Somewhere along the line the natural progression of minor league players moved from a year at every stop along the way, from Rookie Ball to AAA and all points in between, to AAA often being skipped in favor of going from AA to the Majors. Jake Peavy made the leap from Mobile in AA to the Padres in 2002 while Mat Latos in 2009 went from AA San Antonio to the majors as did Chase Headley two years earlier before being asked in 2008 to learn a new position at AAA. Indeed, since 2011 the only players who have had more than 30 games as a position player or pitched in more than a dozen games at AAA El Paso or Tuscon to have any sort of impact at the major league level are Jedd Gyorko, Yasmani Grandal, Brad Boxberger, Kevin Quackenbush, Nick Vincent and some guy named Rizzo that we are just not going to talk about in this article.
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Two effective relievers, a closer for another team, a guy the Padres paid another team to take and a catcher who has appeared in 331 games in 4 years. AA San Antonio in the last five years has produced Cory Spangenberg, Jesse Hahn, Travis Jankowski and Colin Rea (who also had 6 games at AAA). So, what in the name of Baseball America’s top prospect list are some of the best Padres prospects doing at AAA and can we expect to see Margot or Renfroe this year?
The short answer is that most AAA franchises have moved to within a short plane, train or automobile (We miss you John Candy!) ride from the big club and the 26th through probably 31st players on the roster are waiting there for injuries or ineffectiveness to give them a shot. In 2015 the Padres moved Nick Vincent between El Paso and San Diego at will. He was on the Padres active roster 4 separate times in 2015! Cory Mazzoni and Dale Thayer also made multiple trips between the two cities. Separately, I used to wonder why anyone would ever willingly fly into El Paso, now I know.
The chances of seeing Margot or Renfroe patrolling Petco’s outfield before September are slim. After September the chances go up as the rosters expand to all players on the 40 man roster. There are people out there who believe that the mystical service time clock doesn’t start in September and they are wrong, September counts towards service time in the majors. Service time matters to the GM as it correlates to when they will hit free agency; after their 6th FULL year in the bigs. Injuries will also come into play. For Margot, his path would need injuries to Jay, Jankowski and Upton to see him get to the bigs. Over the last five years Jay has averaged 130 games a year, losing big chunks of the season in 2012 and 2015. Jankowski missed a big chunk of 2014 with a broken wrist but seems durable so far in a small sample size. Upton has averaged over 130 games a year in this same span, missing time in 2013 due to and adductor strain.
Margot is profiled as a high contact hitter with low K% and low BB%, indeed in 2015 and 2014 he was about 40% lower than uber prospect Carlos Correa on his K rate and about half the walk rate of Correa. He stands 5’11” and only 170, which limits the power he can generate in the bigs, but Steve Finley was only 6’2”/195 and Jim Edmonds played at 6’1”/212. So, if Margot, who BTW is only 21, can put on some muscle, which he should as he grows into his body, it’s not unreasonable to think 5’11”, 190, which isn’t far off from Steve Finley, and Finley was a pretty good player. I think to see Margot make it to Petco we will need to see Jay get hurt, which there is a chance of that considering his per season games average, Upton regain a semblance of effectiveness, where he would then be flipped to a contender and open the door for Margot. This could then lead to Jankowski, Blash and Margot sharing time in left and center. Other than that, look for Margot to be in El Paso for most of the year and a likely September call-up.
Renfroe on the other hand, is likely one Matt Kemp injury away from being recalled to the bigs. Jankowski can play RF defensively, there is little doubt about that. But, if Kemp goes down, that leaves a void in the heart of the order, which is where Renfroe should be playing. Throughout his minor league career Renfroe has a 3.2:1 strikeout:walk ratio, which is bad. Very bad. Matt Kemp is at 2.8:1 over the last five years and Jedd Gyorko at 34:1 before being shipped to St. Louis. I think a Kemp injury (and while he missed significant time in 2012 and 13, he played full season the last two years) will open the door for Renfroe. What to expect of him at that point?
I think offensively he can contribute a home run a week, strikeout once a game on average, play strong defense in RF and will get better over time. Remember, Jedd Gyorko had 23 homers and 26 doubles his rookie year, and he profiles favorably to Renfroe’s minor league track record. Renfroe also historically has a very high BABIP, with his lowest in the minors being .280 and most years being in the .330-.340 range. Again, this compares favorably with Gyorko, who bottomed out at .289 in AA and stayed in the same range as Renfroe. Kemp, by comparison, had a .311 BABIP last year and that was his lowest total in 6 years. Look for Renfroe to be the immediate fill in case of a Kemp injury, hit the ball hard when he gets here, strikeout a lot and play solid defense.
Lastly, Jemile Weeks was sitting at AAA waiting for an injury as well, and it came earlier than expected as Cory Spangenberg, who I love to watch play, slid head first into first the other night, apparently because he doesn’t like himself. I applaud wanting to get to the base, but the list of injuries from this is so long it’s ridiculous. This opened the door for Jemile Weeks to be recalled from El Paso, fulfilling the role of El Paso as the home of the 26th player. Weeks tore the cover off the ball in Spring Training, hitting .340 with 14 RBIs in Arizona. He continued that in AAA by hitting .306 with a double and three triples in ten games, earning the callup after Spangenberg injured himself.
Going forward for Weeks he historically has a .303 season under his belt in 2011 with the A’s, where in 2010 he was their #6 prospect, one spot ahead of Tyson Ross! He historically walks at about a 14% rate, which is higher than anyone on the Padres in the last 8 years. Even Adrian Gonzalez only had a 13.8 BB%. He has minimal power as he is listed at 5’9” and 170. Going forward, look for him to get on base, where he is not much of a threat to steal and play sure handed defense. He only has nine errors in his big league career, but UZR does not look upon him favorably. The best comparison is probably David Eckstein, and there are surely worse comparisons to make than a diminutive ball player with a World Series ring in his resume.
Some doors need to be opened for the Padres at AAA, for sure. But, when they do, there is hope at AAA for a brighter future at PETCO and hopefully a few more souvenir home runs provided by the Padres.