It is an exciting time to be a Padres fan. They have possibly the most thrilling position player in baseball in Fernando Tatis Jr., and a potential ace in Chris Paddack. They also have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball including a slew of great young arms. So yeah – if you are lucky enough to live in San Diego and you like baseball, your life is good and it’s about to get better. Of course not everything is rose-colored as the Padres haven’t tasted the playoffs since 2006 and they have never won the World Series. So as the Padres try to massage their roster into a team that can contend, we should look at the impact of their latest trades on their outfield. Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Franmil Reyes (before he was traded) received most of the playing time in 2019, but Reyes and Renfroe are gone now and Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham are the newest Friar outfielders. What does all this reshuffling mean for the Padres in 2020?
Wil Myers is neither dead, nor the worst baseball player in the league. In fact he is only slightly below average. But don’t tell that to Padres fans who see him as a train wreck. And to be fair, he is kind of a train wreck when you consider that at 28 and with three years left on his six year, $83 million contract, he might have a hard time earning a starting outfield job, and has virually chance of winning a corner infield spot on a team that lost 92 games last season. That’s the thing about money though – when you pay a guy a lot of cash you are more likely to give him too many chances to prove that you didn’t screw up when you handed him that contract. So will Wil get another chance to start somewhere for the Padres in 2020? It is unlikely that he will see more than the odd start on the infield corners, but much more likely that if he is still on the roster in 2020 (and there is no way anyone will take on his contract unless he is packaged with some great prospects), he will get starts in the outfield. If he gets roughly 500 plate appearances then he should deliver something in line with his career slash line of .257/.327/.436. That comes with 20 or so homers and 15 or so steals. It also comes with decent defense if he is in an outfield corner and poor defense if he is anywhere else like centerfield, first base, or third base. Can the Padres live with that for now? Sure! Can they win championships with that kind of output from a position that usually provides superior offensive output? Probably not.
Manuel Margot was an exciting prospect at one point. The Padres got him in the 2015 trade with the Red Sox for Craig Kimbrel. Margot is 25 and has basically three full seasons in the majors and a career wRC+ of 84 after a 2019 wRC+ of 82. Margot is still all kinds of toolsy, but after 1526 plate appearances he looks like he just won’t hit enough to hold down a starting spot. He will still have value off the bench as a pinch runner, defensive replacement in all three outfield spots, and spot starter, but if the Padres were to continue on with him as the starter in center, their offense would have to carry him. What Margot looks like now is an excellent use of a bench spot and I don’t mean that as a knock on him. He would be a valuable 4th outfielder because of his glove and his speed, and it would allow the Padres to take one last look at him in case there is something left in his development.
Hunter Renfroe can hit the ball pretty far and has started to walk more, but his hit tool is not good, so he ends up with on base percentages a notch below .300 (career .294). He has a cannon arm and put together a good defensive season based on UZR/150 and DRS last season. In fact his numbers put him right near the top of all right-fielders in baseball, but this is the first season of positive defensive numbers, so we will have to see if he can repeat that in Tampa Bay where he was just traded. At 27, and with 1450 plate appearances Renfroe doesn’t look like a starter in an outfield corner on a contending team. He has yet to break the 2.0 WAR mark (career high WAR of 1.9 set last season with a big bump from his defense), but a little more improvement at the plate might push him over the edge assuming his walk rate continues to improve and he repeats his stellar defensive season. It was clear that the Padres needed a different answer in right field and now Renfroe is a question to be pondered by the Rays.
It is unclear what the Padres have in Franchy Cordero aside from a dude with a cool name. He could make a push for the center field job based on his speed and good work at the position in two small auditions, but it isn’t clear that he is ready to hit major league pitching. He is a 70 raw power guy who looked like he was starting to get to some of that projection in his last full season – 2017. But at 25, Franchy looks fringy and raw and with more talented outfielders in the fold, he is going to have to step up now or be pushed aside. His minor league career slash line of .270/.335/.434 shows a hitter who needs a high average to have a healthy enough on base percentage to deserve a lineup spot. If he enjoys a power spike and can walk even 10% of the time, then he might be someone. If not, then the Padres would be better off handing his spot to someone like Manuel Margot who is better with the glove and has gotten to more of his power than Cordero at this point, if not to one of their new acquisitions.
