worry at this point. Just re-watch the gif a few times – he’ll be fine. (For a more complete breakdown of his stuff, I’d recommend Baseball Prospectus’ ‘The Call-Up’ feature, though it’s available to subscribers only).
Why is he pitching in the majors? How about this? Because Franklin Morales is stinking up the joint. Pressed into starting duty after, surprise surprise, Brett Anderson of all people, was injured (who saw that coming?!), Morales has posted a 6.03 ERA in 62.2 innings of work, which is somehow the third-most innings anyone on the Rockies staff has pitched this year. Furthermore, those numbers are not simply bad luck, as evidence by his nauseating 5.77 FIP.
Meanwhile, after starting the season ridiculously hot, the Rockies have cooled significantly of late; since May 20, Colorado has won just two games and lost ten (including being drubbed 16-8 by Arizona last night) to fall two games below .500 and 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Giants. In that stretch their staff has a 5.58 ERA, the second-worst such mark in the majors, and seen their offense further diminished by the losses of Nolan Arenado (broken finger, May 24th) and Carlos Gonzalez (finger, sent to the 15-day DL today). Throw in Jordan Lyles breaking his glove hand last night, and the Rockies are in addition to suddenly swooning, banged up too, and in need of some help to stay in the NL West race.
What they’re saying: “The time is right… Eddie has been very dominant at times over the last couple of seasons. We knew he was a big-leaguer, it was just a matter of time. We feel like we could use some help in the rotation and he’s a very talented young pitcher.” Thanks for making my job easy Walt Weiss. Much better than Troy Tulowitzi’s offering anyway – “I hope he comes in and pitches well enough to give us a chance to win.” Great insight there Troy.
Worth a follow on Twitter? Err, maybe? Here are a few samples:
8am class.. this sucks…
Blake shelton !!!! Whoooo! Awsome.
— Eddie Butler (@Butler4Life) June 25, 2012
On the bus to Rome. New bus driver. Working bus. Gonna be a good road trip
— Eddie Butler (@Butler4Life) May 16, 2013
Perhaps not actually.
Anything else? He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet. Keep an eye out for his Double-A running mate Gray too; with Lyles’ injury, he could soon be arriving in Colorado to partner Butler once again in the very near future.
Incredibly now in his 65th year of calling Dodgers games, Vin Scully has witnessed a lot of special moments. As pointed out by the folks over at mlb.com’s Cut4 blog, “He’s been in the booth for three perfect games (thrown by Don Larsen, Sandy Koufax, and Dennis Martinez), all six Dodgers World Series titles, at least one earthquake, Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run and basically every important moment the franchise has had over the last 65 years (ya know, except for Josh Beckett‘s Memorial Day Weekend no hitter).” He has provided commentary for Hideo Nomo‘s no-hitter, Bill Buckner‘s fatal error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, darn near everything. And while he hasn’t had any especially historic performances to announce so far this year, it feels like a career year for Scully.
Already this season, the 86-year-old Scully has anointed Yasiel Puig the King of Bat-Flips, provided move-by-move analysis of a young fan’s dance habits, and narrated what will eventually become the best childhood videos ever. Heck, he’s even worked through a magnitude 5.1 earthquake that struck an Angels vs Dodgers tilt.
Then, on Tuesday night, he had another couple of gems. First he noted the dialogue going on between Puig and Jose Abreu at first base…*
… before minutes later relaying the entrance of a toddler wearing a tutu, a bow in her hair, beads, and a Puig shirsey:
As Jonah Keri noted on Twitter, “This game has the feels, man.”
Vin Scully’s voice is literally the only thing (aside from the possibility of an obnoxious bat-flip) I like about the Dodgers. He makes their expensive mess (at least so far this season, S/O to belligerent Matt Kemp!) somewhat bearable. I know that some day in the future, unfortunate as it may be, he won’t be behind the microphone. I hope however, it’s a long way off yet, because Vin Scully, like a fine wine, is just getting better with age.
* I would pay big $$ for a transcript of that particular conversation.
