Going into 2018 a reasonable Padres fan might have had some of these questions:
- Can Hunter Renfroe hit righties and play passable defense?
- Was Jose Pirela’s 2017 breakout for real?
- Is Freddy Galvis a long-term answer at shortstop?
- Who is Wil Myers?
- Will Austin Hedges’ bat continue to derail his elite defense?
- Do Cory Spangenberg, Carlos Asuaje, Travis Jankowski or Christian Villanueva have a long-term place on the team?
- Did the Padres make a huge mistake in signing Eric Hosmer?
- Did the Padres miss Brad Hand’s best trade window?
- How active will the Padres be at the trade deadline?
- Can the Padres build around any of the current starting pitchers?
- Which prospects will debut in 2018?
- How will the Padres’ top-ranked farm system fair in terms of development, performance and injury?
Here are some answers to #1-6. Check back soon for part 2.
Can Hunter Renfroe hit righties and play passable defense?
Possibly...he is certainly improving.
Coming off of a Pacific Coast League MVP performance in 2016, Renfroe was a consensus top-100 prospect entering 2017. Depending on the list he was 44th (Baseball America), 42nd (MLB.com) or 92nd (Baseball Prospectus). However, Renfroe disapointed as a rookie, posting a 94 OPS+, 0.8 WAR and receiving a late season demotion. Renfroe struggled to a 66 wRC+ against righties, compared to 177 wRC+ against lefties. In right field his -7.9 UZR/150, ranked 27th of 29 players with 500 innings.
In 2018 he has given fans reason for optimism:
- Against righties, Renfroe has walked more (5.6% vs. 4.0%), struck-out less (29.6% vs. 33.5% ) and improved his hard-contact rate (45.1% vs. 34.1%), all leading to a much more acceptable 85 wRC+.
- In the outfield, his -0.1 UZR/150 ranks 15th of 33 right fielders with 300 innings and compares favorably to George Springer (-2.3), Andrew McCutchen (-3.9), Yasiel Puig (-12.4) and Bryce Harper (-20.0).
Long story short, it looks like Renfroe is improving against righties and can play league-average right field defense. Whether he does so as a Padre, or at a level fit for a playoff-contending team, remains to be seen.
Was Jose Pirela’s 2017 breakout for real?
No, it was not. On defense, he ranks 40th of 51 left fielders with a -11.7 UZR/150, and 36th of 44 second basemen with a -7.9 UZR/150 (minimum of 200 innings). He still hits OK against lefties (101 wRC+), but he has come back to earth against righties after seemingly turning a corner last season (70 wRC+ vs. 113 wRC+ in 2017). All this has conspired to -0.9 WAR according to Fangraphs. The Jose Pirela experiment is over.
Is Freddy Galvis a long-term answer at shortstop?
No. It’s a testament to the Padres’ awful track record at shortstop that Freddy Galvis looks so smooth, rangy and exciting on defense. In reality, his 0.0 UZR/150 ranks 12th of 23 qualified shortstops. Granted, he’s been better defensively than Carlos Correa (-0.6), Trevor Story (-4.0) and Manny Machado (-13.0), but they bring much more to the plate than Galvis, whose 76 wRC+, though dreadful, is still slightly above his career average. Unless the price tag is miniscule, the Padres can look elsewhere for a bottom-of-the-order, middle-of-the-pack defensive shortstop to bridge the gap to Fernando Tatis Jr.
Who is Wil Myers?
The main questions surrounding Wil Myers relate to his durability, offensive consistency and defensive home.
Durability: Excluding his stellar half-season as a rookie for the Rays in 2013, Myers has played in 503 of 760 possible games from 2014-2018. Broken down further, Myers has only missed 12 games, with zero trips to the DL, in two seasons as a full-time first baseman (2016-2017). As a regular in the outfield from 2014-2015, and again in 2018, he has missed 245 games, with six trips to the DL for various wrist, arm and oblique issues, and a recent bruised foot.
Offense: Truth be told, Myers is no longer an offensive enigma. In 1,761 PA with the Padres, Myers has a 114 wRC+, .209 ISO and 75 HR (26 HR per 600 PA). Some Padres fans still ask if there is more development to come, but his two full seasons, 2016-2017, support the idea that Myers is already a known commodity.
- 2016: 676 PA, 116 wRC+, .202 ISO, 28 HR
- 2017: 649 PA, 109 wRC+, .220 ISO, 30 HR.