Josh Naylor is only 22 but put in a half season in the majors in 2019. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t horrible either. His wRC+ of 89 combined with his poor defensive numbers in the two corner outfield spots equalled a -0.2 WAR. Ok, maybe he was pretty bad. But 22 is young, and there were positives about his season that probably make the Padres think they might be onto something. Naylor drew enough walks in the minors and in his half season in San Diego to show that he will probably walk enough to turn him into a positive offensive contributor. His raw power is evident just by looking at him and he has begun to reach some of it – 18 homers in 2019 between triple-A and the majors. It is reasonable to project him to something like a slash line of .260/.330/.450 or maybe even more slugging once he accesses more of his power. That’s enough to start if his defense doesn’t erase all of his offensive production. Naylor was a first baseman until 2018 when the Padres started his conversion to the outfield. San Diego already has an expensive first baseman in Eric Hosmer, so the conversion makes sense if Naylor handles the outfield. He is quite slow – a 20 runner on the 20 to 80 scouting scale – so he won’t be running balls down in the corners. If he can get good jumps and run smart routes he might get to the point where he doesn’t hurt the team with his glove. From here that seems like a big if, but there is no DH in the NL so for him to start that will have to be the calculus. Naylor has some tough competition after the two trades the Padres made so let’s look at who else the Padres are likely to try in the outfield.
San Diego will enter Spring Training with a handful of younger outfielders who will push for a chance soon, if not in Spring Training, and some young outfielders who have yet to fulfill their promise. The recent trade that netted them Trent Grisham will more than likely reshape their outfield in 2020. Grisham was a first round pick for the Brewers and had been viewed as a disappointment until last season when he finally found the power stroke the Brewers had believed was possible. Grisham has always had the ability to get on base because his walk rates were quite high ( in spite of his marginal batting average – a minor league career slash line of .255/.376/.415). He also has shown some speed in the minors to go with his developing power. In his brief major league debut last season he posted good defensive numbers in right field and center showing that he could probably start in either spot. If Grisham wins the starting spot in center for the 2020 Padres, his bat will play there if his defense is enough for him to stick. He will probably be a low batting average, high walks hitter with some speed and power. Grisham is only 23 so it is possible the former first round pick could turn into at least a solid starter.
After getting Grisham, the Padres went and traded for Tommy Pham. With speed, power, and the ability to get on base, Pham will likely be the starter in left even though he has played center and right as there are younger options to play the other outfield spots. His numbers have declined each of the last two seasons, but he is still a 3 to 4 WAR player. Pham’s defensive numbers have bounced up and down with last season being a low point in terms of WAR but with some disagreement from other defensive metrics. Soon to be 32, Pham probably isn’t the long term answer, but he won’t be a free agent until 2021 so the Padres will get two good seasons out of the athletic Pham before they have to make any tough decisions.
The Padres have two potential star outfielders toiling away in the minors in Edward Olivares and Taylor Trammell. When Olivares arrives he will bring with him excellent speed and burgeoning pop in a well-rounded package. Olivares will start the season as a 24 year old, has played center and right field, and has mastered double-A. If the Padres need him he could be ready by mid-season if he shows he can handle triple-A. Taylor Trammell was rocketing toward the majors until an injury marred mess of a 2019 slowed him down. He finished strong after a trade to the Padres and his tools still make him look like a potential superstar. If he gets off to a strong start at triple-A, it could mean a fast track to San Diego where he will show off both speed and power. There are more outfield prospects lower in the minors like Tirso Ornellas and Jeisson Rosario, but the Padres have a lot of young players already at or near the majors to sort through and Ornellas and Rosario are still pretty raw in spite of their tantalizing tools.
The Padres will have decisions to make about guys like Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero, and Josh Naylor, as well as veterans like Wil Myers, but with newcomers Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham they have already made improvements on defense and in the lineup. Pham will take one of the outfield spots – probably left field. Grisham showed platoon splits last season that would indicate they should at least initially give him days off against lefties. That would give Myers starts in right field against lefties to show if he should get more time, assuming he is still on the roster when the season starts (pretty likely). That means Cordero might get a chance to show that he can hit enough to start in center and allow Margot to hit his way into more playing time spelling Cordero in center – at least until Trammell or Olivares start pushing on them from the minors. Naylor will hit, but he hurts them enough on defense in the outfield that I would send him back to the minors to work on left field defense, where he is insurance in case of injury. If he sticks in San Diego, then he takes time from Pham in left or Eric Hosmer at first – both unlikely scenarios. They could also trade him as some team will be better situated to use his bat. That would allow the Padres to play the far superior defender Margot in all three outfield spots thereby improving their overall outfield defense. The Padres have a lot of moving parts in the outfield and depth is a good thing to insure them against injury and disappointing performances. It is 72 and sunny in San Diego, and yes – I mean that literally AND metaphorically.