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

This is a free preview of June 29th’s Newsletter. Consider signing up for a subscription over on the right sidebar if this is your jam. (Or just subscribe to The Athletic San Diego, where my writing can also be found). 

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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Fernando Tatis Jr. is in Good Company

Yesterday, on an entertaining edition of the Gwynntelligence podcast, the guys—HJ Preller and, this time, Woe Doctor—brought up David Marver’s recent tweets on Fernando Tatis Jr., which dovetailed into a good discussion on the riskiness of prospects and the inherent danger in relying too much on one player.

If you follow me on Twitter or have read any of my prospect-related love letters stuff over the last couple of years, you probably have a pretty good idea about my thoughts on Tatis. I once, for instance, ranked him as the Padres top 11 prospects. Yes, all of them. Of course, it’s important to consider the risks broached on Gwynntelligence and by Marver; I certainly understand that Tatis could bust completely or, more likely, simply become a so-so major-league player instead of a superstar, and I don’t want to be charged with overhyping him. The very early performance in Double-A—a .235/.250/.318 slash line with a 28.4 percent strikeout rate in 21 games—is perhaps a flickering warning sign that his developmental path could hit some rocky roads, especially with the way the Padres have fast-tracked him.

Then again, I remain almost unflinchingly high on Tatis, despite the risks and spotty recent performance. It’s certainly plausible that we, as observers of the Padres, are sometimes not great at respecting the risks. But I also think it’s possible that we’re just not used to dealing with a prospect of Tatis’ caliber, one who’s currently rated as a top 10 prospect by three of the biggest prospect-ranking outlets out there (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com) and just as high (or higher) elsewhere, like ESPN’s Keith Law or FanGraphs.

The Padres haven’t had a prospect this good in . . .well, a long time. First basemen like Anthony Rizzo and Yonder Alonso never even cracked the top 30 on an individual prospect list; Yasmani Grandal hovered around 50; Manuel Margot got close to the top 10 but never into it; even Jake Peavy only reached a peak of 28 back in 2002. The last Padres prospect this highly regarded was probably Sean Burroughs, who hit No. 4 on Baseball America’s list in 2002.

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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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Newsletter Free Preview: What’s The Deal With Eric Hosmer’s Defense?

What’s the deal with Eric Hosmer’s defense?

You’ve probably heard it discussed already: The observers generally love Hosmer’s glovework at first, whereas the numbers think he has the range of a lost Tetris block. The former Royal has won four out of the last five American League Gold Gloves at first, nipped only by Mitch Moreland in 2016, yet here are his advanced numbers over the last four years:

Year UZR DRS BP’s FRAA
2014 -0.4 3 8.0
2015 1.0 1 3.6
2016 -8.4 -6 -2.2
2017 -0.3 -7 0.6
2014-2017 -8.1 -9 10

Okay, they’re not exactly terrible, depending on how you look at them, but they aren’t great either. And If you look at them this way, they do look pretty bad: Among the 32 first basemen with at least 1,000 innings played over the past two seasons combined, Hosmer ranks 30th by DRS and dead last by UZR.

Eric Hosmer, Pickin’ Machine?

One of the reasons Hosmer gets touted as a good defender is thanks to his reputation for vacuuming up errant throws at first, particularly ones in the dirt. We don’t generally think about this skill when we think about the fielding ability of infielders, instead turning to range as the driving factor behind fielding prowess. But part of a first baseman’s primary responsibility, of course, is to receive throws from his infield mates. Could the fielding metrics be missing the mark here?

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Newsletter Free Preview: Chase Headley Is Still A Padre (And It’s A Little Awkward)

When the Padres acquired Chase Headley (and Bryan Mitchell) from the Yankees earlier this winter, I was sure they were going to flip him before Opening Day. I’m not so sure anymore.

What’s happened since, of course, is . . . well, a whole lotta nothin’. The Angels, one of the teams in need of a third baseman and rumored to be interested in Headley, instead signed Zack Cozart, a bigger upgrade, to play there. And the entire offseason, for the most part, has come to a screeching standstill. Outside of Yu Darvish and Lorenzo Cain—and Shohei Ohtani, who was essentially forced to sign—most of the big name free agents remain unsigned. Teams still interested in third base help could be waiting on Mike Moustakas to land somewhere, or perhaps other players to fill other holes, biding time until a clearer picture develops.

Meanwhile, the Padres are stuck with Headley. At the time of the deal, back in the middle of December, Headley’s one-year, $13 million remaining contract seemed eminently tradable. But that was before Bizarro Offseason took hold. Just last week, the Mets signed third baseman Todd Frazier for two years and a paltry $17 million total. Check out the comparison between Headley and Frazier:

Player Age ’18 ZiPS WAR ’18 Steamer WAR ’18 PECOTA WAR
Headley 34 1.9 1.1 1.0
Frazier 32 3.5 2.1 1.4

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Newsletter Free Preview: eBay Ranks the Prospects

When we think about what kind of people care deeply about baseball prospects, two groups generally jump to mind: there are those who obsessively track their favorite team’s prospects (hey there), and there are those looking for every possible edge in their upcoming fantasy draft. In fact, the rise of fantasy baseball—with money or bragging rights on the line—is probably the main reason prospect coverage has gone so mainstream over the years.

There is, however, another group of people invested in prospects with cold, hard cash, and it’s a group that speaks not in snake draft results or auction prices, but real dollars. Baseball card collectors, particularly the ones who invest in prospects hoping to one day make a small fortune, own an interesting space in the modern-day prospecting niche. Did you know, for instance, that Mike Trout’s Topps Update rookie card once sold for just a few bucks, and could be found in packs at Target? Now you can’t find one in decent condition for under $100.

With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to compare the sale prices of top prospects on eBay. I chose each player’s Bowman Chrome base autograph (like this one), graded in 9.5 condition by BGS. From some limited knowledge, I gather that this is generally a player’s most coveted non-parallel rookie card, especially among pre-MLB debut cards. I took the five most recent sales, where applicable, for everyone on Phillips’ consensus top 25. Shohei Ohtani and Hunter Greene were omitted, as they don’t have such cards yet.

Without further ado, here’s the eBay top 15:

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Newsletter Free Preview: Thoughts on the Freddy Galvis Trade

Padres acquire shortstop Freddy Galvis from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Enyel De Los Santos

Behind every baseball trade, we search for something deeper than a player-for-player swap. No, we’re not necessarily looking for the meaning of life; a general and coherent direction from our club of interest will do.

When the Padres traded Craig Kimbrel to Boston two winters ago, we saw a focused effort to throw in the towel on A.J. Preller’s first vision of a winning team and rebuild for the future. When they traded James Shields to the White Sox, we saw the same thing. When they signed Trevor Cahill last year and then traded him to the Royals at the deadline for a couple of interesting prospects, we viewed it as part of a continued process to build for something down the road.

No, the Padres haven’t gone with a Cubs or Astros-style rebuild, but they’ve done a good job of making moves that generally fit together inside of a bigger plan. From the blockbusters like Kimbrel-to-Boston to the smaller moves (Yonder Alonso-for-Drew Pomeranz, Melvin Upton Jr.-for-Hansel Rodriguez, etc.) to all of those Rule 5 picks and the international class of 2016, the Padres have been building and building toward an eventual crescendo that should take place in 2020 or 2021 or whenever the baseball gods say they can win again. It’s mostly all made sense, save for the occasional hiccup.

And then came yesterday’s trade, where the Padres sent soon-to-be 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Enyel De Los Santos to the Phillies and received 28-year-old shortstop Freddy Galvis.

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