Franmania

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Yesterday, in an 11–8 Cactus League win over the Rangers, both Franmil Reyes and Francisco Mejía hit home runs. Mejía’s round-tripper was something of a wall-scraper, whereas Reyes’ homer penetrated the mesosphere, clanked off a satellite, and ricocheted through a wormhole, eventually landing somewhere near fifth-century Constantinople. Both counted as one spring training home run. Anyway, yesterday’s outburst from two out of three Frans gave me a good enough excuse to write about the trio.

Francisco Mejía

The negative aspects of Mejía’s game—his defense and his swing-happy approach—have slowly overshadowed his positive attributes, like a lightning quick bat, but this guy can hit. That’s an obvious thing to write about someone who once had a 50-game hitting streak in the minors, of course, but it’s easy to forget since Mejía hasn’t produced to expectations since joining the organization.

In an abbreviated big-league debut last season, both the best and worst of Mejía’s offensive game were on display, as crushed home runs were interrupted by lapses in plate control. And thanks to that aggressive approach, pitchers threw Mejía a strike just 41.4 percent of the time, the sixth-lowest rate in the majors among any batter to see 100 pitches. On the other hand, once Mejía connects, you instantly understand why he’s so eager to swing. He’s got a quick bat and more pop than his 5-foot-10 frame would suggest, giving him the ability to take low-and-inside pitches out of the park. There’s the framework for a good offensive player here, especially at catcher, even if it never comes with a particularly high walk rate.

The defensive side of Mejía’s game is more of a work in progress, and the deficiencies there are highlighted by any comparison to Austin Hedges, one of the game’s finest backstops. Mejía still has strides to make in receiving and various catch-and-throw skills, but the greatest disparity between him and Hedges might come in the unmeasurable ‘handling a pitching staff’ category. Hedges already has game experience with many of the roster’s pitchers, and he also comes with the sort of know-how a catcher only picks up after starting 237 games in the majors. Now that the Padres have recalibrated toward winning, everyone’s realized the importance of a defense-first catcher—especially with a young starting rotation.

Mejía still has an exciting bat, and even if he starts the year in El Paso, he’s likely to end up splitting time with Hedges and perhaps filling in at other positions soon enough. Holding onto both players certainly isn’t a bad option. The last time the Padres had two backstops worth starting, Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera gave San Diego the best catching duo in the game.

Franmil Reyes

Reyes and Hunter Renfroe tend to get lumped together, and it’s true—they’re similar players. They’re both right-handed sluggers with average-to-plus bats and middling gloves in an outfield corner (Wil Myers is similar enough, as well). I like Reyes better, though, simply because he’s shown a better approach than Renfroe, plus the ability to adjust more quickly. We covered Reyes’ improvement in some detail last year, but as a refresher, check out his performance in 2018 broken into two parts:

Time FramePAOPSBB%K%
May 14-June 2096.7174.240.6
July 11-Sept. 30189.90210.621.7

Despite showing some power, Reyes was overmatched in that first taste of the majors last season. He had four walks to 39 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. He was sent back to El Paso, recalled in July, and then demoted and promoted once more. The final version of Reyes that emerged in August was a different beast altogether; the power stuck but the whiffs and patience both took major steps in the right direction, making him the Padres best hitter.

Even in Renfroe’s best months, he’s shown lingering signs of a subpar approach. In August of last season, Renfroe posted a .935 OPS and popped nine home runs, but he had four walks and 24 strikeouts. In his career in September, Renfroe’s rocking a .918 OPS with a 4.9 percent walk rate. Renfroe’s made some strides of his own, and he deserves playing time, but his boom-or-bust style could cap the upside. Reyes is four years younger and has already shown a different gear with the bat.

Franchy Cordero

We may have to just come to grips with Franchy Cordero, human blooper reel. If Vegas made odds on such things (they probably do), Cordero might be the favorite to pull the next Jose Canseco, bopping a would-be fly out over the fence with his head. Then again, Cordero’s already survived a blown no-hitter, circuitous routes in the outfield, and a 51-error minor-league season (at shortstop) because he possesses a tantalizing mix of tools, which has kept the Padres believing in him, through good and bad, for the better part of this decade.

It’s not like Cordero’s a complete mess out there, either. In the outfield, his speed allows him to outrun some of his bad routes. And at the plate, like Reyes, he’s shown off power rivaled by few players in the organization. The ball just travels when Cordero makes good contact, even when he seemingly doesn’t get all of it.

Last year, Cordero cut his strikeout rate almost nine percentage points from 2017, but it still sat at 35.7 percent. That’s too high for a player who doesn’t walk much and hasn’t shown the ability to provide lots of value in the field or on the bases. Between 34 games combined in the Dominican Republic this winter and so far in Arizona, Cordero’s posted a 34.3 percent strikeout rate, showing little progress on an important flaw.

In the end, Cordero has enough raw tools to become an effective player in multiple ways. If he doesn’t clean up the plate approach and swing-and-miss tendencies, harnessing his speed would at least salvage a career as a good fourth outfielder. If the footspeed never leads to much tangible value, cutting the strikeout rate to under 30 percent would allow the raw power to play. If he does both, well, look out. Cordero’s no sure thing to put it all together, but the speed/power combo should afford him more time to try. There’s star potential here and enough past production to keep dreaming on. 

