The Lava Lamp 2018 – The Outfield
The Volcano of Hot Talent Lava has begun to bubble up to the Earth’s surface and threatens to bury the rest of Major League Baseball in a cloud of ash and soot in 2018. Or something. I’m not a volcanologist and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
The Kept Faith staff has chosen to take a look at each group of players competing for roster spots on the Padres. First came the starting pitchers. Next up: The Outfield.
No, not the British Rock group that recorded the song “Your Love,” which was a modest pop hit in the US in 1986. The actual baseball players who will be patrolling the outfield expanses of MLB for the Padres in 2018.
Let’s get on with it already, because Josie’s on a vacation far away and she won’t be coming around to talk it over…
The Known Entities
The signing of free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer means Wil Myers, after a little more than two seasons at first base, moves back to the outfield. This season Myers is expected to man right field, as opposed to center field where he played the majority (38) of his appearances in 2015, his last regular gig as an outfielder. Myers’ value dropped slightly in 2017 (110 OPS+ & 2.1 WAR) compared to his 2016 All-Star season (115 OPS+ & 3.2 WAR), but not enough to cause any real concern. He struck out 20 more times in 27 fewer plate appearances, which really explains the drop in production. Hopefully the move back to the outfield will knock him back to being the players we saw in 2016.
Manuel Margot returns to center field in 2018 hoping to build upon his impressive 2017 rookie season. Margot posted a 92 OPS+ and 2.5 WAR in 2017 in 126 games and finished sixth in National League Rookie of the Year voting.
The Question Marks
The biggest question mark of the outfield will be whether Hunter Renfroe makes the Padres as part of a platoon in left field or starts the season in the outfield of the El Paso Chihuahuas. After posting a OPS+ of 97 and 0.8 WAR in 2017 — thanks to 140 strikeouts in 445 plate appearances — combined with consistently missing his targets when unleashing his cannon of an arm means Renfroe’s outlook has become a little murkier than when he came up with the “Core Four” in 2016. The Padres hope Renfroe can cut back on the strikeouts and hit the cutoff man more often while still hitting 25-30 home runs a year. Renfroe also had trouble hitting right-handed pitching (.636 OPS in 349 PA vs LHP against 1.077 OPS in 130 PA vs RHP) in 2017, hence the possibility of a platoon this season.
The second half of that potential left field platoon, Franchy Cordero actually might have a slight edge to be named the everyday starter over Renfroe this spring. In limited action (30 games & 99 PA) in 2017, Cordero posted a 84 OPS+ and 0.2 WAR, which admittedly doesn’t look as impressive as Renfroe’s numbers. And Cordero had almost as big of a problem last season hitting left-handed pitching as Renfroe did with righties. Not a big of a swing (.610 OPS vs LHP against .718 OPS vs RHP), likely due to the small sample size, but it was there.
Matt Szczur is expected to be the fourth outfielder in 2018. Maybe fifth depending on how the Renfroe/Cordero situation shakes out. After being acquired from the Chicago Cubs in May, Szczur put up a 96 OPS+ and 0.3 WAR in 104 PA in 2017. He’s been sidelined this spring with an oblique injury and had yet to make an appearance in a Cactus League game as I typed this.
Travis Jankowski is likely starting out 2018 in El Paso, where he spent nearly half of his 2017 season after suffering a fracture in his foot in April that was originally diagnosed as a bone bruise. He ended up appearing in 27 games last season, chalking up 87 PA, but didn’t do much in that limited time. They say you can’t teach speed, which is the one thing Jankowski has going for him over every other outfielder, with the possible exception of Margot.
Alex Dickerson missed the entire 2017 season with a back injury. In 2016, the Poway native put up a .788 OPS in 285 PA, with appearances in left field in 68 out of 84 games. Dickerson best hope, if healthy, is as a fifth outfielder/pinch-hitter/interleague game designated hitter candidate. If he actually makes the Padres roster. I see him starting out at El Paso, myself. However, I must once again note that I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
Jose Pirela appeared at six positions last season, including DH, in 83 games and posted at 122 OPS+ and 2.0 WAR in 344 PA. He is likely going to make the team as a utility player, with the occasional appearance in the outfield. Basically, he’s going to be Alexi Amarista without the general craptacular suckitude that comes with.
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