2018 - The Assets in the Outfield

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

In my last article I looked at the Padres' starting pitchers trying to earn a long term role with the club. This time I focused on the outfield to see which current pieces could contribute on a contending team. The Padres will need two types of players to eventually compete: above average everyday players (consistent 3+ WAR) and excellent role players.

Everyday players should have platoon splits such that their weaker offensive numbers, combined with their defensive ability, still make them above average. To compare the players I used their career platoon splits using wRC+, as well as their career UZR/150 at their expected position.

Role players come in many varieties. Some have great defensive versatility, especially important in the N.L. Some have drastic platoon splits so that their value can be maximized according to specific matchups. Others have tools, namely speed and defense, that don't need consistent playing time but can absolutely affect games in the late innings. I've tried to use a variety of stats and splits to show each player's individual skillset.

Who we're excited about:

Mason House, Tirso Ornelas, Jeisson Rosario (R); Jorge Ona (A); Edward Olivares (A/A+); Michael Gettys (A+); Franchy Cordero (AAA/MLB)

2018 Opportunities:

Alex Dickerson (LF, 27 yo)

116 wRC+ vs. RHP (225 PA); 98 wRC+ vs LHP (68 PA); -8.9 UZR/150 in 547.1 innings in LF. It's hard to see how a year on the disabled list with back issues will help Dickerson improve on his poor defense. In 2016 his UZR/150 was 38th of 45 left fielders with at least 300 innings. Even though the Padres only managed 84 wRC+ as a team, there's not much value in a single-position player with well below average defense, no speed, and a strong platoon split. Dickerson will become arbitration eligible in 2020 and won't be a free agent until 2023.

Travis Jankowski (CF, 26 yo)

89 wRC+ vs. RHP (434 PA); 22 wRC+ vs LHP (132 PA); 18.9 UZR/150 in 883.1 innings in CF. I'd argue that Travis Jankowski is closer to fulfilling his potential than anyone else on this list. When healthy, he is already a very good fourth outfielder. He is the prototypical late-inning pinch runner/defensive replacement: from 2015-2017 he had 36 SB in 49 attempts, a 7.0 SPD according to FanGraphs, and had a top-5 UZR/150 among outfielders with at least 1000 innings. Combined with his speed and defense, he has enough offensive value against righties to warrant the occasional start. We'll have to wait and see if his elite speed survived a year of injury. Jankowski will become arbitration eligible in 2019 and won't be a free agent until 2022.

Hunter Renfroe (RF, 26 yo)

77 wRC+ vs. RHP (375 PA); 178 wRC+ vs LHP (140 PA); -8.9 UZR/150 in 1088.2 innings in RF. If Jankowski has the easiest path to achieving his (modest) ceiling on this list, then Renfroe has the hardest path to the highest ceiling. The poor defense was most shocking as Renfroe's 2017 UZR/150 ranked 27th of 29 right fielders with at least 500 innings. If he had just been MLB-average against righties (92 wRC+ RHB vs RHP) he would be looking at a season long 115 wRC+. If he makes good on his prospect projection of average defense, and controls his canon arm, then he's a formidable asset in right field. But, those are HUGE "ifs." Otherwise he's a non-versatile, defensively challenged, platoon-heavy, single-tool player. But what a tool it is. Renfroe will become arbitration eligible in 2020 and won't be a free agent until 2024.

Matt Szczur (OF, 28 yo)

81 wRC+ vs RHP (362 PA); 95 wRC+ vs. LHP (221 PA); 1.7 UZR/150 in 546.2 innings in OF. There was a time when Szczur was projected to be at least a reserve outfielder for the Cubs. In 2017 he showed good plate discipline, 14.3 BB% to 18.6 K%, but not much else. For a guy who produced 114 SB from 2012-2015, the speed was sorely lacking. In 2016, he posted some exceptional defensive metrics (in limited time) for the Cubs, but in 2017 he came back to earth and had negative UZR/150 ratings at all three outfield positions. He looks like a versatile fourth outfielder at best. Szczur will become arbitration eligible in 2019 and won't be a free agent until 2022.

Jose Pirela (LF, 28 yo)

82 wRC+ vs RHP (338 PA); 143 wRC+ vs. LHP (150 PA); 5.8 UZR/150 in 1067.0 innings in LF. The former Yankees prospect made huge strides in two areas this season: he learned to hit righties and he proved himself capable of above average defense after being given consistent reps at one spot for the first time in his career. Dream on these 2017 numbers: 113 wRC+ vs RHP, 145 wRC+ vs LHP, 5.0 SPD, 9.3 UZR/150 in LF (5th of 23 left fielders with 500 innings). Nobody on this list has proven as much at the big league level as Pirela. He should open the season as the everyday left fielder and be given every chance to prove that 2017 was no fluke. Pirela will become arbitration eligible in 2020 and won't be a free agent until 2023.

Four big takeaways:

1) Jose Pirela had a very good 2017.

2) Renfroe was shockingly bad. We could see the strikeouts and the LHP/RHP split coming from his minor league numbers, but the ugly defense really surprised me. However, Pirela's progression this season, in terms of improving against righties and as a defender, gives me hope that Renfroe is still developing.

3) Until I revisited the stats, I had forgotten how exciting Jankowski was in 2016...I firmly believe that, if he's back to full health, he can be one of the most valuable fourth outfielders in the league.

4) The Padres are very thin on outfield prospects, at least in the upper minors. Beyond Cordero, there's not much to dream on.

What do you think? Was Pirela's 2017 a fluke? Is Renfroe still the RF of the future? Will Jankowski and Dickerson return to 2016 form? What will the outfield look like when the Padres start contending?

***Disclaimer*** I almost included Franchy Cordero on this list. Fangraphs and Gaslamp Ball have covered him pretty well. I'm as excited as anyone about the power, speed and defensive potential that he showed in his brief debut, as well as his Dominican Winter League dominance. However, he's at least two years younger than everyone else on this list, and his 44.4 K% against big league pitching screams a need for more development. If you think he deserves a long look this season, I'd love to hear your comments below.

This FanPost was written by a member of the Gaslamp Ball community and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gaslamp Ball staff or SB Nation.