Revisiting 1994

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The 1991 Super Bowl is my first sports memory, but I don’t actually recall watching a single play—not even the missed field goal by Bills kicker Scott Norwood at the end of the game. What I think I remember is my parents, with some family and friends, watching the game. Mostly, I remember my dad’s reaction after the miss (luckily, he was a Giants fan). I was three years old.

After that game, I’m not sure any sports moment stands out so vividly in my mind until the middle of the decade—maybe Michael Johnson’s gold shoes in the 1996 Olympics, or the Packers losing any number of playoff games to the Cowboys, or Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak in 1995. I didn’t really become a sports fan until I was seven or eight.  

All of this is to say that I don’t much remember the 1994 baseball season, or the strike that ended it on August 12. Nevertheless, that season’s always taken on some level of mystique in my mind, like it has for many other baseball fans. Just what could have been?

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Checking in on Luis Urias

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Part two of the two-part Twitter mailbag incoming in five . . . four . . . three . . . ahh, what the heck, here it is:

@jefftsdHow about a compare and contrast of Urias’ 2018 YTD numbers vs. his 2017 numbers? Is his 2018 so far a step backwards, normal growing pains, or do you think his numbers are OK? Just an idea, I don’t remember you recently covering the topic.

Good topic. Just to get the particulars out of the way, Luis Urias is 21 years old and currently playing (mostly) second base at Triple-A El Paso. Through 321 plate appearances, he’s slashing .268/.377/.408 with a 112 wRC+.

The place to start with Urias is the strikeouts, I think. After walking more than he whiffed in every season going into this one, Triple-A pitching has caught up to Urias. He has 64 strikeouts to 43 walks after striking out just 65 times all of last season. The walks aren’t a problem—Urias is actually walking at a career-high 13.4 percent clip, an impressive number given the age and level.

The early concern is that strikeout rate, which has ballooned this season. Going into this year, Urias had an 8.8 percent K rate in his professional career, the stuff of a bat-to-ball legend. This year? It’s at 19.9 percent. As mentioned, Urias is just 21 and at Triple-A, so an increase in whiffs was expected. But even last year, as a 20-year-old at Double-A (and in a tougher hitter’s environment), Urias only K’ed in 12.4 percent of his PAs. It’s not like he needed a bunch of time to adjust to Double-A last season, either; through the first three months of 2017, his K rate was lower than his seasonal mark, at 11.5 percent.

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The Conflicting Priorities of Andy Green

During yesterday’s game, Andy Green made a curious move. Trailing 5–1 in the third inning, Green pulled a double-switch, removing Manuel Margot from center and putting Matt Szczur in his place. The move perhaps made a touch of strategic sense—it moved the pitcher’s spot from ninth to eighth in the lineup, so new hurler Robbie Erlin didn’t have to bat until the bottom of the fifth. Still, it was super early for a double-switch; avoiding a low-leverage at-bat from the pitcher’s spot in the third inning is hardly a needle-mover. If you believe Margot is a better player than Szczur, you can’t remove him in the third for a double-switch. (And if you don’t, perhaps Szczur should have just started the game.)

Without an easy-to-explain injury—one apparently wasn’t mentioned after the game—the move just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it perhaps highlighted a difference in priorities between Green and the Padres front office.

The question about who’s better between Margot and Szczur right now is possibly an open one, but we can probably all agree on one thing: Margot has a future in the organization and Szczur does not—at least not unless he’s willing to drop his spare outfielder gig for one as a roving instructor. And even if the switch might have made some sense from a win expectancy standpoint—not a given, by the way—it just didn’t jibe in the big scheme of things. The Padres were facing a left hander and a bad team, and Margot, so long as he’s on the team, should get as many at-bats as is reasonable. Starting him and then removing him after one plate appearance isn’t doing anybody any good.

Of course, if Green is doing everything he can to squeeze an extra point of win expectancy out of a thin roster, maybe it’s hard to blame him.

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MRIs and Service Time

What’s the deal with Dinelson?

As we discussed on Monday, Dinelson Lamet left his Sunday start with soreness in his right elbow. The Padres have since diagnosed Lamet with a flexor strain—a muscle issue—and ruled him out for April. At first blush, it’s great news. Anytime an elbow issue finds a pitcher, Tommy John surgery immediately jumps to mind. Flexor strain, then, is a pitcher’s best friend.

Still, like much of Padres Twitter, I can’t quite understand why the Padres haven’t given Lamet an MRI yet. Team doctors apparently diagnosed Lamet through some type of surface examination. That’s cool, I guess—I’m no fan of modern medicine myself, but I’m also not a major-league pitcher or someone who has to make decisions regarding the future of one. It seems like it’d be in the best interest of the Padres, Lamet, and everyone involved to order the MRI, just to double-check whether there could be structural damage in his ligament.

The lack of an MRI so far seems silly, but I like to believe that teams generally act rationally, particularly when confronted with something like this, something that could potentially hurt their on-field product—and, thus, their revenue stream. So . . . what’s the deal?

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