San Diego Padres: What’s next for Hunter Renfroe?

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 1: Hunter Renfroe
SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 1: Hunter Renfroe /

With Hunter Renfroe’s demotion, the San Diego Padres can’t help their right fielder, as his future is in his hands and his hands only.

Touted as a possible rookie of the year candidate at the beginning of the season, Hunter Renfroe will obviously not even be in that conversation at the end of September. On August 19, the Padres indicated they’d seen enough and sent the right fielder to Triple-A.

“Since his demotion to Triple-A El Paso nine days ago, the rookie right fielder has torn apart the Pacific Coast League – much as he did in 2016 when he won the PCL MVP Award,” AJ Cassavell of MLB reported recently. However, tearing up the hitter-friendly PCL means next to nothing and does not automatically translate into a successful or even adequate major league career.

Reading (and listening) between the lines indicates that Padres management wants to send Renfroe a very clear message. He has to work hard to improve in areas like plate discipline in order to play for the Padres. The Triple-A season ends today, and it will be interesting to see if the Padres include Renfroe in September call-ups.

For the Padres this year, Renfroe has slashed .230/.285/.443. True, he has 20 home runs, but beyond that, he’s regressed, especially in terms of plate discipline. He has 125 strikeouts (28.7 %) and only 26 walks (6.0%). According to FanGraphs a strikeout rate of 27.5% or above rates as “awful.” The warning signs showed up in spring training, where Renfroe had walked only one time by the third week of March.

Unfortunately, his defense has also regressed. Although Renfroe has a plus arm, too many of his throws this year have not hit the target resulting in a whopping eight errors, nine overall. He and Avisail Garcia of the Chicago White Sox lead all major league outfielders in errors. By every available metric, Renfroe has been well below average defensively.

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Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Austin Hedges have been called the first wave of talent Padres’ fans have been promised will start to appear under general manager A.J. Preller and his team devoted to drafting and developing young players. So far, the latter two, playing arguably more challenging positions in center and behind the plate, have shown much more of an ability to adjust to the major leagues.

Renfroe was drafted in 2013 at 13th overall, during Josh Byrnes’ brief tenure as general manager. At the time, Padres’ scouting director Billy Gasparino called Renfroe a five-tool player. FanGraphs, and Baseball America all ranked him among baseball’s top 100 prospects. However, Keith Law of ESPN indicated serious concern over his strikeout rate and also warned that he may turn out to be “more of a bench guy.”

Next: Both sides of the September tanking debate

Only Renfroe himself can determine whether he belongs in right field for the Padres or on the bench.