For a moment at least, I for once found myself agreeing with Diamondback’s GM Kevin Towers on something; on the morning radio show on Arizona Sports 98.7 with Doug and Wolf, Towers said of his team’s sluggish start, “We realize it’s April. We don’t want to panic, we don’t want the players to think we’re panicking. But to me, if things don’t get better, I think change needs to happen.” ‘Finally,’ I thought, ‘he’s recognized that Arizona’s starting pitching isn’t up to scratch. Maybe now we’ll see Archie Bradley called up to the majors – let me go check my fantasy teams’ waiver wire.’ Alas, Towers had other plans; it has since been announced (as reported earlier by Jacobo Hakim on MLB Nation), that the D’Backs have instead signed Randy Wolf to a minor league deal, and also plan on transitioning Josh Collmenter back into the starting rotation after his beginning the year in the ‘pen.
Not exactly the moves I had in mind, but at least an honest admission of the pitching incompetency behind Arizona’s early struggles.
At 4-8 (even after taking their last two games from the San Francisco Giants), Arizona have been repeatedly burnt by the negligible contributions of their starters. With presumptive ace Patrick Corbin pronounced out for the year before the season opener in Australia, darn near everyone who needed to step up in his absence has so far failed to do so; Trevor Cahill has been rocked to an 0-3 record, giving up 12 runs and 29 base runners through his first 13.2 combined innings (this after accruing a 6.95 ERA and 1.82 WHIP in 22 Spring Training innings). Brandon McCarthy – of whom I despise pointing out flaws purely because of his hilarious Twitter account – and his 7.82 ERA (with four home runs allowed through 12.1 innings) hasn’t fared much better. Randall Delgado too has been a welcome sight to opposing hitters, allowing nine earned runs in his first eight innings of work and posting a nauseating 2.88 WHIP along the way. Not even offseason addition Bronson Arroyo has been able to provided a spark – his typically ‘meh’ 4.82 ERA bettered only by Wade Miley (4.05 through his first three starts). With 72 runs allowed through their first 12 games – 32 alone resulting from pitches thrown by the CahCarthGado pu pu platter – if there was ever a team in dire need of rotation help, this Arizona squad would be it.
How much of that sorely-needed help can be gained by signing Wolf and moving Collmenter however, seems dubious. How much help can Towers realistically expect from a 37-year old Wolf, who will be trying to resurrect his late-career comeback from a second Tommy John surgery after being (rather ignominiously) cut from the Seattle mariners this spring? The last time he was seen on an ML bump in 2012, Wolf was providing Milwaukee, and for a short spell, Baltimore too, with -1 WAR value and a 5.65 ERA. Collmenter too, figures to be of little help; the whole reason he was in the bullpen in the first place was because of his awry time as a starter (once his funky delivery was seen enough times, the Michigan man became home run fodder). Judging by his splits, the 28-year-old quite belongs in his current role as the team’s long man.
No, the real help lies in wait in Reno – and via the school of ‘desperate times call for desperate measures’ reasoning, can’t be called up soon enough. Back in my pre-season preview series I documented how Archie Bradley might be the difference maker for the Diamondbacks but would likely be held back with a view to limiting his service time, and as it turned out – to no one’s surprise – he was. Now though, with his big league ship plummeting quickly, it’s time for Towers to blow up that conservative plan of common logic lest he want to see Arizona’s season down the drain by the time Bradley would have originally arrived – the ninth best prospect in all of baseball per Baseball Prospectus is needed to keep the runs off the board at Chase Field right now rather than simply dominating down in Nevada.
Propping up the NL West, 3 games back of the division leading Dodger and Giants after less than two weeks of play already, the Diamondbacks need to get going, and quickly, if they’re to be playing for any meaningful purpose come August. Quite rightly, they’re throwing everything against the wall in hope of something sticking, but I fear that instead of shoring up the rotation, the measures taken so far will rather merely have the effect of a band-aid on a gaping wound. Aggressively calling up Bradley, though a drastic measure, may well be Towers’ last hope in regards to salvaging 2014 in Arizona.
When the Athletics acquired Craig Gentry from the Rangers this past offseason, it was clear someone had to go; between Gentry, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith they had five outfielders for three spots (though at least had the luxury of the DH position available), all of whom were too good (/valuable as trade pieces) to simply languish on the bench. Cashing in one of their outfield chips for additional help elsewhere on the roster thus seemed inevitable for Oakland – it was just a matter of who would go. In the end it was Smith who was the man to escape not only the O.co Coliseum’s dreaded sewage system, but the A’s positional logjam, traded to San Diego in return for highly regarded reliever Luke Gregerson.
