Player: Hunter Renfroe
DOB: 1/28/1992 (21 years old)
HT: 6’1″ WT: 216
Acquired: 1st round 2013 (13th overall) by Arizona Diamondbacks
Twitter Scouting Report:
Country strong with great at bats. Will stick in OF. Tools are loud and feel for the game exceeds expectation. Future big leaguer.
I was not a fan of the Renfroe pick at the time, but I am firmly in Renfroe’s corner now. On draft day, I felt that the Padres had gone with a college corner outfielder without exceptional size who could hit well, albeit with an unrefined swing. Now I see Renfroe in a much brighter light. This young man is a tool shed who belongs on a baseball field. All the physical gifts play very well. I’m not the biggest fan of the swing, but he puts together exceptional at bats and you can always iron out the swing. He won’t be forced to move to first base and could probably handle CF in pinch. At worst he’s a first division starter. At best he’s the 2008-2010 Jayson Werth.
Renfroe didn’t fall out of the build of a prospect hobby kit. He’s a bit shorter than an average outfielder and looks even shorter because of his thick torso. He doesn’t have long arms or legs. The frame could carry a tad more weight, but I suspect he will add only minimal weight. He’s sitting at 215 now and may end up at 220. Those five pounds will likely come from trimming off 10 or so pounds of fat followed by adding some more muscle to the frame. As strange as this sounds I love Renfroe’s hands. I haven’t had the chance to get up close and shake his hand or talk with him, but from some combination of huge hands or long fingers the bat looks like a tooth pick in Renfroe’s hands.
In the batter’s box: Renfroe hits from a wide, open stance and uses a toe tap approach for his stride. The mechanics of the swing aren’t great yet. They are very good, but there is still room for improvement. What’s most impressive is how everything fires at the right time. His timing within his swing is something that you need to see multiple times in game settings to appreciate. When he fouls off a pitch I am yet to catch myself thinking, “he was fooled there”. More often than not I end up thinking something along the lines of “dang he just missed that”. I’ll get to this more when I go over his hit tool.
His lower half works very well. The way his hips and backside fire allow him to be a versatile hitter. He creates enough rotation to cover the inner third. This rotation is created without getting stuck on his back leg, so reaching the outside corner proves to be no problem either. The utility of his lower half is apparent in game situations. He starts the process of his swing very early, which gives him ample time to read and react to pitches. Even though he starts early he is strong enough not to let his hips leak or slide out from under him.
His upper body is more of a give-and-take scenario. It’s not that the upper half is bad, it’s just not as good as it could be. The two issues I see are both fixable and they won’t necessarily doom Renfroe’s swing if uncorrected.
The first is that he can get steep with his swing plane. He will swing down then up instead of keeping the bat mostly flat through the zone. If you want to try and visualize these movements take a parenthesis “(” and in your mind lay it on the ground so that the middle touches and the end points are in the air. That’s a good approximation for how a bat path should look. Now imagine a swing that follows the path of a U. At times Renfroe’s bat will follow that trajectory and it harms his swing by giving him a very narrow range in which solid contact can occur.
The other issue goes hand-in-hand with a steep swing plane. Renfroe’s back elbow can collapse too early and lead to his bat dragging through the zone or the barrel staying behind his hands for a split second too long, resulting in line drives that slice off his bat.
What’s good about his upper half is how he stays very short to the ball while managing to keep his bat through the zone for a long time (when the swing lines up correctly, that is). His head stays pretty still and his shoulders don’t fly open, even on balls inside. He has very loose hands and wrists that help him both shoot balls to right field and accelerate the bat head through the zone. Raw strength and loose quick hands is always a killer combination, and Renfroe possesses that very combo.
Snapshot of Tools
While the gap between his present and future grades for hitting is pretty wide, some simple swing adjustments and more exposure to high level pitching should be able to bridge that gap. Let’s start with the drawbacks to his hit tool. He doesn’t cover the outer third of the plate exceptionally well. His physical gifts are covering deficiency for now, as he can get around an outside pitch and leg out an infield single or use his strength to hit a ball off the end of the bat in front of the right fielder.
I’m not overly concerned about this problem at the moment. In BP Renfroe has no problem scorching line drives to the right side. In games if an outside pitch catches too much of the white of the plate he will put the barrel on the ball for hard contact. Mechanically, he’s not pulling off the ball or letting his front side leak out. If he irons out the mechanical issues explained earlier (steep bat plane, collapsing back elbow) those will go a long way to extending the amount of time his bat stays in the zone which will ultimately help him with plate coverage.
Renfroe will have a fair amount of strikeouts on his stat sheet. He’s not a free swinger, but he doesn’t flip the switch to “choke up and make contact” mode when behind in the count. How he finds himself behind in counts is nearly more frustrating than the end result. He loves to hit fastballs and has no problem doing so against high velocity. Where he digs himself is a hole is chasing pitches a like a 1-0 fastball at 87 mph off the outside corner. If it’s 94 off the plate he lays off but that slower fastball seems too appealing to let it pass on by. Another frustrating way he gets behind in counts is taking breaking balls over the white of the plate for strikes. The pitcher doesn’t have to snap off a wicked breaking ball. He simply has to not hang it and Renfroe is likely to take the pitch, even if its over the heart of the plate.
