The Padres rebuilding phase began last year, but 2017 is the year they really turned the team over to their young players, fielding a younger crop of position players this year than any other team in the majors. Among the players that have been given everyday roles on the Padres are three of their top prospects: Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Austin Hedges.
During their first prolonged exposure to the major leagues, they’ve performed adequately; though, none have exceeded expectations.
The Padres acquired Margot as the centerpiece of the trade that saw them send closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox prior to last season. At the time of the trade, MLB Pipeline ranked Margot as the 25th prospect in baseball and the best in the Padres system.
As a 22 years old, Margot is getting his first shot at an everyday role in the major leagues this season, and he has produced solid results thus far. Margot is best known for his speed and athleticism, and he has made that obvious during his time in the majors. Already, Margot has swiped nine bases in as many attempts with FanGraphs ranking him in the top third of baserunners and Statcast tracking him as the 11th fastest runner in baseball. His defense hasn’t rated particularly well, but it’s difficult to extract value from defensive metrics in such a small sample.
At the plate, Margot has been about league average in most aspects. His .280/.328/.422 line equates to a 99 wRC+, and his 7.0% walk-rate and 19.1% strikeout-rate are just below average.
Margot’s offensive game consists of hitting the ball on the ground and on the line rather than in the air as well as distributing it to all fields; in fact, only six players hit line drives more often than Margot (22.3%) and only five hit the ball to the opposite field more often (34.1%). Both are positive qualities for a player with plus-speed and limited power.
While Margot’s debut hasn’t been flashy, it’s been productive and has inspired confidence in his future value. He has demonstrated a mature plan at the plate that plays to his strengths and has displayed the type of athleticism that will permit him the ability to do things on the bases and in the field that most could not fathom doing.
He has already been a valuable player, but if Margot can continue developing offensively, he might just turn into the player the Padres dreamed of when they traded for him last year.
San Diego selected Renfroe with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Mississippi State University, and MLB Pipeline ranked him as highly as the 41st-best prospect in baseball due to his raw power-hitting ability. In impressive fashion, Renfroe tore through the minors, blasting 55 homers in 326 games across Double-A and Triple-A.
He earned his first call-up to the big leagues last season and hit a scorching .371/.389/.800 in 11 games. But while he has flashed his power potential in the majors this year, his season has been marred by his inconsistent swing-and-miss approach.
Renfroe has 16 home runs, which ranks fifth among National League right fielders, but he also has the second-highest strikeout-rate of that group at 26.8%. In addition, he has the fourth-lowest walk-rate at the position, resulting in a poor .289 on-base percentage, which sits at 74th of 79 qualified hitters in the NL.
On the positive side of things, he has demonstrated an ability to run the bases better than expected, possessing below-average speed but rating as the third-most valuable right fielder on the bases. He has also racked up a league-leading seven outfield assists.
Renfroe’s tendency to strikeout and inability to draw walks consistently has long been the biggest knock on him. In fact, the numbers he has posted in both areas in San Diego this year are not far off from where they were throughout his time in the minors.
He was able to get away with it against minor-league pitching, but the increase in level of competition has caused Renfroe to stumble out of the gates. Players across baseball—like the Athletics’ Khris Davis—are proving that it is possible to succeed with a similar approach, but only time will tell if the 25-year-old Renfroe will be able to properly adjust to major-league pitching.
Another highly-touted prospect, Hedges was drafted by San Diego in the second round of the 2011 draft as a high schooler. He was viewed as a glove-first catcher who, if his bat came around, had a future as a valuable big leaguer.
Hedges made his major-league debut in 2015, appearing in 56 games, but failed to establish himself. This year, he’s getting a shot at handling the bulk of the catching duties and just past the halfway point of his first full season, but Hedges is hitting a paltry .214/.258/.397 (71 wRC+).
He’s not drawing many walks (5.3%), and he’s striking out a ton (29.4%), but he does have 11 home runs, which is tied for most among NL catchers. Though he’s been a liability at the plate, Hedges has been an asset behind it. Per Baseball Prospectus, Hedges is the fourth most effective pitch framer and the sixth-best defensive catcher in baseball.
There are very few catchers today who boast both premier offense and defense and right now, it appears that Hedges will only offer the latter. That’s still plenty valuable, though, as he plays one of the most vital defensive positions on the field. Plus, he’s only 24 years old and with his defense already established as some of the best in the game and the possibility that his bat is not yet fully developed, he carries considerable upside.
Overall, the top prospects that the Padres have given full-time playing duties to this year have produced mixed results, but they’ve all shown the potential that led to them being pegged as future contributors at the big league level. Margot has proved to be one of the game’s best athletes; Renfroe has displayed tremendous power; and Hedges has exhibited fantastic fielding skills.
They’ve all also shown where some of the concerns lay with their development, as none of them have been better than league-average hitters. However, all three are 25 years old or younger and clearly possess the kind of talent that the Padres can build around.