Once again though, despite his change in zip codes, Smith found himself surrounded by a bevy of capable outfielders, positional incumbents Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and Carlos Quentin all presumably vying for limited at bats (not to mention rookie Tommy Medica transitioning to the outfield after an impressive cup of coffee in 2013, or the presences of Kyle Blanks and Alexi Amarista). With no DH slot to fill in at either, it looked like the 31-year-old would be used sparsely as a situational pinch-hitter until the depth chart was thinned. Fortunately for Smith, albeit not so much for those mentioned, his path to playing time was made somewhat easier when both Maybin (ruptured biceps tendon) and Quentin (lingering knee issues) went down with injuries; with their absences, Bud Black would have little choice but to give Smith run as the strong side of a left field platoon with Medica.
So (#small) far (sample) so (size) good. Four at bats into his Padres career, the former backup quarterback of Eli Manning at Ole Miss already has two homers, including the game tying shot against the Dodgers’ Brian Wilson in Sunday’s Opening Night tilt – a hanging 2-and-0 cutter that he crushed to right field, endearing himself to his new home crowd.
Due to yesterday’s focus, the lefty Hjun-jin Ryu starting for L.A., Smith and his garish .203 average against fellow portsiders were relegated to pinch-hitting duties that night, but his 8th inning leadoff jack started the three run rally for San Diego that would ultimately propel them to victory. He was at it again just two nights later, getting the start in left against Zack Greinke, and breaking up the righty’s no-hit bid with a similar bomb in the fourth inning (it was a 2-and-1 change-up that he took 374 feet to right on Tuesday). This time though, his best efforts (2-3, 1BB) weren’t enough to lift the Friars over their NL West rivals.
Selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 2nd Round of the 2004 amateur draft, Smith has proven to be a useful player during his tenure in the majors; since making his debut in 2007, Smith has a lifetime line of .265/.342/.456, his best season coming in 2009, when he hit for .293 with 55 RBI and 14 homeruns with a .510 slugging percentage. His extreme splits though have sufficiently limited his ultimate usefulness as an everyday player – his OPS diving .262 points against fellow southpaws compared to his .849 mark versus righties. For comparisons sake however, since Smith came up in 2007, Andre Ethier owns a -.200 OPS differential between his total mark and that against lefties, while Shin-Soo Choo checks in with a -.174 figure; Smith though, will make $4.5 million this year before becoming eligible for free agency, while Ethier has (including this year and his vesting option) $86.5 million remaining on his deal, and the 31-year old Choo has just started a seven-year $130 million pact. I shall say no more.
In a carefully managed 400-500 PA role, Smith could prove very useful – and supremely valuable – indeed. As demonstrated over the past couple of days, he has the potential to pick on righties; Bud Black‘s optimal usage of his lefty weapon then should see him face no one but right-handed pitchers in a similar (albeit less-powerful) platoon role as former Oakland teammate – and previous DP topic – Brandon Moss. The Padres could sure do with his continued platoon production – last year San Diego ranked 25th in baseball with a .241 average against right-handed pitching, and were 29th in OPS (.668) against righties (H/T to Corey Brock of MLB.com).
Tipped by many to sneak a NL Wild-Card berth, Smith’s lefty pop could be pivotal in swinging a few games San Diego’s way in 2014, and thus helping them back to the postseason. Sure it may have taken a couple of unfortunate injuries for him to get his shot, but just ask the Dodgers what Seth Smith can do when given the appropriate chance.
Call it the curse of my NL power rankings; in my preseason edition of ‘The Senior Class’, I noted of the top-ranked Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace “Clayton Kershaw’s balky back has landed him on the DL, though the move right now is considered to be more a precautionary measure than anything.” His stint backdated to March 23rd – the day after dominated the Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground – the newly-minted southpaw was at that point expected to return inflammation free at the earliest possible date, April 8th, for a marquee match-up against the Detroit Tigers. Fresh news today though has indicated that it will actually be a further two to three more weeks before he’s even re-evaluated, a time during which Kershaw will reportedly partake in both a submaximal throwing program and a minor league rehab assignment. Andrew Cashner, who had a similar injury two years ago, missed two months because of it; if the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is out even half as long, it will still be a severe loss to L.A.