The positive aspects of the hit tool are what left me the most impressed with Renfroe. Yes, he is a country strong young man so he generates many hard line drives. The bat speed is easily above average and his ability to put bat to ball solidly is impressive. He can adjust his swing to the location of the ball to allow for hard contact in multiple zones over the plate. He stays up the middle in both games and BP.
I can live with his approach. It’s not outstanding but he will continue to refine it. He’s very aggressive with fastballs and expands his zone when behind in the count, particularly off the outside corner. I mentioned that if the pitcher doesn’t hang the breaking ball it might give Renfroe some trouble. If the pitcher does hang it, he’s not getting it back.
He will rack up some walks as he tracks the speed of the ball better than almost any prospect I’ve seen. This ability also allows him to make hard contact as he can keep his balance and let his physical tools do the rest. That’s kind of a strange phrase “tracks the speed of the ball” but if you are lucky enough to see him in action you will know what I mean. Pitchers can beat hitters in three distinct ways. They can beat them with the movement they get on the pitch. They can beat hitters with precise location. Finally they can beat hitters by upsetting their timing. Renfroe is not going to be beat by timing.
He is able to pick up the speed of the ball quickly out of the pitcher’s hand. In his time in the NWL, Renfroe has seen back-to-back fastballs exactly once. Even with facing a litany of pitches, he keeps his balance on both swings and takes. He doesn’t get caught way out in front of breaking balls and doesn’t get blown away by good fastballs. Let’s assume this ability is not infallible as he moves up the ranks of the minor leagues. Even if a pitcher is able to throw off his timing just a bit, Hunter still has the elite physical tools with great bat speed and balance to be able to put hard contact on the ball.
Here is a kid who will easily hit 20 in the show even playing half his games at PETCO Park. As the frame adds strength and his approach improves, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his career sprinkled with a few 30+ home run years. I wasn’t wowed watching BP. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very good, but it’s not crazy good. He’s a line drive hitter. At this point his swing isn’t creating a ton of loft or leverage. He gets solid extension and keeps his lower half involved in the swing. He makes hard contact on nearly every swing in BP without selling out or ramping up his swing to do so. He stays up the middle until he decides he wants to knock a few out in later rounds. He’ll then casually put some over the fence in left and call it a day. It’s almost like he’s being a tease with his power. Toward the end of the series I was sitting on I got to see him let loose in BP. That was impressive. Off the scoreboard impressive. If he wants to really gear up for home runs, he has the ability to do so, but that’s not where he is right now.
The power is going to play well in games. He doesn’t sell out for power. He just lets it flow. He hammers fastballs with MLB velocity. The single most impressive swing I saw of his came on an 0-2, 94-mph fastball off the inside corner. An 81-mph slider and then a 67-mph curveball preceded it. The 0-2 fastball probably seemed like 104 rather than 94. Renfroe simply pulled his hands in and smoked a 300-foot missile just foul that likely left a dent it the bleachers it clanged off of. The 430-foot rocket to center on a hanging breaking ball was also impressive in terms of pure strength. It was a cool glimpse into the power that will be coming from Renfroe in the future.
Renfroe runs very well now but I don’t see him holding onto this great speed as his body fills out. He’s 4.1-4.2 to first base out of the box. Once he gets going he runs like a linebacker. I’m not saying he’s slow. He lowers his shoulders and runs with such dirt-kicking-up-behind-him intensity that there’s probably going to be an unfortunate catcher who will get blown up somewhere in his future. He’s not a great base runner but can pass for average. He will get some steals based solely on his speed but he has a chance to be a 20-20 or 25-25 guy if he becomes a more aware runner. He’s going to end up being an average runner with good top end speed. The speed is enough to keep him in the outfield in a corner spot even in a large park like PETCO.
Renfroe plays a decent right field at the moment. He has moved around positionally in his amateur career. Now as a professional he should be able to hone in on the finer details of being a better defender. He doesn’t get the best of reads on balls particularly when they are hit over his head. Even once he picks up the ball he is tentative and loses a step on the ball by taking time to swivel his head. He comes in on the ball much better. Once he gets a read on it he tears after the ball. His routes are just okay at this point. His speed allows him to take very shallow angles on balls in the gaps but as he fills out and slows down he needs to make sure he is not setting himself up to get burned by balls hit on either side of him. I still think he’ll pick up half a grade on fielding simply from focusing on one position and receiving some professional instruction.
Love the arm. He was throwing 94 mph off the mound and it shows in the outfield. As an outfielder he makes sure to get on top of the ball and doesn’t throw balls that tail or run away from him. His footwork is solid in right field, which just adds velocity to his already very strong arm. His arm will always be a weapon for him. He’s smart with his arm too. Some prospects with big arms love to show them off for the sake of showing them off. Renfroe hits cut-off men when needed and doesn’t airmail ill conceived throws to bases. I said it before, but I really do love his arm and how he uses it in RF.
Player comp: Jayson Werth pre-Nationals.
MLB ETA: Likely to get a look in 2015, should open 2016 with Padres.