Hunter Renfroe feels ripple effect of Hosmer signing
Padres outfielder Hunter Renfroe talks about the trade rumors surrounding him, competition in the outfield and how he’s improved from last season.
Eric Hosmer arrived at the Padres facility here Monday afternoon, took his physical and gave some fluids, met some people.
He is expected to put on his new uniform and be announced as the franchise’s newest star at a Tuesday morning press conference.
Before Hosmer ever takes the field for his new team, the dominoes have begun to sway in what on Monday was a chilly, windswept Peoria Sports Complex.
Perhaps even feeling a greater impact than Wil Myers, who on Sunday took fly balls in right field as he begin his effort to make way for Hosmer, will be Hunter Renfroe.
“It’s different for everybody,” Renfroe said Monday.
That is true. But not every player was once the franchise’s No. 3 prospect (86th in all baseball in 2016) and last year hit 26 home runs, a team rookie record.
And the other candidates to play in the Padres outfield are not being mentioned as trade bait.
“It is what it is,” Renfroe said. “Obviously, we’re all chess pieces in a huge game here. That’s the way you look at it. But it’s always exciting just to be here, be with your friends. Whether they move me, I’m always having a good time here, getting ready to play baseball.”
The reality is that Hosmer’s arrival only marginally intensifies the task for Renfroe, who arrived in camp knowing he had to earn a job. Manager Andy Green has been upfront – with Renfroe and publicly – that the kid who started 117 games in right field last season has “no guarantee” for 2018.
Green reiterated that Monday when asked what Hosmer’s presence specifically meant for Renfroe.
“Competing for an opportunity to play on an everyday basis,” Green said of Renfroe’s status. “We didn’t need to have a move that would cause that to happen.”
Green went on to mention Alex Dickerson (whose approach at the plate Green considers perhaps the best on the team), Franchy Cordero (MVP of the Dominican League this winter), Travis Jankowski (who can play all three positions and is probably the team’s fastest player) and super-sub Matt Szczur.
“It’s competition,” Green said. “He’s right there in the thick of that competition.”
More than getting a refresher on how to play left field, the spot he has played less than any other, Renfroe has to learn how to lay off bad pitches at the plate.
He hits the ball a mile when he hits it. But he chased pitches out of the strike zone far too often and struck out in more than 29 percent of his plate appearances while walking less than 6 percent of the time. His .284 on-base percentage ranked last among the 89 outfielders who had at least 450 plate appearances in 2017.
Before he even got to Peoria and began conferring with new hitting coach Matt Stairs, Renfroe spent the winter working on his approach and discipline at the plate.
“They really want me to cut down on my hand motions before I swing, the little hitch deal,” Renfroe said. “I just tried to really cut down on that, really work on that. That’s what I did every day — just go to the field early, hit on the field and really work on not moving my hands too much and let it correlate to the game.
“It just takes time. It takes mental reps, it takes physical reps, it takes getting in there and really working on it and being patient with yourself. Really just focused in on (batting practice), on swinging at strikes, even in BP, focusing on when I want to hit the ball, where I want the pitch to be.”
The Padres have given indications that they would be fine with, and even prefer, a rotation in the outfield. That primarily concerns left field now, as Manuel Margot is locked in as the regular center fielder, and Myers appears headed to right.
Allowing the right-handed Renfroe to sit against some righties, a benefit he often did not have last season due to injuries to others, would almost certainly help him. His hitting line in 130 plate appearances against lefties in ’17 was .316/.392/.684 versus .202/.244/.393 in 349 plate appearances against righties.
Regardless, while the 26-year-old is acknowledging the significance of this spring for him, he is trying to approach it like he otherwise would.
“It’s pretty big,” he said. “But you can’t put too much emphasis on going out there and proving yourself. You’ve got to go out there and do what you can and get ready for spring. If you put too much into it, you’re going to be trying too hard, you’re going to pressure yourself, and you’re going to be doing worse than you would’ve been before.”