Fortunately for PECOTA’s favorite team, the Dodgers possess another lefty starter who’s pretty darn dominant himself – Hyun-jin Ryu – who’s ready to temporarily assume Kershaw’s mantle.
On half the teams in the majors (at least by my estimation), the 27-year-old would be a no. 1, a staff anchor atop the rotation; as part of a roster that not only normally boasts the aforementioned Kershaw and his Sandy Koufax impersonation every fifth day, but $147 million man Zack Greinke too though (who looked decidedly rusty in his outing against the Padres earlier today by the way), the 27-year-old is oft-overlooked. Bumped into a more prominent role than his regular no. 3 slot by means of Kershaw’s extended absence (as well as questions regarding Josh Beckett’s return from major surgery and Dan Haren’s effectiveness both affecting his utmost importance to the rotation), it should quickly become apparent – if you didn’t notice his under the radar performance last year that is – that Ryu is really, really good.
After paying a posting fee of $25.7 million to negotiate with the Hanwha Eagles, the Dodgers signed the Scott Boras client to a six-year, $36 million contract (with an out clause that kicks in after the fifth year if he has pitched 750 or more innings) in December 2012. Their investment immediately paid off, as Ryu became the first player to jump directly from the Korean league to the major leagues; breaking Spring Training with the club, the portsider posted a strong rookie campaign, going 14-8 in his 30 starts with a 3.00 ERA (192 IP). Of course, overshadowed by not just his fellow freshman teammate Yasiel Puig, but exceptional first years from Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller too, Ryu fell to fourth in NL ROY voting – the sort of anonymous result which when combined with the spotlight commanded by his rotation mates led to Ryu being somewhat neglected in terms of recognition heading into 2014.
That’s exactly Ryu’s style though – quietly getting the job done without fanfare. The Korean’s stuff will certainly never command gobs of attention; sitting in between 88-92 mph, his fastball isn’t electric in the Stephen Strasburg-like sense, but he can accurately throw it to all four quadrants of the zone. Sure, he boasts an excellent fading changeup and a serviceable slider too, but neither possess the sort of filthy movement that draws both impartial eyes and high strikeout rates (7.2 SO/9 in 2013). He doesn’t even have effectively wild outings (6.10 K/BB rate in the second half last year), nor ever show any emotion on the mound, á la Chris Archer. Nondescript in every facet aside from his numerical performance, Ryu is, well… pretty boring to watch.
Not that the Dodgers mind right now; having started two games already, Ryu has pitched 12 scoreless innings, and was one horrific Brian Wilson outing away from winning twice before most every other starter had even thrown a pitch. In better shape than 2013, and with an improved curveball to boot (presumably to combat the reverse platoon splits he put up last year), Ryu has stepped it up a notch already this year – emerging as a true weapon rather than simply a reliable rotation presence.
With their staff so suddenly weakened, L.A. will be depending on their lesser known southpaw to be their de facto ace for a while; perhaps now with that increased attention upon him too, people will realize that Ryu is legitimately close to such territory already.
What an odd Saturday that was. Without Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, or Zack Greinke, the Los Angeles Dodgers secured a season opening sweep over the Arizona Diamondbacks (who were themselves without Patrick Corbin after learning the day they departed for Australia their ace would need Tommy John surgery), winning 3-1 in a game that started at 4am Eastern, and 7-5 in the 7pm affair. Some things were to be expected; Clayton Kershaw demonstrating his usual dominance, Paul Goldschmidt going 4-9 at the plate, Mark Trumbo being predictably terrible in left field, the beautiful Sydney Cricket Ground outdrawing Tampa Bay’s two most-attended home games last year, Yasiel Puig doing Puig-like things… Others, not so much; Kirk Gibson’s decision to play Didi Gregorius over Chris Owings against the left-handed Hyun-jin Ryu, Jayson Stark referencing the Dodgers’ PECOTA projection on the MLB Network’s broadcast (!), some of the just awful fielding on show (that means you Miguel Montero), Yasiel Puig doing Puig -like things… And then, in the second game, Dee Gordon’s performance.