With a full season, Myers will produce at the plate, albeit with a frustrating amount of hot and cold stretches.
Defensive home: Myers’ 25.0 UZR/150 ranks second among outfielders with at least 300 innings in 2018. That number feels inflated, and should be monitored as the season wraps up. In his career he has spent significant time in Left (303.1 Inn, 28.2 UZR/150), Center (352.0 Inn, -11.2 UZR/150), Right (1397.1 Inn, -0.5 UZR/150) and First Base (2812.0 Inn, -0.4 UZR/150). The numbers suggest that he has the athleticism to handle first base or a corner outfield position.
To summarize, Myers looks like a solid, middle-of-the-order first baseman with playable defense, but serious durability questions when asked to play the outfield.
Will Austin Hedges’ bat continue to derail his elite defense?
Yes, but don’t count him out yet. Excluding 26 PA in 2016, Hedges has spent significant time with the Padres in 2015 (56 G, 162 PA), 2017 (120 G, 417 PA) and 2018 (52 G, 184 PA).
- 2015: 5.3 BB%, 26 wRC+ (12 vs LHP, 32 vs RHP)
- 2017: 5.5 BB%, 71 wRC+, (57 vs LHP, 76 vs RHP)
- 2018: 7.5 BB%, 95 wRC+, (106 vs LHP, 91 vs RHP)
These stats show a player moving in the right direction. Considering he is less than 800 PA into his major league career, it is too early for the Padres to quit on a player with elite defensive skills. A consistent 90ish wRC+ hidden in the 8th spot would allow Hedges to stick around when the Padres start contending. But, with the recent acquisition of Francisco Mejia and the farm system that is now stacked from Low A to Triple A (Luis Campusano, Luis Torrens, Austin Allen, Mejia), notice has been served to the former top prospect.
Does Cory Spangenberg, Carlos Asuaje, Travis Jankowski or Christian Villanueva have a long-term place on the team?
These players are all 26 or 27 years old, have mixed amounts of major league experience, and represent very little in terms of investment: Spangenberg and Jankowski were mid-level prospects from the previous Padres administration; Asuaje was the least-heralded of the four player haul in the Craig Kimbrel trade; Villanueva was signed as a minor league free agent last season.
Spangenberg: At age 27, with 343 games, 1156 PA and only 3.4 WAR to his name, Spangenberg really needed to show that there was more in the tank in 2018. Neither his 12 wRC+ vs LHP, 86 wRC+ vs RHP nor his 72 wRC+ overall suggest an everyday or platoon role. Considering the extremely light offense, and inability to fill in at shortstop, a utility role is also in doubt. Answer: No.
Asuaje: With less power and versatility, and an even more dramatic platoon split—87 wRC+ vs RHP, -6 wRC+ vs LHP in 2018—Asuaje is less likely to hold a long-term spot than Spangenberg. The 2017 rookie, who has played second base almost exclusively, should cede reps at the keystone to Luis Urias in the very near future. Answer: No.
Jankowski: The former Stony Brook standout has solidified himself as a solid fourth outfielder who could contribute on a contending team. In 2018, his 10.7 UZR/150 in 529.0 outfield innings, 94 wRC+ vs RHP (87 overall), and 14 SB (4 CS) point to a defensive replacement, pinch runner with value against right handed starters. It might not be with the Padres, but Jankowski should have a long career in the bigs. Answer: Possibly.
Villanueva: After only 110 career games, Villanueva has proved himself a powerful platoon candidate with an elite 206 wRC+, and 16 HR in only 127 PA vs LHP. His -1.3 UZR/150 in 2018 is evidence of improving defense at third base, and currently rates better than Kris Bryant (-1.8), Rafael Devers (-5.1) and Alex Bregman (-7.1). Villanueva is worth keeping around to experiment with at both corner infield positions where he could become half of a low-cost, high-performing platoon. Answer: Possibly.
What’s left for 2018?
The Padres should take advantage of the remaining 48 games, and injuries to Wil Myers and Franchy Cordero, to get Hunter Renfroe every start in right field. Likewise, Austin Hedges should continue playing as often as possible. Both players need a chance to sustain what look like significant improvements this season. Finally, it is time to promote Luis Urias. Padres fans deserve better than the Pirela-Spangenberg-Asuaje mess at second base.
Check back soon for answers to #6-12 in part 2.