Some of the most exciting players that will be suiting up for the Padres this season will be patrolling the outfield. They might not have a bunch of experience, but they have talent and at times will be the best defensive outfield in the game. But the story of the 2017 Padres outfield runs far beyond the three or four names at the top of the list.
Currently on 40-man roster: Travis Jankowski, Alex Dickerson, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero
Non-roster invitees: Collin Cowgill, Jabari Blash, Nick Buss, Rafael Ortega
The Core Group
The four young outfielders at the center of the 2017 picture are clearly Jankowski, Dickerson, Margot, and Renfroe. This talented group has balance and potential.
- Travis Jankowski is already one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game, and his remarkable August line of .308/.374/.385 with 11 stolen bases showed off the skills that make him a legitimate leadoff threat. The knock on Jankowski is the lack of power, but as long as he can maintain his OBP with speed, the power isn’t missed.
- Alex Dickerson’s offensive potential is starting to bloom. Last July he hit .303/.343/.621 with five homers including this blast into the Rogers Centre’s upper deck. While his defense draws deserved criticism, his offense adds both stability and power to the middle of the lineup. He may be used more as a part-time starter or a bench bat due to the defensive weakness.
- Manuel Margot has drawn rave reviews from scouts and was recently rated as the best defensive prospect in all of baseball. The glove was on display at the Futures Game when he made this spectacular grab, showing range, body control, and spatial awareness in an unfamiliar ballpark. Complimenting the exemplary defense is a refined hit tool that should allow him to hit for average and an eye that gifts him with excellent plate discipline. While his power is still developing, the other skills immediately place him among the best centerfield prospects in the game. Due to service time considerations, there’s a chance that he might spend the first month or two in El Paso, which would gain an extra year of team control for the Padres.
- Hunter Renfroe is a strong, athletic young man. He has power for days and the fast hands to handle various pitch types with excellent plate coverage. Just take a look at this shin-high pitch he golfed onto the roof of the Western Metal Supply Building. Bah gawd. But power isn’t his only calling card, he has a cannon for an arm and enough range that he was used sparingly in centerfield for El Paso last year. He’s drawn comparisons that range from Jeff Francoeur to Raul Mondesi. Critics point to a low walk rate that’s dropped lower in recent years as a sign that he will struggle with off-speed stuff and will be susceptible to strikeouts. Time will tell, but he’s made excellent adjustments at each level through his ascension up the minor leagues.
Jankowski and Dickerson are left-handed hitters, Renfroe and Margot are righties. Margot and Jankowski have speed on the basepaths and in the field, Dickerson and Renfroe have legit power. The options with this group are ample. This young group could fit together nicely and may be a unit in the Padres outfield for years to come.
Next Man Up
Several interesting offseason moves have assembled the group that will compete for playing time this spring. Franchy Cordero was added to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. After a disastrous season at shortstop, the athletic Dominican was converted to an outfielder in 2015. He had a successful 2016, but it’s ambitious to think that he’d be ready for action at the MLB level any time soon. Still, he’s on the 40-man, so he could get a call if a need should arise. Jabari Blash was brought back on a minor league contract after being DFA’d and released. The huge raw power never quite translated in his limited time with the Padres last season, but perhaps some more work can make him a viable backup option. Collin Cowgill, Rafael Ortega, and Nick Buss were signed to minor league contracts, and both can play centerfield. Cowgill has MLB experience in parts of six seasons with the Diamondbacks, A’s, Mets, Angels, and Indians. The 29-year-old Buss saw MLB time in 2013 with the Dodgers and 2016 with the Angels. Ortega spent most of 2016 in the Angels’ outfield. One of those three could be added to the roster to back up centerfield should the organization opt to delay Margot’s service clock as noted above.
A Clear Picture
The Padres are poised to deploy an exciting outfield this year. The speed, power, and defense they will put on display this season should be a joy to watch.