At just 25-years-old, it already seems easy to place Gordon. After being called up to L.A. in June 2011, the son of Tom played 56 games that summer for the Dodgers, hitting .304 (and stealing 24 bases) as a classic beneficiary of a small sample size. Aged just 23, Dee began 2012 as not only the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop, but also leading off for Don Mattingly’s squad; this time around however, his numbers regressed. His average had precipitously dropped to .229 (his OBP to an atrocious .280) before he injured his right thumb stealing third on July 4, and when he returned on Sept. 11, the newly-acquired Hanley Ramirez was manning short, and Gordon was without a job. He would receive only 94 at-bats with the ML team in 2013, serving primarily as a pinch-runner in his time up, and would spend the majority of the year in Triple-A Albuquerque.
In other words, he’s a 5’11, 155lb, extremely light-hitting shortstop who, although a threat on the basepaths, ranked by Fangraphs’ WAR measure as the 15th worst player in baseball (on both sides of the ball) over the last three years: of the 343 hitters to collect at least 600 plate appearances over that time, his .274 wOBA is better than only 12 other hitters, while he also racked up 35 fielding errors in the 160 games he appeared in. He lost his job to Nick Punto of all people last year – and a 35-year-old Nick Punto at that. Quite simply, Gordon is bad. Yet on a team with a $233,658,334 payroll, he’s now starting. Not at shortstop though – but at second base.
In forking out $28M in guaranteed money (including a $10M signing bonus) to bring in the then-26-year-old Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero on a four year contract, the Dodgers bought themselves quite the 2B quandary; giving the unproven Cuban the reins, they declined Mark Ellis’ $5.75m team option on October 31, let Skip Schumaker leave for Cincinnati, allowed the aforementioned Punto depart to Oakland, and saw Michael Young and Jerry Hairston opt for retirement – leaving Gordon and his 3.2 innings of time as the only remaining player with 2013 experience at the L.A. keystone. So when Guerrero bombed in his adjustment to second base this spring (like Gordon, he’s a natural shortstop), making an acclimation period in the Minors necessary, the spot was unexpectedly opened up for someone to claim. Not wanting to completely block Guerrero by trading for Brandon Phillips or alike, the Dodgers just needed anyone to step up for a while, and not be truly horrific; so far, by virtue of his being the lesser of evils after hitting .286 this spring with four triples and nine steals without getting caught, it seems Gordon has secured himself the dubious distinction of beating out Justin Turner and Chone Figgins for a majority timeshare of the position.
Which brings us to Saturday’s second game, in which Gordon was… strangely electric? Batting leadoff ahead of Yasiel Puig (a typical Mattingly lineup that reared it’s ugly head when Gordon had second easily stolen on a 1-0 pitch, only for Puig to unnecessarily foul off the ensuing delivery), the speedster got aboard 4 times (3 hits, 1 HBP – courtesy of Addison Reed), and was driven in on two occasions. He would have tripled but for Ryu slowing his progress ahead of him, provided a sacrifice fly when required, and generally looked like a prototypical leadoff man. Could it be then, that at 25, Gordon has cracked it?
Yes, he’s using his blazing speed more to his advantage while at the plate, and showed significant improvement in regards to his approach last year at Triple-A (he had a .385 OBP at Albuquerque). Recognition must also go to how he eliminated basketball from his offseason workouts in an effort to gain weight and put on muscle; Gordon’s apparently up to 170lbs now. But he’s still barely a replacement level player, and the sooner the Dodgers can get Guerrero ready, or find a suitable replacement, the better. The offensive performance was an aberration on Saturday, but the fielding wasn’t; Gordon butchered an easy snag of a line drive, and crossed in front of Hanley Ramirez on a double play opportunity that resulted in every runner being safe. Furthermore, he couldn’t even be trusted to play against Wade Miley – hardly Cliff Lee in terms of lefty-death – in the series opener because of his severe platoon splits (Gordon’s a .271 career hitter against righties, but a miserable .221 vs. lefties).
As much as I don’t want to say so, because it was as fun as watching Puig try and bottle up an ill-advised throw he desperately wants to uncork in the direction of third base, we might well have just witnessed Dee Gordon’s best performance of the season. The Dodgers, considering their World Series aspirations, would be wise in recognizing a return to normalcy is imminent.
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.