San Diego Padres: Growing pains

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 12: Hunter Renfroe
LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 12: Hunter Renfroe /

San Diego Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe is still experiencing the difficulties involved in developing into a productive major leaguer. The good news is, he’s back on the right track in El Paso.

No matter the prospect, no major league baseball player is going to have it easy. And while San Diego Padres fans may have thought that outfielder Hunter Renfroe‘s development into a strong defender and power hitter at the major league level was complete, that simply wasn’t the case.

In fact, Renfroe’s struggles this month let to a surprising demotion to the organization’s triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas. The news came as a shock to some, and serves as a reminder that even the best of prospects struggle at times, and building a team out of prospects alone is an exercise in patience.

The struggles Renfroe has gone through this season aren’t that major, as his .230 average is accompanied with a power surge to the tune of 20 home runs. Still, they are evidently major enough to warrant a demotion to El Paso.

It’s easy to look past the hard times and embrace the power Renfroe has put on display throughout his brief major league stints thus far. But what many miss when focusing only on the positives are Renfroe’s 125 strikeouts as a Padre in 2017, much too high for 404 at bats.

Fortunately, there seem to be no lingering effects of Renfroe’s struggles at the plate since being moved back to El Paso. It is a small sample size, but the 25-year-old has 17 hits in 31 at bats, hitting two out and driving in 10. These sort of numbers will most certainly decline to some degree, but his hot stretch is an encouraging sign that the outfielder has taken the demotion seriously and has used the opportunity to refocus.

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As Renfroe works his way back to the majors, fans may remain skeptical. After all, what they’ve seen is the .230 hitter who strikes out at a high rate than he gets on base. To a degree, they have the right to feel this way, as the reality is that he won’t be the player he was when he first burst onto the scene late last September.

But at the same time, Renfroe isn’t a top prospect for no reason. His rough patches as a power hitter are inevitable, and they won’t be what he is remembered for if he reaches his full potential. And honestly, what’s the harm late in a rebuilding year of giving a key player a chance to slow down, refocus, and put his swing back together? It doesn’t hurt the major league club, and there’s still more upside to Renfroe than potential to be another first round bust.

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Ultimately, what Renfroe is experiencing right now are growing pains. El Paso is there for exactly this reason, and with the way Renfroe is tearing it up at the triple-A level, fans can remain confident that part of their dream outfield for years to come has not disappointed, and will be back and stronger than ever.