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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.
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.
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:
|May 14-June 20||96||.717||4.2||40.6|
|July 11-Sept. 30||189||.902||10.6||21.7|
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.
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.